All the pulses of the world seemed to beat in Draco’s heart as he sat in that chair in the middle of Dumbledore’s office. He finally raised his head and nodded.
“Splendid, my boy. My dear boy.” The Headmaster beamed at him and held out his hand for Draco to shake. Draco couldn’t help noticing that the other one had black and twisted fingertips, as if Dumbledore had stuck them in a fire. “I knew you would make the right choice. I knew we weren’t risking too much by counting on you.”
Draco just shook Dumbledore’s hand and said nothing. He wasn’t choosing the sanctuary that Dumbledore had offered him for his own sake. It was because he saw, with every passing day, how the Dark Lord wouldn’t forgive his family even if Draco did complete his task. And Draco wanted better than that for his parents.
Maybe Father would still have to go back to Azkaban. But Mother…
She would be safe. That was what mattered.
“Now,” said Dumbledore, brisk, and Draco was grateful. “We can’t have you disappear too suddenly from the school, of course. We’ll wait a fortnight. That will bring us up to the Easter holidays. I think it’s best you vanish on the Hogwarts Express.”
“There’ll be so many students there,” Draco said. Including other Slytherins. “Do we have to wait that long?”
“I’m afraid so. It’ll take me that long to get your parents out and prepare identities and a safehouse for all of you. And find members of the Order of the Phoenix who will honestly protect you, instead of trying to take revenge on you and your family for the sins of others.”
The Order of the Phoenix is real, then. Draco hadn’t been sure, since he’d only heard the name among the Death Eaters. Professor Snape never dropped anything in his vague hints, and the one time Draco had spoken to Dumbledore before this, he hadn’t used it, either. “How many are there?”
Dumbledore smiled. “That’s rather need-to-know information, m’boy. Enough.”
Of course he still doesn’t trust me. On the other hand, Draco had to admit he had reason. He nodded again. His chest still felt like he was going to jump off the Astronomy Tower. “What should I do now?”
“Continue about your routine as usual,” Dumbledore said, and then tapped his forehead with one finger. “And here I was forgetting.” He reached behind him with the blackened hand and hauled a Pensieve forwards. “And, of course, it would be helpful if you could contribute memories of the Manor’s defenses and grounds so that the Order members who will rescue your parents know exactly what they’re dealing with.”
Draco grimaced a little. He could imagine what some of the ancestral portraits would say about him being willing to do this at all.
But it was for the family. And family—the only people in the world Draco could really admit to caring about—always came first.
He began to take memories from his temple with his wand, a technique Aunt Bellatrix had taught him that summer when they worked on Occlumency. Dumbledore watched with a quiet smile. Now and then he reached out and scratched his crooning phoenix, who sat on his shoulder, under one wing.
Draco finally pulled his wand back from the Pensieve and stared at it. Brimming. Full.
Sort of the way he felt now, as though he was carrying a bowl of water that he must not spill.
“Thank you,” said Dumbledore, and looked straight into Draco’s eyes. Draco put up his Occlumency barriers out of habit, but he didn’t think Dumbledore was trying to read his mind. “I promise, my boy, this is the best decision you’ve ever made.”
Draco thought of protesting, but it would be of little use. He thought. He didn’t really know anymore.
He stood up and made his way down the office stairs, thinking, for the first time in a year, that he might not regret taking the Mark when he woke up tomorrow.
The woman was in a cage.
Harry looked around, not understanding. He had been walking through a mound of ashes, and now he was here. It was a large stone room that seemed to stretch into the distance and then turn into mist at the edges.
The woman was in a cage that sat on a round silver platform. There was a silver chain around her neck—no collar, just a chain wrapped around the skin—that connected her head to the bars of the cage. She knelt there naked and shivering, her long pale hair falling around her face.
Harry wanted to walk around in front of her and see if he knew her. He wanted to open his mouth and ask if she needed help. But for some reason, he couldn’t do that. He could only stand there and stare at her.
And there was something pressing on him, like hunger. It was—happiness? Harry thought for a second it was, but why?
…Then the barrier broke apart, and the vision became sharper and filled with shadows at the edges where torches shone, and Harry wanted to be sick even though there was no way his stomach would cramp here. He knew where he was. He was sharing Voldemort’s head, again, and the monster’s emotions, again.
But because he was sharing his memories, too, Harry knew who the woman was even though he couldn’t ask. Narcissa Malfoy.
“I find myself pleased,” said Voldemort. He turned and beckoned a Death Eater Harry had never seen before. The man came and knelt at Voldemort’s feet, sniveling. Harry could only see that he had a thick neck and blond hair.
“Not pleased with the actions of certain people among my faithful, that is true,” Voldemort muttered. “Luckily, I have other faithful at Hogwarts who will tell me when one of them slips.”
A shadow twined around his feet, and he dropped his hand to the snake’s head. Harry wanted to flinch at the touch of the scales, flat and cold. At least he could understand the Parseltongue that followed. “When we are rid of this one, Nagini, I shall let you devour her son.”
“Thank you, master.”
Harry wanted to shudder, too, and almost managed it, almost enough to tear himself free of the vision. Nagini sounded disgusting. Dumbledore had told Harry that she was probably just an ordinary snake, but he had also admitted she could possibly be a Horcrux. Harry didn’t care what made her that nasty.
He just knew that he didn’t want to face her in battle.
“Now,” said Voldemort, and turned to the blond Death Eater. “Make me proud, Rowle. Kill her for me. And not painlessly.”
“Master,” said Rowle, in a voice that sounded just like Nagini’s to Harry, and climbed to his feet. He wore a black cloak that he swirled dramatically around him as he made his way to the cage. Harry wanted to laugh for a second. Rowle was even more melodramatic than Snape.
But then the meaning of Voldemort’s words sank in, and Harry threw himself against the bonds of the vision, struggling. No! He didn’t want to see Narcissa Malfoy die. He didn’t like her, in fact he hated her because of the part she’d played in getting Kreacher to betray Sirius, but that was different from wanting her dead.
He just wanted Voldemort dead. Not anyone else.
Nothing he did made any difference. Voldemort was wrapped around him like rope, and Harry tried to wake up and give him a headache and possess his body the way Voldemort had done to him in the Department of Mysteries. Still Voldemort just stood there and smiled, and then Rowle raised his wand.
The first spell made Narcissa scream and recoil, and Harry saw blood dripping down her skin. She tried to roll and get away from the curses, but the chain brought her up short. Then she stared at Rowle from under her hair and said something that might have been a plea. Harry didn’t think so, though. It sounded defiant.
Rowle glanced back at Voldemort. Harry felt Voldemort’s emotions moving through him like syrup, thick and hot. Harry held himself back from really feeling anything.
And he held still, too. If he had to stay here and witness this, then he would at least watch Narcissa’s death. It was the only thing he could still give her.
Rowle seemed reassured by whatever he saw in Voldemort’s eyes, and turned around, sending more and more curses at Narcissa. Harry watched when he saw muscle, and when he saw bone, and when he saw one of her limbs hanging almost off.
Narcissa never tried to shield herself or get away. Of course, without a wand and with that chain around her neck, there was little she could do. But Harry thought, from the look in her eyes when Rowle finally severed her head from her neck, that she might also have done that so the end would come quicker.
Finally, Rowle stepped back from the cage and bowed to Voldemort. “It’s done, master.”
“I can see that well enough for myself,” said Voldemort indifferently, and walked away from the cage. Harry wondered if he made it a policy not to show emotion freely to his Death Eaters, or something. Because he was certainly brewing with violence and joy on the inside, and a kind of satisfaction that made Harry shiver.
The vision released him like an opening hand at last. Harry scrambled up and out of bed, tripped on a trailing curtain, and was sick all over the floor of the bedroom.
“Mate?” Ron was out of bed in a second.
Harry raised one hand and held Ron back until he’d finished heaving and cleaned everything up with a murmured Scourgify. He ran his tongue around his teeth and winced. His mouth tasted absolutely, disgustingly awful.
“Vision?” Ron was bending over him.
Harry nodded once and then grabbed Ron’s hand and let Ron haul him up. “I need to get to Dumbledore and tell him what he saw,” he said. “He’s—going to want to know.”
He’d had time to think about Voldemort’s words now, and he thought he knew what they meant. Draco Malfoy had been doing something, and Voldemort was holding his mother hostage so he’d do it. But he’d stopped, or failed, or something. And other people at Hogwarts had told Voldemort about it, so he’d decided to punish Narcissa.
It was probably that git, Snape, who told Voldemort, was Harry’s first thought.
His second was to wonder what it would be like to have your mother die when you were old enough to remember her. He found himself blotting at his mouth again as Ron led him gently into the bathroom and made him wash his face. Then Ron whispered the necessary soothing words to their other roommates and accompanied him to the gargoyle and up to Dumbledore’s office.
“And that’s all I saw, sir.”
Dumbledore was sitting slumped over his desk. Harry leaned back in his chair and waited. Something else was going on, he thought. Dumbledore hadn’t even looked that low when he was telling Harry about the Horcruxes and how dangerous they were. The blackened fingers on his hand stood out so clearly Harry thought they were going to fall off any second.
Ron bounced up and down in the chair next to Harry, hands gripping the edges. Harry reached out and touched his arm. Ron stopped bouncing, although maybe that had to do with Dumbledore’s continued silence instead.
Finally, the Headmaster sighed and murmured, “I hate to ask this, Harry, but I must. Voldemort used the connection between the two of you to trick you last year. Is there any way this could be a similarly false vision? A trick to make you go rushing off and tell me, so that we would act on false information?”
“I don’t see how, sir. I mean, I barely know Mrs. Malfoy, and it’s not like he just showed me that she was in danger and I’d have time to rescue her.” Harry hesitated and finally added, “And couldn’t you check on whether Malfoy has really stopped whatever he was trying to do?”
“I fear that he has.”
Ron stiffened. Harry tried not to draw his wand, the way he was learning to when he practiced beside Ron in Defense Against the Dark Arts, and asked, “Fear, sir?”
Dumbledore turned to him, his face haggard. “Ah, Harry.” He glanced once at Ron, and then added, “What you hear in this room, Mr. Weasley, I expect you to keep as quiet as you have your part in Harry’s adventures thus far.”
“Of course, Headmaster.”
“Mr. Malfoy came to me this evening, and swore that he would give up his—pursuit of Voldemort’s ends in return for protection for him and his family. He provided memories of Malfoy Manor, where his parents currently are, so that we could go and rescue them.”
Harry closed his eyes. Too late. He licked his lips. His mouth tasted metallic. He had to force out the next words. “Did—what time was it, Professor Dumbledore?”
A warm hand touched his, and Harry started. Dumbledore was smiling at him kindly, even though the twinkle in his eyes had dimmed to the point that his face looked old and tired.
“Do not blame yourself, Harry,” Dumbledore said quietly. “It was well before curfew. You would not have been asleep to see the vision.”
Harry just nodded. “But—that’s awfully fast, sir. How do you think Voldemort learned so fast about Malfoy deciding to switch sides?”
“I am afraid that Mr. Malfoy bears the Dark Mark, and what Tom can do with such evil magic, soul-magic, is beyond even my compass. I meant to make a study of the Mark someday, but I always put it off with other things I wished to do. And now…” Dumbledore lifted his darkening right hand, then dropped it again.
“I rather suspect, however, that rather than learning directly through Mr. Malfoy’s Mark, Voldemort gathered information from other students in the castle who have the Mark. There were probably some of them watching him to make sure he completed his task, and all they would have had to do was follow him here. I did not think such—security risks existed, or I would have urged him to be more careful.”
Harry just sat and stared at the floor. He didn’t know what he could do to make it better. But he knew what he most wanted at the moment.
He looked up. “Do you think Malfoy’s going to change back to being a Death Eater now that his mum’s dead?”
“No,” said Dumbledore, with a swift shake of his head, but his mouth tightened in a way Harry didn’t like. “It is not your concern, Harry,” he added, rather more sharply, when Harry tried to open his mouth. “We will handle the matter of sanctuary—that is, the Order of the Phoenix will. You are to concentrate on the matter you and I have been discussing the past few months.” His gaze bored into Harry.
At last, Harry nodded. He didn’t even have the excuse to spy on Malfoy anymore, he supposed, unless he did go back to whatever he’d been doing.
And that reminded him of something, “Sir,” he added, as Dumbledore started to turn towards his fire, “I think you might check Crabbe and Goyle. Malfoy used them as distractions sometimes to guard the Room of Requirement.”
“A good thought, Harry. Now, please return to your rooms. I will have a long night of work ahead of me, but there is no reason you should be deprived of more sleep than you have already lost.”
Ron had been silent all through the conversation and was silent most of the way down the stairs. But when they reached the bottom, he cleared his throat, and Harry looked at him. His eyes were as round as two moons.
“It’s intense. I don’t know how you do it, Harry.”
“I have lots of great friends,” Harry answered, and slung an arm around Ron’s shoulders, and led him back towards Gryffindor Tower.
Draco slowly woke. He sat up and cast a Lumos, then carefully looked around the interior of his bed curtains. They were still tied shut and spelled shut. He had no idea what could have woken him up, except some ache from the Dark Mark, and that was utterly quiet. Draco rubbed his arm anyway.
Still, nothing happened. He turned and opened the curtains to get started on the day. It was early, but no hour was too early for a shower. And it was important to act normal in case other Slytherins followed the Dark Lord and wanted to report departures from his usual routine.
“How was the Headmaster, Draco?”
Draco kept himself from flinching. He was afraid he froze for a second, though. And then, as Vincent started laughing from behind him, he decided he might as well turn around so he could see what direction the curse would come from.
Vincent stood there twirling his wand between his fingers, smiling in a vicious way. Draco thought for a second he probably practiced it in the mirror. Then he carefully decided to stop thinking about that. He was already in danger. He couldn’t afford any distractions.
Heads started popping out of curtains around them. The only one Draco was interested in was Greg, to see if he would come over to join Vincent. But he only looked as confused as ever. Draco focused on Vincent and asked, “Why?” It was useless to ask “what.”
Vincent moved a step nearer and whispered, “All those years you paid more attention to Potter than you did to us. Did you think we’d ignore it forever?” He gestured at Greg, who still stared at them. “No. There are other people than you who can undergo pain and make sacrifices. And who can notice when someone does something that he’d have no reason to do. Unless he was doing something stupid like betraying the Dark Lord.”
Draco felt for a second as though someone had plunged him into ice water. Vince and Greg knew the basics of his plan, and they’d taken the Mark, but they’d kept their voices low around Blaise and Theo for exactly the reason that the two of them had kept their loyalties hidden. And Draco didn’t think Blaise and Theo had suddenly made an alliance with his bodyguards that excluded Draco. They would at least have tried to feel Draco out first. Vincent must be so confident if he was speaking out like this that…
It meant Draco’s life was in danger. Here. Now. Draco felt his breathing shift into hyperventilating, and he worked his way back, aware of obstacles, mind racing through dueling lessons.
He might actually have lost. After all, Vincent was cleverer than Draco had thought, and he might know more destructive spells, too.
But then Vincent sealed his own fate.
“You might want to ask the Dark Lord,” said Vincent, and he was grinning almost insanely now, “how dear Mummy is doing.”
Draco made another mental leap, and knew he had arrived at the correct conclusion as certainly as he’d known from Vincent’s words that his game was up.
And grief and rage exploded inside him at the same moment as he moved, wand flicking, spells racing through him and off his tongue that he’d never tried, that he’d only ever seen when he’d watched his aunt dueling hapless Aurors.
“Adoleo cutem! Intercutis plumbum! Anguicomus!”
The others were smart enough to duck back, but the curses all hit Vincent, the way they were meant to. Vincent screamed as his skin immediately burned and blistered, and his hair turned into snakes and coiled around his ears, hissing as they pumped poison into his veins.
But he screamed loudest and longest because of the bulge that was growing on his stomach. Draco knew why. His second curse had poured boiling lead under Vincent’s skin, and it was going to kill him in a few seconds.
Draco whirled on Blaise, ready to kill him, too, but Blaise dropped his wand on the floor and raised his hands. “He has to live,” he said, dark face still, eyes never moving from Draco’s face. “He has to live, so he can be punished and they can get details from him. You know that, Draco.”
Draco snarled at him, wordless. The rage pounding in him demanded satisfaction.
“Killing him is too easy.”
And that finally brought Draco back, although not for the reasons Blaise intended. Draco wasn’t thinking about justice or even punishing Vincent. He knew Vincent hadn’t been the one who had killed his mother.
Draco had to live. He had one person to care about now: his father. He had to live and get his father away from the Dark Lord and into Dumbledore’s safety.
Draco had only ever had his family to care about. He had made a mistake by expanding his heart to try to take in friends and the Dark Lord. So now, he would live so he could make sure the Malfoy family lived.
And I will use whoever I have to, he thought as he stood there, watching Blaise and Theo bind and Stun Vincent and Gregory try to awkwardly apologize for his mother’s death. Dumbledore. Potter. Myself.
Only the people I love are important.