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By Firelight

Chapter Text

A Task to Perform

A grand but lonely home stood silently on the outskirts of Nettleton, Wiltshire. Throughout Britain, all traces of the moon and stars were gone from the night sky, leaving only the bleak darkness to blanket the area, from horizon to horizon.

Draco sat in his room in Malfoy Manor, staring at the wall and thinking about as little as possible. He couldn't bear to remember what he had just experienced. He told his mind to push it back, as he had done many times before, but his technique had begun to fail him. The thought of looking into the Dark Lord's eyes, and seeing the intense hatred that dwelt there, made him sick to his stomach with terror.


The speaker's voice chilled him thoroughly. It was as if a Dementor had just torn every last ounce of strength out of him. He felt his knees shaking under him as he stood in silence before the man who had addressed him, the wizard responsible for hundreds of deaths, who did not know a drop of regret. Draco wondered with an overwhelming pang of horror if he would be the next to go.

The Dark Lord raised his wand, aiming it at Draco's face, and the boy was sure he was about to torture him, but nothing happened. Draco watched him, unable to speak, or even think clearly.

"Your father has failed me, Draco, and one failure is one too many for my servants," hissed the Dark Lord. "I am sure that Lucius, having made you into what you are now, has passed onto you a number of his own faults."

Draco took a quick, yet steady breath, working hard to suppress a wave of outrage at these words. For a fleeting instant, he longed to protest, to argue that, no, Lucius had had no part in his upbringing, that Draco had raised himself, and that he'd done a better job of it than his father ever had. But he knew better. The Dark Lord was not one to be argued with. Draco knew that he would not have given a second thought to killing him then and there, should he wish to.

Seemingly ignorant of his visitor's indignation, the Dark Lord continued. "However, I am willing to let you prove your worth to me." Draco resisted the compulsion to glance upward in confusion. "I have a task for you to perform, Draco. If you succeed, you will be rewarded beyond your dreams. However, should you fail, as your dear father has, you will watch your entire family perish at my hand."

Draco's thoughts immediately painted a grim picture in his mind, the sight of his mother lying, broken and lifeless, in the mud. He had no time to react, however, for at the very next moment, the dark wizard grabbed his new slave by the arm and whispered his first command.

Draco shuddered visibly. Completing such a mission would be unthinkable, but it would mean keeping his mother alive. Draco almost surprised himself; he didn't even flinch when the Dark Lord pressed the tip of his wand roughly into Draco's arm, and announced shrilly, "Morsmordre…"

Draco looked down at his left arm, where the Dark Mark now dwelt. It burned even now, and he surmised grimly that it would for the rest of his life. But more than the physical pain it gave him, it burned him inside to know that this Mark was now his only future. Swallowing hard, he let his eyes wander to his bedside table, where his diary lay waiting for him.

I won't be needing that anymore, he thought miserably. This was a secret even a journal couldn't be trusted with. And yet, he longed for the solace it gave him, just to write away his sorrows.

Then, quite unexpectedly, he heard someone knocking at his closed door. He didn't say anything; he was in no mood for company, not even that of his mother. His Aunt Bellatrix was the only other soul in the house, having invited herself to stay with her sister and nephew, but Draco knew it couldn't have been her at the door; she never thought to knock and wait. Yet soon, there came more knocking, and it was obvious that his mother would not take 'no' for an answer.

"What is it?" he groaned. It was neither his intention to be rude nor his priority to be polite.

Narcissa tried the door, and was relieved to find it unlocked. She knew her son would not want to be disturbed after what had happened. But she, too, had heard his task, and as impossible as they both knew it was, she wanted desperately to be there for him, as she had always done. "Draco?" she called tentatively. When he gave no sign he had heard her, she studied his face for any sign of what he was feeling, and found it almost immediately. She rushed over to him, eyes wide with worry, and took his hands in hers. "I'm so sorry…" she cried, letting the tears fall to the bleach-white carpet.

Finally, he fixed his eyes on hers, now trembling at the thought of what he would have to do. "I can't… This is… There's no way…" he stammered hopelessly.

"Shh, Draco," she whispered. She had been struggling all night to think of some way to help him, to keep him safe from harm. But the Dark Lord had demanded secrecy, and she knew she couldn't help him herself while he was at Hogwarts. There had to be another possibility, some better way for her to keep her son safe while his task remained incomplete… but what?

Just then, she gasped, placing a thin, pale hand over her mouth. Swimming in hope – or was it purely desperation? – she knew she had found the answer.


Chapter Text

Author's notes:
Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: One year later...
Although tormented by the destruction he has unwillingly caused, Draco knows he must get himself and his mother to safety before the worst happens. But where can he seek safety when both good and evil are seeking him out?

With Debts Unpaid

Draco scrambled out of the battle-torn Hogwarts grounds and Disapparated home before he knew exactly what had happened. As he at last entered his own room, never having slowed his pace, he felt himself crumble under the weight of what he had seen. Memories of that night roared in his mind, twisting through each other till not one of them was recognizable. What have I done!? his mind screamed, his hand still gripping his wand tightly. He stumbled to his bed just as his mother appeared at the door, her expression wild with worry.

"Draco?" she whispered, her voice shaking in her shock at seeing him back so soon. "Draco, what happened?"

Draco looked at her, trembling. "Mother, we need to get out of here!"

Narcissa ran to her son and grabbed him by the shoulders, shaking him fiercely. "Tell me, Draco! What happened?"

Draco looked at her with the eyes of a frightened child and answered, "I didn't do it. I couldn't..."

To his complete surprise and awe, Narcissa took him in a fierce embrace, tears now streaming down her cheeks. He wanted more than ever to break down and cry in her arms. But he knew he mustn't, not now. Right now, they had to flee.

"Mother," he said, "we need to leave, now! He'll find us here... We've got to get away."

Narcissa looked at him, tears still streaming from her pale blue eyes. "I know," she said.

The two had Disapparated within the hour, reappearing in a dark back street in a Muggle town a safe distance from Wiltshire. It was certainly the farthest Draco had ever Apparated, but the two of them had discussed their destination before leaving home, so they both arrived intact. When Draco saw the closely-built houses and the small, fenced-in yards that now surrounded him, he gave his mother an incredulous look.

"What did we come here for?" he asked her.

Narcissa spun around to face her son. "Do you know of anyone in our world who would help us now?" she asked in a forced hush. Shocked, Draco stared at her for a while, but eventually shook his head resignedly. His mother took his hand and reassured him, "We'll be far better off here, darling. No one will think to look for us beyond the boundaries of the Wizarding world."

With that said, they traveled the rest of the way on foot, silently scanning the horizon for a secluded space in which to spend the rest of the night, unnoticed by any Muggles who might be in the vicinity.

They didn't get far before Draco began to feel raindrops landing on his arms and neck. Squinting upward with a grimace, he saw only pitch black sky; the moon and all traces of starlight were gone from view. He looked uneasily at his mother who, by the uncomfortable look written on her face, had clearly noticed the slight drizzle as well. As the wind grew swifter and the rain more urgent, Draco sprinted alongside his mother down the deserted street until they found a modest shop with a few lights still lit inside.

They hurried in, half-soaked from the downpour. It was peacefully warm inside, and it seemed deserted, though the lamps around the front room were still lit. They knew neither fire nor magic was in those lamps, which were arranged somewhat pleasantly throughout the library, but the thought of what else could burn so well confused Draco. Still, he set his curiosity aside and took a seat in a nearby armchair, watching his mother for hints on what she was expecting to happen. She sat nearby, bearing the appearance of one who did not know what to expect, which admittedly made him all the more uneasy.

He began to panic in the long silence that followed. He wanted fiercely to ask his mother what would become of them, a witch and a young wizard in the Muggle world. Would they still be able to use magic? Draco doubted whether that would be a wise decision, but the events and unharnessed emotion of the past year had made him feel somehow reckless, and once again, desperate. The will to live was more important than ever; in fact, now far beyond the point of feeling simple remorse over what he had done, he hated the very force that had reduced him to these desperate acts, and in doing so, had nearly succeeded in making him a murderer.

He hated the Dark Lord.

That night, Draco had what appeared to be ten nightmares at once. Each one horrified him more terribly than the last, and all he could think of after awakening was Dumbledore's offer, and whether he, the heir to everything his parents had - which included the Dark Mark - had truly deserved such treatment. "I never have," he decided finally before falling asleep once more.

Chapter Text

Draco spent the early hours of the morning thinking restlessly about the things he had done, the lives he had been willing to destroy in order to save his own, and those of his parents. When he looked back, he saw only blind desperation, and the closer he examined his past actions, the more he became convinced that he wanted nothing more to do with it.

Had Dumbledore not offered him safety, and had he not spoken so kindly to him, with such respect, Draco guessed he would never have considered changing paths. In fact, it had been a lack of kindness and respect from certain family members that had sent Draco spiraling downward into the Dark Arts in the first place. Awake, all the youth could recall of that time long since past was a thick haze surrounding a pale blur of half-formed memories. Yet in his slumber that night, otherwise faded memories turned vivid and cold as they stirred freely, creating vicious storms of confusion and uncertainty within him.

When Draco awoke on his tenth birthday, his mother greeted him, presenting her son with a beautiful young eagle owl she had secretly bought him the evening before. Later in the morning, his father gave him a magnificent oak broomstick.

That afternoon, Nora Rookwood, Draco's second cousin, came for tea. All throughout Draco's life, the Rookwoods had been quite indifferent towards him, at best, as though ashamed of his fun-loving, childish personality.

"I imagine you had quite a day yesterday, boy," Nora said, speaking directly to Draco for the first time in quite a while.

Draco looked at her, surprised by her sudden apparent interest in his birthday. He said nothing for a moment, which she seemed to take as rudeness. "Well?" she prodded him impatiently.

Recovering in an instant from his bewilderment, Draco smiled and nodded. Nora turned to her cousin. "You've still been over-indulging him, I see. Not what I would have expected from a Malfoy, Lucius."

Narcissa glanced across the dining room table at her husband, who glanced back. The two shared a brief, exasperated expression. "He's not yours to raise, Nora," Lucius reminded his cousin.

"The Dark Lord would not have wanted-" she persisted, but Lucius interrupted her.

"The Dark Lord had his time, but it has clearly ended."

Nora looked positively outraged at these words, but kept it all in check, and placed her teacup carefully back on its saucer. "A word, Lucius." It was not a request, but a demand. Lucius raised an eyebrow at her daring, for she was but a guest in his home, and was showing a bit too much nerve for comfort. Even so, he stood to lead her to another room, purely out of curiosity, and perhaps slight amusement.

Draco looked cautiously at his mother. "But what wouldn't the Dark Lord have wanted?" he asked. "What did I do wrong this time?"

Narcissa smiled at him, and put a gentle hand on his hair. "Nothing at all, darling. Don't let her upset you." She nodded encouragingly, and without another word, they agreed to let the short-lived worry evaporate. They sat in the parlor for a minute or so longer, chatting idly about this and that, waiting for Lucius and Nora to return.

When they did, however, the mood grew drearier by the second, from the look on Lucius Malfoy's face, Narcissa gathered that jokes and light-hearted chatter would only serve to upset him further.

"What's the matter, dear?" asked Narcissa. There was a tension in the room that she thoroughly disliked, and she silently wondered what it was that Nora had said to her husband.

But she received no answer. "Draco, go upstairs and wait for me," was all he said. His voice was quiet and heavy, making him sound unsettlingly melancholy, but even Draco could tell there was anger hidden there.

"But Father, what hap-" Draco protested.

"Do as you're told, boy!" snapped Nora.

It was then that he realized something was very wrong. He cast a frightened look at his mother before hurrying away to his bedroom. Once there, he sat by his bookcase, wondering what had gone on in the drawing room mere moments earlier. When Lucius finally appeared in the doorway, Draco spoke to him amid a whirl of concern, "Father, what is it?" he asked quickly. "Why do you look so upset?"

But once again, his questions would go unanswered, for at the very next moment, Lucius drew his wand and flicked it meaningfully in Draco's direction. After a moment of waiting for something to happen, Draco opened his mouth to speak, only to find himself voiceless. Looking back up in his father's direction, he found there what would have looked like his father, had the man not been wearing such a darkened look in his eyes. Confused and frightened, Draco tried with all his strength to scream for his mother, but nothing happened. Not even a whisper escaped his numb throat.

Lucius stood for a moment, as though unable to move, but finally, he seemed to decide what do to next. Raising his wand, he gave his son no time to ask what he had chosen, or why, before an incredible and agonizing pain surged throughout the boy's entire being. Draco fell to the ground, kicking and twisting around, as his tears turned to molten lava and his robes seemed to burst into flame all over him. Screaming was impossible, yet it was all he wanted, as though having his voice back might make the unspeakable pain go away…

And then, all was silent and still. The spell had been lifted, and Draco lay unconscious on the floor by the foot of his bed.

Lucius walked back downstairs to wish Nora Rookwood a pleasant evening.

Chapter Text

Author's notes: Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: After an evening of reflecting on his actions throughout his sixth year at Hogwarts, Draco's dreams remind him of a time he can not recall in daylight: the day confusion and fear were first cast into his life.

Remembering Dumbledore's Last

When Draco awoke the next morning, he had forgotten his dream, as usual. He stood up to look around the library when he found Narcissa, who had also woken up. "Mother," he greeted her softly.

Narcissa reached out her hand, which Draco readily took, and smiled warmly. "My son."

Although Draco could not recall his dream, or the memory to which it led, one memory could be found that was making him uneasy in that library. The duel that never should have taken place, the battle that still raged inside his soul.

"We can't stay here," he blurted.

Narcissa looked startled at the very mention of them returning to the magical world. "Where else could we go?" she asked him resignedly. "Who can we trust now?" While her son searched his mind for an answer, she took on a cautious expression. "Understand, darling," she warned him gently, "that all of your old friends from Hogwarts are likely to be next in line to become Death Eaters. How many of them do you think will be courageous enough to defy the Dark Lord, as you have done?"

"That wasn't courage, Mother," protested Draco. "I was terrified! I was sure I'd be killed that night!"

Despite his confession, Narcissa placed a hand on Draco's blond hair consolingly, but he looked uncomfortable.

Draco looked back up at his mother. "Dumbledore told me he knew what I was supposed to do, only he didn't try and stop me, for... for my own sake." Remorse welled up inside him, but he managed to continue after a pause. "I didn't believe him then, but now... He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment, but felt driven to pursue the subject. "He also told me he could hide us. I don't know who would believe us now... but Mother, I've got to try!" he beseeched her, his eyes pleading. He wanted so badly to believe Dumbledore's words, he just couldn't ignore them.

Narcissa thought, bearing every intention of not allowing Draco to return to the Wizarding world. "Draco, listen to me," she began, but she could think of nothing to say to him that would stop him. She realized while she searched for words that she, too, wanted such protection for the two of them, too much to let it slip away.

"Just trust me," said Draco.

Narcissa stared at her son, but he stared back. Finally, she closed her eyes briefly and nodded. Draco smiled at her, and knew even more securely that after a year of wondering what was the right choice and where to begin, he was at last doing the right thing.

They left soon afterward, whole-heartedly agreeing to abandon the Muggle lifestyle. If they could find what they sought, and convince at least one person that they meant no further harm, they were sure to be safe.

Eventually, which happened to be more than a month later, they came upon an unlikely destination...

"Harry Potter!" hollered the odd and angry-looking Muggle who answered the door. No words of introduction had been needed. The man only had to glance at the Malfoys' attire to know who they were there to see.

Draco didn't care much for this man, and by the looks of it, neither did Narcissa, but Draco more dreaded Harry's reaction to the two of them standing there.

It came.

Harry looked down from the top of the stairwell and froze. He stood, gaping at Draco with a look of mixed confusion and anger. "Malfoy!" he exclaimed, scowling slightly. "What are you doing here?" Without thinking about it, Draco took a very small step forward, and Harry quickly drew his wand, the sight of which made Vernon Dursley cringe visibly, though it was clearly not aimed at him. Draco immediately put his hands up in a peaceful gesture, his mind spinning with dread that it might not work.

To his relief, Harry lowered his wand slightly, although his expression made it clear that he was still wary of his unexpected visitors. "What are you doing here?" he said again, his tone now more bewildered than anything else.

"This isn't an attack, Potter," Draco told him. "We need your help. Now, if you'd be so kind as to put away your wand, I can explain. You know as well as I do that dueling won't get either of us anywhere."

Harry said nothing at first. He seemed to be thinking it over, but he eventually decided he would give Draco a chance to say what he had to say. He put his wand in his back pocket and glanced at his uncle. "It's probably not a good idea to talk about our world here," he said, secretly amused at the look on Vernon's purplish face.

Draco nodded, still relieved that he would not have to duel, and the three of them headed off towards a quiet park on Magnolia Crescent. Narcissa walked a fair distance away from the Boy-Who-Lived, not quite sure if she wanted to trust him after all. She kept her gaze upon Draco, her ears straining to hear what he would say next. To Harry's relief, neither of them seemed to pay much mind to any evidence of Muggles living in the neat, identical houses as they passed them.

"Okay, what's going on?" he asked Draco, not ready just yet to believe that a civil conversation between a Malfoy and himself was possible.

"I didn't do it," Draco said quietly. "I didn't kill anyone."

"I know."

Draco's expression changed from remorse to shock. "You do? But... how could you? No one was there who could have told-"

"I was," Harry said. "It's true. I can't tell you how, but I saw what really happened."

Draco stared at him in surprise for a moment, but then looked away. "You don't know the whole story," he told Harry. "You don't know the half of it. You're not the only one in the world with a hard life."

Harry narrowed his eyes angrily at the remark. After all he had been put through in the past six years, and all he was sure to go through in the near future, he thought it was a bit rich of Malfoy to trivialize it all like that. "What's that supposed to mean?" he demanded, glaring at him. "What do you know about trouble, besides what you caused yourself?"

A white-hot flash of light zipped through Draco's mind, carrying with it the agony of the Cruciatus Curse and the chilling voice of the Dark Lord. It was all Draco could manage not to lash out right then and there. "What I caused...?" he hissed through clenched teeth. "What do I know? Of course, Potter! What could I possibly know about pain? And fear? And death?" As Draco fumed, Harry's expression changed from his own anger to a genuinely startled look. Draco pulled back his left sleeve, revealing the Dark Mark branded on his arm. "Do you think I wanted this!?" he growled.

Harry looked at the Mark and shook his head, wondering what to make of it all. Narcissa ran to Draco, trying to get him to cover it up, but Draco wouldn't listen. "No - They don't know what it means, Mother!" He gestured towards some Muggle children as they hurried past. Then he looked back at Harry and added scathingly, "Think, Potter. What would you do if he was about to kill Weasley and Granger? Would you sit back and let him? Or would you do everything in your power to keep them alive? As much as I despise you, Potter, I know you and your friends well enough to know you wouldn't just let it happen."

Harry thought hard about what Draco had said. "You're right about one thing," he said calmly. "I wouldn't just let Voldemort kill my friends." Draco had winced sharply at the sound of the Dark Lord's name, but Harry was used to people being rather jumpy about it and didn't react. "But I wouldn't do his bidding, either. There's another option you're forgetting, Malfoy, and that's fighting."

Draco shook his head, wearing an expression one might take as amusement, though he was anything but pleased. "In case you haven't noticed, you're pretty much the only person who's fought against the Dark Lord and lived to tell the tale." He looked at his mother briefly before adding, "That's why we came here."

This presented Harry with a rather large problem. He really did believe Draco, but he wondered if there was anyone else in the Wizarding world that would. His best friends would be sure to protest, as would the Order of the Phoenix, which consisted of most of the adults whom Harry trusted. Draco might never be welcomed there. But something inside Harry told him there was a chance.

"I guess we'd better get back," he sighed, mostly just thinking aloud. "I've got to tell Ron and Hermione about this..."

Draco and Narcissa suddenly looked horrified. "Why don't you write the blasted Daily Prophet while you're at it?" Draco hissed.

Harry made a face at the idea. "I'm not keeping something like this a secret from my best friends!" he told them fiercely. The other two continued to stare as though Petrified, but Harry got up to leave, and the Malfoys followed silently, glancing at each other with shared dread.

This was your idea, after all, thought Narcissa, though she hadn't the heart to say it aloud.

Harry's uncle seemed anything but pleased upon their return to number four, Privet Drive. Apparently, he had been hoping for the return of only one wizard, if even that; but two wizards and a witch seemed too much for the Muggle to bear. "That's it!" he bellowed at the Malfoys. "One of your kind in my house is bad enough! Out!"

But Harry glared at Vernon until he seemed to realize that his nephew would soon be seventeen, and thereby old enough to legally hex him into a vapor. Finally, Draco and his mother had been allowed upstairs without a single spell being cast. Once there, the two of them glanced briefly around Harry's bedroom, as though expecting Aurors to jump out from every hiding place possible in the room. As soon as no danger seemed likely, a look of mild disgust crept onto Draco's face as he noted how messy the room looked.

"Is this what the Gryffindor common room looks like?" he scoffed.

Harry looked around, picked up a few socks and a t-shirt, and threw them dismissively in his trunk, too distracted to tidy up more carefully than that. He then sat down at his cluttered desk, took a slip of parchment and dipped his quill in a bottle of black ink.

In a few moments, Harry had finished two letters, and sent Hedwig to deliver them. Hedwig clicked her beak proudly and soared off into the distance.

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: Draco's next destination is even more unexpected than the last...

What Evil Will Come

The next one-and-a-half hours were filled with a silence as thick and heavy as the low clouds that were forming over the homes and businesses of Little Whinging. Boredom had sunk in, and Harry was the only one prepared for it, having Quidditch books to read through, and friends to write to, and an owl to welcome home once she returned from her trip. Draco had begun to regret entrusting anyone with his situation who had been raised by Muggles. His mind wandered aimlessly, leading him on a wild goose chase in the search for a way to busy himself.

Finally, Hedwig came soaring through the open window. Draco looked up, wide-eyed. For him, this was the moment of truth. Would Harry's friends be convinced that he genuinely needed help? Or (Draco swallowed hard at the thought) would they try to convince Harry that Draco was lying, and actually serving as a spy for the Dark Lord?

Harry was reading Ron's rushed writing when Draco cleared his throat impatiently. "Just a minute!" Harry answered irritably. After a moment's pause, he started reading Hermione's neatly-written letter. When he was finally done, he turned to Draco and his mother and said, "This is going to be harder than I thought."

Narcissa sighed sharply behind her hand, a sure sign she was crying. Draco, on the other hand, had seen this coming. "And what's worst out of all of this," he said stiffly, his hands clenched tightly into fists, "they know where we are now. The Minister's probably on his way to arrest us both!" He pressed his palms to his forehead, swearing not to break down in front of the so-called Chosen One. Some good Draco had done, coming here!

"The Minister's got no business here, as far as I'm concerned," said Harry calmly, and Draco sensed Harry wasn't much happier with the new Minister than anyone else in the room. "I know it won't be easy, but if there's a chance to keep you two out of harm's way, I'll take that chance."

Draco searched Harry's expression for any hint of dishonesty, something he was quite used to from Slytherins and thus expected it from a Gryffindor. He was surprised, however, to find nothing less-than-genuine there. He sighed, dropping his gaze to the floor. "What do we do now?" he asked.

Harry shrugged, and glanced out the window. The sky was turning a deep shade of purple, and the setting sun threw golden light against all the west-facing windows of Britain. Draco looked out, too, feeling rather more homesick than usual. He inched nearer to Narcissa, and she understood. There was no boredom in that silence, nor worry. A tight, knot-like sensation formed in Draco's throat as he stood there, his eyes and mind blurred by tears he refused to let show.

The next morning, another letter arrived for Harry, delivered by a tiny ball of feathers he introduced as Pigwidgeon. Harry read it to himself, while Draco waited anxiously with Narcissa, both of them wondering what it contained.

"Ouch!" gasped Draco suddenly, having been knocked in the head with the twittering little owl, who then continued zipping around the room excitedly.

With an effort, Harry resisted a laugh at the look on Draco's face. "He does that sometimes," he told him casually, as though getting hit in the temple by an owl was something that typically happened to typical wizards. He looked briefly back at the letter, and his amused expression faltered noticeably.

Draco finally stopped glowering at Pigwidgeon and saw Harry's grin fade. "What?" he asked, his voice heavy with worry. "What does it say?"

"Well..." Harry began, looking up from the parchment in his hands, "it sounds like you can come to The Burrow for the rest of the summer. But-"

"What burrow?" interrupted Narcissa, more than a hint of distaste in her voice.

"It's not a real burrow," Harry said. "It's just a nickname. It's where the Weasleys live. But you-"

"We're not staying with them!" yelled Draco.

Harry stared at him coldly. "Would you rather stay here with the Dursleys?"

Draco fumed at the idea of being forced to live with a family whom he despised, and who all despised him. What evil will come of this? he wondered. The look on Narcissa's face suggested she agreed whole-heartedly with her son, though she said nothing more. On the other hand, the prospect of a safe place to stay – one where they wouldn't be surrounded by angry Muggles – began to tempt them more, the more they considered it.

"Why would they want us there, anyway?" Draco contemplated warily. "It's got to be a trap. They want us to walk right in, and the next thing we know, we'll be shut up in Azkaban!"

"They wouldn't do that, Malfoy," Harry sighed, getting annoyed with their arguing. "I know them! They're not sneaky like that. Not like you've been..." With that, he sat back on his bed, reading the Evening Prophet from the night before. He scanned each page, then tossed it aside and shook his head. "How many people have to die before this is over?" he asked himself.

Draco's gaze dropped to the floor. "Everyone," he answered, his voice shaking with anger. "Everyone he can get his filthy hands on." Harry gaped at him, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, never having expected to hear those words from him.

Narcissa cried out in shock. "Draco! What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking that's the perfect word for him."

Narcissa stared. Harry stared. Draco stared back. All was silent for the longest time, during which the red-hot fury Draco was experiencing continued to boil within him. Harry's brain was now swimming with questions, but decided it was not the best time to ask.

At last, the time came to depart for The Burrow. By then, Draco had calmed himself quite a bit, but he still wasn't happy at the thought of what lay ahead.

"But what if-"

"Are you coming or not, Malfoy?"


So the three left by Floo, using the fireplace as soon as all the Dursleys had left the house. Draco left the living room with a distinctly sour look on his pale face, and Harry assumed he arrived at The Burrow with that very expression. As soon as Narcissa had arrived, Harry followed, not surprised to see the look on Ron's and Ginny's faces as they watched the Malfoys.

Mrs. Weasley hugged Harry, looking concerned. "Hello, Harry," she said. "Are you alright? I've been worried sick since we got your letter..."

Harry smiled, happy to once again be in a room with people who cared about him. "I'm fine, Mrs. Weasley," he replied.

"That's good, dear. Let's have a seat, and you can tell us what happened," she told him gently, gesturing toward Narcissa and Draco.

Harry, Ron, Ginny and Mrs. Weasley sat down in the kitchen, but the Malfoys stood a safe distance away, glancing warily between each other and Harry as he explained the situation at hand. When he was finished, there was a deep, unreadable silence that filled the air around them.

Ron was the one to break it. "So they just showed up in the doorway, after all that's happened?" he asked Harry in disbelief. "After all he's done?" He shot a furious glance at Draco as he said this.

Draco swallowed hard; he preferred to convince himself someone else had done all he had in the past year, and that he never could have. He realized, however, that that comforting thought would be nearly impossible to consider here.

Harry nodded. "But I think what happened that night could be enough to change anyone. I mean, why else would they end up at the Dursleys'?"

Ron raised an eyebrow. "To capture you?" he said.

"Strangely enough, Ron, that idea reached me, as well," said Harry. "But so far, nothing like that's happened, and I don't think it will, by the looks of it."

"The looks of what, exactly?"

"The point is, a part of me knows I trust them. You weren't up in that tower, Ron, and you didn't hear what I heard."

"What did you hear that could possibly make me trust him, Harry?"

"I'm not making you do anything. I'm just telling you they're obviously not here to harm anyone. I think they deserve a chance."

Ron's eyes widened at these words, then narrowed. "That's exactly what Dumbledore thought about Snape."

Harry said nothing, but dropped his gaze to the table between them. Draco, however, felt a small wave of hope wash over him. "Dumbledore wanted us safe," he said suddenly. "He knew Mother and I have never been true Death Eaters." He stepped forward, feeling brave for the first time in months.

"It takes more than the Dark Mark to make a person loyal to the Dark Lord."

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: How do you patch up generations of resentment? Draco must do so, and quickly, or even Harry Potter won't be able to.

Patching Old Cloth

The room was still for a moment while everyone registered what Draco had said, after which Narcissa hurried to the window, searching frantically for any sign of spies. Meanwhile, Harry turned to Ron, waiting to see how he would react.

"You've got a lot of nerve," Ron scoffed, "coming here after you tried to kill me!"

"But I never-" tried Draco, but Ron interrupted him.

"Oh, that's right, it wasn't me you were trying to poison, it was Dumbledore. That's SO much better!" snarled Ron as he stood to approach Draco, wand in hand.

"You don't under-"

"And you let the other Death Eaters into the school, and Greyback! You must have heard what he did to Bill. How can you expect anyone to forgive you after all you've done?"

Draco was quite silent for at least a full minute. He wanted to run for it, and not stop running till every ounce of strength had left him. He felt the room begin to whirl around him, steadied only by his mother's voice. "You listen to me," she told Ron icily. "You're the one with too much nerve. How dare you accuse my son of something you don't understand at all yourself? Draco is a hero in ways you may never know!"

"Mother..." Draco protested in a hushed tone, as the incredulous faces of Ron, Ginny, and Mrs. Weasley strongly suggested that he was as far from heroic in their opinions as it was possible to be. Narcissa glared defensively back at the Weasleys, but said nothing more for the moment, although she made it perfectly clear that she still had plenty left to say.

Harry, meanwhile, was deep in thought. There was obviously more to the situation than Draco had ever let show, but unless he and his mother were allowed to stay at the Burrow, the full truth might never reveal itself. And something inside Harry told him he needed to know. He knew it was no coincidence that Draco and Narcissa had ended up on his doorstep to ask him, of all people, for help.

Looking intently at nothing in particular, Draco broke the moment's silence. "I'm not... proud of this..." he said hesitantly, sounding as though the words themselves were unwilling to leave his throat. "Any of it. But it's not like I had a choice," he added, finally glancing up at the Weasleys.

"Of course you had a choice!" exclaimed Ginny. "Everyone does. No one can force you to choose the Dark arts."

Draco shook his head wearily. How can I possibly make them understand? he wondered, the hope fading quickly from his eyes. "I know what you think of me," he told them quietly. "You're convinced I was brought up in a world of luxury. I know this, because for the past six years, I've done all I could to convince you of that. And in some shallow, materialistic way, it may be true. But there's more to life than owning things." Not daring to make eye contact with any of them, he felt once more the familiar tightening in his throat he recognized as desperation. What would he and Narcissa do, where would they end up, if he couldn't convince the Weasleys to let them stay? Once again, the fate of the Malfoy family was resting on Draco's shoulders.

"Draco..." began Narcissa in a soft, almost comforting tone, but Draco shook his head sharply and raised his eyes again to meet the Weasleys'. Seeing them there, together, and safe in their own house, made his heart sink with the knowledge that he might never know that luxury for himself.

Ginny was about to say more when she noticed something, a difference in Draco's presence that she had never seen in him before. He looked quite the opposite of his usual, overly-confident self. He wasn't standing proud, he seemed dragged down with overwhelming emotion, and despite his determination over the past year to bring chaos and danger to Hogwarts and the rest of the Wizarding world, Ginny suddenly felt an unexplainable connection between the two of them.

Draco looked at the youngest Weasley, wondering resignedly if there was anything he could say to improve the situation, when he noticed her expression had changed. And even more suddenly, the answer dawned on him as a ray of sunlit hope. He neither knew nor cared where the idea had come from; all he knew was that there was no other way to convince them of his genuine intentions...

Taking in a slow, silent breath, the boy in question reached into his cloak pocket and withdrew his wand. Harry's jaw dropped, Ron and Mrs. Weasley gasped loudly, and Ginny, whose eyes remained the sole focus of Draco's, stood slowly, watching in horror for the attack...

And then, with a loud cracking sound, Draco's wand fell to the floor, snapped in two. He picked up the pieces and handed the first to Ron, and the other to Ginny. Now all he could do... was wait.

The silence that followed was excruciating. Draco ached to speak, but knew better. As he waited, thoughts and questions of every kind raced through the Weasleys' minds, and Narcissa began to feel faint. After a few painfully long moments, Harry and the Weasleys all turned their gaze to Draco's mother, wondering if she would do the same. Paling considerably at the idea of being defenseless in the company of Order of the Phoenix members, Narcissa shook her head in silent refusal, and stepped back slightly.

Draco's heart sank at her decision, but he still held on to a small shred of hope that his act would be enough for both of them. His eyes scanned the expressions of the Weasley family for signs of understanding, which to his immense relief, he found. Only Ron remained unconvinced, and that seemed manageable enough. Forgetting himself for the briefest of moments, he nearly let a small smile show, but reminded himself firmly that this was no time to let his guard down.

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: Draco's dearest outlet after enduring curse after curse all these years is a surprisingly non-magical one: writing. Of course, words have a power of their own to speak of...

The Pensieve

There was a great tension in that house in the hours to follow. Meanwhile, Mrs. Weasley set to write to her husband at work about all that had happened. With all her experience in the Order of the Phoenix, she had learned how to pass on news to fellow members without arousing suspicion and curiosity from Death Eaters, but this was a completely different matter. How would she be able to tell him that two known Death Eaters, specifically Lucius Malfoy's wife and son, were sitting in his living room, whispering to each other? It all seemed too strange to be real, and Molly was far from sure of how Arthur would react to the situation at hand.

While she thought over what to write, Narcissa scolded Draco furiously for what he had done. "What in Heaven's name were you thinking, Draco? What could have possessed you to snap your own wand at a time like this?"

"It was the only way," Draco answered simply. When Narcissa continued to stare at him, her eyes frantic and disbelieving, he continued, the tension evident in his voice. "What else could I possibly have done or said that would send the message? And what, exactly, were you planning to do to prove we're not just trying to attack from within? Think about it!" His tone had turned cold, despite himself. He tried once again to appear calm. "Just think about it."

In the darkened silence that followed, he looked around for the first time since he had arrived. The wooden floor and tables were cluttered with books and newspapers, a wizard chess set, and a few pairs of scuffed shoes, making the small place look more like a storage area than a living room. Still, the fireplace glowed at a slow, relaxing pace, and Draco saw as he glanced out a small window that rain was beginning to slide down the glass pane.

With a heavy sigh, Draco sat back and let his thoughts wander out that window and back to Malfoy Manor. The curse that had started this exhausting era in his life had not been the last; rather, the fact that he had not been expecting it - dreading it - only made it less of a horror to him. The flame that started that day had burned strong and hard over the years, and had scorched itself deep into Draco's soul. And the vast majority of the blows cast by Lucius had fallen on Draco within the walls of Malfoy Manor. Yet sometimes, even when it seemed at its most impossible, just the idea that Lucius might someday think of him as a son, rather than an unworthy heir, was enough to get him through the darkest of days. He looked into the fire, allowing himself a few moments of weakness while more half-memories, half-daydreams approached him, as they often did while he was alone.

There's more to my story than you could ever guess.
Just look in my Pensieve and let my past do the rest.
If I ever had the right to be afraid, it was lost
Long before I knew what fear really was...

At first, when the lines occurred to Draco, he thought little of them, but they nagged at him so that he couldn't ignore them and, remembering that he wasn't completely empty-handed, he nearly smiled again as he withdrew a square of folded-up, white parchment, and the self-inking quill he had purchased less than a year ago in Diagon Alley. He wrote quickly, then looked up to find Ron sitting in the chair next to him, reading the blond's handwriting at a ninety-degree angle. Aghast, Draco scooped up the parchment and quill and let out a disgusted scoff. "Tchah! What's your problem-?" (He reminded himself just in time not to call him by his surname) "Do you mind?" he demanded, glaring at him through narrowed eyes. If there was any one person there that Draco was least trusting of, it was this particular Weasley.

"Yeah, I do, actually," replied Ron, who was now glaring back. "You have a Pensieve, then? What on earth would you need one of those for?"

Draco closed his eyes for a moment, exasperated. "No," he snarled, "but if I did, would I be letting you know what's in it?"

Ron made a grab for the parchment, but Draco pulled it away again and put it in his pocket. "Liar. You were writing about your Pensieve, Malfoy. I'll bet you have one right in your room, just for the sake of owning one."

"Ugh," was all Draco could manage to say. There was no reasoning with Ronald Weasley, as Draco was quickly learning. "Nice talking to you, Weasley." He had let himself slip, too frustrated to stop himself, but he knew better than to stick around to 'apologize' for the mistake. He got up to walk away, but to his disgust, Ron followed.

"Where are you going now?" Ron asked, sounding as if Draco had just walked away from a meaningful and important conversation.

"Away," Draco tried, but the retort backfired.

"Good idea," Ron said comfortably, his arms folded over his chest, and he stopped hounding behind Draco. "For that matter, keep walking."

Draco fumed, wishing painfully that he had kept his wand intact. Even more, he wished he had not been so stupid as to put his trust in Harry Potter. Now, not only was he an attempted murderer according to the Ministry, as well as a traitor and escapee in the eyes of the Dark Lord and a shameful excuse for a Malfoy as far as his father was concerned, but he was also to be Ron's new revenge outlet. With Ronald watching his every move, weakness was out of the question. No, a single tiny tear would give the pest twice the venom he already had. But the pressure pounding into his lungs with every heartbeat was growing stronger. He knew he had never tried to befriend Ron, but there were reasons for that - couldn't the spoiled redhead see that he'd always deserved what he'd gotten from Draco? Couldn't he understand that to return those cold remarks was nothing short of cruel? It's so unfair... thought Draco bitterly as he returned to his writing spot.

He looked over his shoulder before taking the quill and parchment back out of his cloak pocket. Damn that Weasley! he thought, his newly-bought parchment now wrinkled and slightly torn from Ron trying to snatch it away. He turned it over, ironed it out with his hand, and wrote, nearly breaking the quill in his rage:

Dear whoever,
I hope this is as bad as it can get.

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: Arthur Weasley comes home after receiving a worrisome letter from Molly. Draco must convince Arthur to find forgiveness in his heart for him and his mother, for if he can't, all hope for the Malfoys' survival will be lost.

Crimes Never Forgotten

Even after he had set down his quill, Draco continued to stare intently at the parchment. To say he was sorry he'd written what Ron had seen was not entirely correct; he simply wished he'd been more careful to keep his words to himself. In truth, he had spent much of his time ever since that day following his tenth birthday writing down everything he could think of, which as an added bonus prepared him well for the typically lengthy essays he would be set while at Hogwarts. Writing had always felt like the one thing he was most adequate at doing, more so than Quidditch or potion-making or any other kind of magic. Moreover, spilling his emotions through his quill had been a welcome release for him all these years. Even at Hogwarts, where most students would rather be outside during good weather, or at least socializing, Draco sat down with his diary wherever he could do so alone, to sort out his jumble of thoughts onto its crisp pages.

Draco sat on his bed, excitedly jotting down a last-minute entry in his diary, when a knock sounded from his bedroom door. He startled and looked toward the door fearfully, but a second later, his mother peeked in and sighed, grinning slightly. "Mon fils," she said adoringly, "would your father knock? I doubt he would."

Draco sighed, amused. "But you know you never need to, either, Maman," he reminded her happily, ending as she had started: in French. He delighted in the long-lasting joke between them, the humor lying in the fact that Lucius had never bothered to learn a word in the elegant language, and so the mother and son could chatter all they wanted without worrying about being overheard.

Narcissa smiled briefly, but then grew more solemn. "Are you ready for the train, darling? It's time to get going," she whispered quickly.

Draco felt his throat tighten unexpectedly at the thought of leaving her alone with her husband for nearly four months. "But Mother, I don't want to leave…" he begged her, his eyes filling with concern. It had been three years since Lucius had changed, and as frightened as Draco had been at first, it was made clear quite early in those three years that he was not the only one in danger from his father's new, unpredictable nature. More than anything or anyone he had ever known, he hated the thought of returning for the winter holidays to find his mother broken. He had to be strong for her.

Narcissa watched her son lovingly, but she couldn't hide all the fear from her eyes when they heard Lucius' voice pierce the air from downstairs. "Come, Draco! You'll miss the train!" he called.

Draco shook his head so fiercely he felt dizzy. "I'm not going, Mother. We can send for a tutor, I don't care. But I'm not leaving you here. Je n'irai pas!" he refused, his voice breaking at the last few words. He threw himself into her arms, his tears too heavy to swallow back. They held each other, both unwilling to let go, until the door swung open and Lucius wrenched Draco away, having to drag the sobbing child down the stairs, into the sitting room, and into the fireplace. Lucius threw a small handful of Floo powder at the boy's feet and waited for him to speak.

"P-platform… nine and… three-quarters…" Draco stammered, and dried his tears before he arrived by the Hogwarts Express. Dobby followed wordlessly, levitating Draco's school trunk onto the platform, and then glanced around nervously. Within moments, the house-elf had scuttled off into the crowd. Draco was far too worried to care what he was up to. Finally, Lucius came out from the fireplace and grasped Draco hard by the shoulder so that the boy had to clench his fists to keep from tearing up again.

The next minute, Draco was on the Hogwarts Express, which had just started to pull away. Rubbing his shoulder for a single moment of self-pity, he turned to face the window. Lucius was easily seen from where Draco sat, and he glanced for an instant at his young son before turning away. It was, perhaps, a wishful daydream, but Draco felt himself push open the window in his compartment and scream with all his strength, "Don't you hurt her, don't you even look at her!" But the next thing he knew, the window remained shut, so he was left to guess that his moment of bravery had occurred only in his own mind.

In the five years to follow, Lucius' empowered attempts at keeping his wife and son apart would be met valiantly with increasing efforts on Draco's part to protect and defend his mother at any cost. After the Dark Lord's return, however, their situation worsened rapidly, and while Narcissa's well-being was Draco's top priority by far, he often felt himself slipping under his own weight, crushed by the pressure he was under. Incidentally, when falling grades and more frequent outbursts at school got him thrown in detention more times in his sixth year than the first five combined, more and more people began to notice how distraught the teenager was becoming, though most of them arrived at the easy but inaccurate conclusion that it was Lucius' arrest that had brought him down so low.

Draco gasped sharply at the sound of a heavy door opening, and in the next few seconds, his vision blurred and formed again, and the youth knew he'd been asleep. He turned wearily, mildly curious as to what had woken him up, but found to his despair that the recent arrival was of Arthur Weasley… Just how long had Draco been sleeping? He had wanted to prepare himself, and maybe put his quill back to work for a few minutes before — Oh, no…

On instinct, he had reached for the partially-used parchment he expected to find in his cloak pocket, but it wasn't there. One look at the table, where his quill lay alone, albeit slightly ruffled, told him it was time again to panic. He must have left it on that old coffee table, for anyone to find… Who else had seen what was written there? He dreaded the answer.

"Where are they, dear?" said a hushed voice, and Draco recognized it as Arthur's.

"Well… she's upstairs, the last I saw of her…" Draco's heart sank, knowing fully well who Molly was referring to so curtly.

"And… and the boy? Is he with her?"

Draco stared into the fireplace, wondering whether to be angry or just hurt. The boy. They wouldn't even use his name. He knew why: He knew of how Fenrir had snuck into the school after the other Death Eaters once Draco had turned his back, nearly murdering the Weasleys' eldest son and scarring him for life. Or, perhaps it was just because the boy was forced to see that dreadful Mark with every glance at his stinging left arm. After a year, the pain from the day he'd been branded had not gone away, perhaps a sign from the evil creature to keep him aware of the consequences his imminent failure would bring about.

And it had certainly kept him aware. He could not remember enjoying a single decent night's sleep throughout the entire year. Three times that year, he had nearly collapsed from exhaustion alone, and the most recent incident had landed him in the hospital wing long enough to get everyone 'worried' about him. Hah, worried… The word Madam Pomfrey should have used was 'suspicious'. But of course, paranoia would go in either direction that year.

Then, without another warning, Draco found himself looking straight into Arthur's face. Finding no words appropriate, he sat still, trying not to think of or look at anything in particular. Finally, he saw the man sitting down through the corner of his eye. Draco looked up at him on instinct.

"Why did you come here?" asked Arthur. He was addressing Draco with shocking patience, Draco's eyes flickered with something even he could not recognize. All he could guess was, after surviving that vicious, twelve-month rollercoaster that had carried him here, the lack of anger in Arthur's voice seemed the first sign that the rickety car was slowing to a stop.

Draco gulped and asked in an unintentional hush, "How much do you already know?"

Arthur shook his head slowly while he answered. "I want to hear it all from you."

He could not possibly have known how hard those words were for Draco to hear… or how much he had needed to hear them. Arthur was letting Draco tell his side of the story… Unfathomable!

Unfathomably amazing.

Before even attempting to speak, he gave himself a few seconds to wonder who was responsible for raising Arthur's youngest son, because it now seemed entirely impossible that the man before him had had any part in Ron's upbringing at all.

Draco's eyes refocused on Arthur's and a small pang of guilt hit him. He looked quite worn out, probably from a long day at work, but one thing he didn't look was impatient. Draco firmly decided not to mention his exchange with Ron after all. Respect, a nearly-forgotten concept to Draco where Narcissa wasn't concerned, reached out to him, and he returned it in the only way he knew how. Looking at the floor, he started by answering the original question directly. "Potter took us here. We were in Surrey yesterday, trying to find him. I guess we hoped if he couldn't help us himself, he'd know someone who would…"

"And what do you need help with, Draco?"

Taking a deep breath inward, Draco thought he could feel the pain in his left arm intensify for a split second. The youth shuddered, and it took him a few more seconds before he could respond. "I need to be sure what's left of my family won't be destroyed. I need her to live."

Arthur went quiet, his face unreadable. While he took on the weight of what Draco had told him, the teenager waited, not daring to let his mind wander. Arthur seemed to be waiting for an explanation, more of Draco's story perhaps. But he would not say another word, not until Arthur had spoken.

Yet when he did, it wasn't with the same tone he had used previously. A note of quiet resentment could be heard there. "If it's Azkaban you're trying to avoid, Draco, I can't promise very much just now. I hope you don't believe yourself innocent."

Draco knew what Arthur meant without another word wasted. Between Fenrir's attack and the poisoned mead, he knew he had caused this family a lot of grief. But how could he explain that he had never meant to cause them lasting harm? So-called bullying was one thing – but these were crimes, crimes against the family he had inadvertently come to for help. He was beginning to realize just how much he was asking of them, and his resolve was in shards.

But he couldn't give up on his mother. She had done nothing against them. "I know what I've done. And I'm not going to ask you to help me now." He was speaking slowly, his mind on what was to come. He pictured waking his mother upstairs, seeing tears fill her eyes as he told her goodbye, perhaps forever… She would never let him leave without her… But he knew Arthur would never trust him, and he could only blame himself. This was Narcissa's only chance. "But don't send my mother away, too." He realized his voice was breaking, but he didn't care anymore. "You have to understand… She's all that matters to me anymore—" Draco cut off, feeling as though he were being strangled. But he knew what was happening. He closed his eyes; the pressure cramming into him was too strong. He hated himself for doing it; surely, the man sitting across from him had more right to cry than he did. But the thought of never seeing her again was too much. For seven long, excruciating years, they had been all each other had in the world; nothing else had made any difference to them. "Just… P-please…" There was nothing outside these walls for him but danger. He had no wand, no defense against his fate. Was this his last chance to protect the one person he could remember ever loving? He would sooner die than let it slip away.

But once again, when he met Arthur's eyes through his own overflowing tears, he found his expression had changed. Now, clearly, it was Arthur's turn to stare at the other, shocked. "You won't even try to defend yourself?"

Draco was incredulous at the question. "How can I?" he asked between uncontainable sobs. "What words exist that could make you forgive me?"

Arthur's answer was even more unexpected than his offer to listen in the first place, and the voice that issued from his throat was extraordinarily heartfelt. "You've already put them to use."

Draco gasped as he watched Arthur pull a small, wrinkled, slightly-torn square of parchment from a pocket in his robes. "M-my…!" was all he could manage. He looked at it and couldn't even figure out what he was feeling. Was it hope? Relief, perhaps? No, no words of his could describe the great rush he felt while he realized he hadn't lost his latest writings to just anyone…

"Molly sent it to me with her letter. She said Ginny found it here while you were asleep. Maybe someday soon, you'll feel up to telling me more."

Draco let out his gasped breath slowly, still looking at the parchment in Arthur Weasley's hand. Then, if it hadn't been enough to see it again, the full meaning of what Arthur had said hit him with utmost force. "You're going to let me stay?" he breathed, his silver eyes widening.

Arthur nodded, having seen for the first time the unmistakable difference between this desperate child and his cold-hearted father. He was coming to a few realizations of his own, it seemed. So many before him had guessed Draco had done everything he had only to make Lucius proud, but they had all been lying to themselves. Was it possible that Arthur understood this now, too? After all, the tearful youth had let slip that his mother was all he cared about. In doing so, had he revealed his long-concealed opinion of Lucius as his father?

But none of these questions could enter the front of the teenager's mind, which felt like a room so packed with unrecognizable human figures that nobody could move an inch. And each one of these strange people was whispering in the ear of the person next to them, all speaking the same single word repeatedly: 'forgiven'. And the moment Draco heard this, he refocused his eyes on the man before him, who had nearly lost two of his sons in the space of the past year alone, but had still forgiven Draco for his part in what had happened to them. He knew he would care why eventually, but for now, all he could feel was gratitude.

"Merlin…" Draco whispered. The watery traces of his tears were slowly but steadily evaporating into the warm, comfortably dry air of the Weasleys' living room. He slowly began to consider once again that things would get better, and soon rather than later. Maybe, just maybe, things would work out.

Arthur resisted a smile at the look on the young Malfoy's face just before sleep returned to the boy. Forgiven or not, the worry and bloodshed his actions had caused would not be washed away with tears alone, however genuine they might have been. Even the writings Ginny had found had not initially been enough to bring Arthur to forgive all Draco had said and done to the Weasley family. But together, along with the adolescent's plea for his mother's safety, had confirmed for Arthur what he'd always been too hurt to consider. Draco Malfoy was human, and inwardly, a terrified child. Arthur took one last look at the parchment he was holding before following Molly upstairs to sleep.

"If I ever had the right to be afraid, it was lost long before I knew what fear really was…"

French Lesson: Mon fils = My son Je n'irai pas! = I won't!

Thanks to everyone who helped me with the French parts!

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: Narcissa speaks her mind to Harry, Ron and Ginny, and now Draco, having overheard a conversation between Molly and Arthur about the confrontation, will need to explain it all to them.

The First Morning

Draco slept for the rest of that night, and only when the sound of clinking dishes reached his ears did he stir, finally opening his eyes. The living room was airy and bright, and the first waking breath he took that morning reminded him how hungry he was. The sweet fragrance of pancakes, mixed with the tantalizing aroma of sausages, hovered on the sunbeam-filled air. What a welcome sensation!

But when he entered the kitchen, he was greeted by expressions of all sorts, for now Harry, Ron, Ginny, Arthur and Molly were all present, and each evidently had his or her own opinion of Draco. Still, though no one looked happy to see him, no one seemed to want to duel him, either. So far, so good.

He looked around cautiously, wondering if those already sitting would want his company, or at least be willing to tolerate it. Ron scoffed and stared at his breakfast, Harry shrugged indifferently, and Ginny sat watching him with an air of mild curiosity. Meanwhile, Molly, having stopped abruptly at the sight of him, continued sliding pancakes onto everyone else's plates, as if the door had opened to reveal a completely empty doorway.

But Arthur, as Draco should have guessed, reacted differently. He gave a small nod in the direction of an empty seat at the opposite corner of the table, which Draco gladly took. Molly sighed, but grudgingly slipped the last pancake of the batch onto his plate. Remembering what Arthur had said to him the night before, he was careful not to step on any toes if he could help it. "Thanks," he muttered. Ron glared at him, but luckily kept quiet.

Draco, too, kept his thoughts to himself while he ate. When the second batch of pancakes was ready, he was once again given the last, smallest pancake. This wasn't saying much, for Molly Weasley was indeed a good cook, and Draco wouldn't have found anything to complain about even if he had wanted to, but he still found it thoroughly unappetizing to sit down to breakfast with people who hated him.

Once everyone had finished eating, Draco looked at the door by which he had entered. He'd expected his mother to be awake by now. She had always been an early riser, and if that had changed, Draco was not aware of it. He got up to look for her, but didn't need to look far, because she was heading down the steps just as he left the kitchen. "Mother!" he exclaimed, relieved and smiling. She turned abruptly and smiled back.

"Oh, Draco!" cried Narcissa, doubling her pace to reach him. No more words were necessary. They simply saw one another, and everything uncomfortable was cast off as leaves to the wind.

They embraced, although Narcissa seemed more tense than usual. He knew why; he felt the same way here already. The house was too small for all of them, and though it wasn't quite crowded, it had been hard enough for Draco to find a quiet spot to write the night before. And as they let go of each other, Draco found himself relieved that Ronald the Resentful had not yet come in to berate them.

"Don't you worry, darling," his mother whispered. "We'll be out of here before you know it."

Draco grinned outwardly and nodded, but he couldn't help hoping it would take a little longer than she thought. Twice in less than twenty-four hours, the head of the Weasley household had treated him as a human being, going calmly against the obvious wishes of his wife and youngest son to do so. Only one other person had treated him quite like that, as a person, and an adult, and someone capable of making his own decisions in spite of everything. And that was Albus Dumbledore.

With this in mind, Draco took a seat by the fireplace again. It was cool that morning, and empty of flame, and for whatever reason, this unsettled him somewhat. It had been comforting somehow, seeing the bright warmth dance around its safe, cozy fireplace, and with its help, he had been able to let his mind wander wherever it led him. There was just something about the way the red, blue and gold of that benign fire blended into each other that soothed the soul. But now, staring at the fresh wood that sat silent and lifeless in its place, he could find no such distraction to lead his thoughts.

It wasn't long before Ron, Ginny and Harry appeared in the living room. Keeping an eye on Draco, who in turn kept an eye on the three of them, Ron addressed Draco with a grimace. "It's bad enough Mum and Dad are letting you and your mum stay here. Do you honestly have to sleep in the living room?"

Draco rolled his eyes at the remark, still seated on the couch. "I was under the impression you wanted me as uncomfortable as possible while I'm here. Why are you complaining now? Do I look like I'm enjoying this any more than you are?"

Ron's eyes narrowed, but Ginny spoke up before her brother could think of a suitable retort. "You're talking like you haven't done everything in your power over the past six years to make all of us as uncomfortable as possible!" she reminded him. Draco frowned, but didn't answer.

"All of us, Malfoy," Harry agreed firmly. "You have a lot to be sorry for."

"I had my reasons…" Draco muttered, bitterness clear in every syllable.

"Like what?" shouted Ron. "None of us provoked you – it was always the other way around!"

"That's a lie!" Draco snarled, suddenly on his feet. He whirled around to face Ron, an intense fire in his storm-gray eyes. He spoke directly at Ron: "You're not as innocent as you let yourself believe! You've never stopped provoking me!"

Ron wore an expression of mixed bewilderment and dread at Draco's outburst. He clearly thought it was only the beginning of something even more unexpected, but already, Draco knew he had said too much. He knew none of them would be likely to let him go without interrogation now, for he had been trying to conceal for six years what he'd just let slip. Yes, there was more to it than what he had actually said, but he had still inadvertently set out the bait, and the curious nature of these Gryffindors was sure to do the rest; it always had in the past.

He sat back down, wondering what had caused him to slip, while Harry, Ron and Ginny continued to watch him in silence. But the hush was short-lived; Narcissa, having heard their shouting from the next room, appeared in the doorway only a second later. "What's this?" she asked the other three warningly, hurrying to Draco's side.

"Malf— That is, Draco, was just about to explain what any Weasley has ever done against the Malfoy family," Ginny answered abruptly. She and her brother looked back at him expectantly, but Draco said nothing and went back to staring at the cooled fireplace as though his three classmates had already left the room.

Narcissa, however, only darkened her glare, partly in the hope of making them all too uncomfortable around her to stay put. Then she turned to her son and sat beside him. "Are you alright, darling?" she whispered kindly in French. Draco nodded, but did not look at her. She understood. Turning back to the three onlookers, her voice turned ice-cold to address them as she rose again from the couch. "Are you finished badgering my son? I don't care in the least that this tiny, ridiculous house is yours, you have no right taking your petty little frustrations out on someone you've never even given a second thought to! How dare you!"

"What are you talking about?" scoffed Ron. "We're badgering him? He's the bullying git. Not to mention, he tried his best to kill the headmaster all last year!"

"You… Never…!" Narcissa seethed, out of breath in her rage. "You have no right, no right to judge him, knowing nothing! You insolent—!"

"Mother, please don't…" Draco pleaded with her, knowing that Molly and Arthur were only a room away. He glanced fearfully in the direction of the kitchen door just in time to see Arthur appear there, his wife close by. Draco's eyes widened; his heartbeat doubled – he knew he and his mother were on thin ice, and the look on her face was frightening, given the situation at hand. "Oh, no…" he whispered.

Arthur moved quickly to stand between his children and Narcissa, holding up an index finger in warning. "You asked us protect you, and here you're acting as though we owe you something, shouting at my children and looking at us as if you'd rather step on us than live here. Well, if you want to leave, Narcissa, you're more than welcome to do so. But bear in mind that until you do, you and your son are guests in my house, and regardless of what you may think of it, you are required to treat my family with the same respect you'd want us to give you. Do I make myself clear?"

Narcissa stepped back, aghast at Arthur's words. Draco could tell she wanted nothing more than to argue, but he knew he couldn't let that happen. "Mother," he began, "it's fine. Don't…" They had both been through a lot of pain, but if anything, it had brought them closer together, and he knew she would listen to him, if no one else.

A storm of thoughts raced through Narcissa's mind, but she knew when she saw the look in her son's eyes that she had to let it go. She nodded, still looking at him. "Pour votre bien, mon fils," she whispered solemnly. For your sake…

Draco sighed deeply, and smiled. He didn't like being here much more than she did, but they would be safer here than anywhere else they could imagine going.

An hour or so after this confrontation, the two of them were sitting together when they heard Arthur and Molly talking upstairs.

"You mustn't let too much of the distant past make your mind up for you. He's not a second Lucius, I can tell that much." Arthur reassured his wife gently.

"How can you be so sure, Arthur?" asked Molly, who sounded as though she were trying not to start sobbing. "Look what he's been up to for the past year! From what I've heard and seen, I'd say he's shaping up to be exactly like his father."

Molly's words cut Draco to the bone. How could anyone think that of him? Or, more dangerously, was she right? He tried with every bit of self-control he had to keep his face blank, to make it seem like the accusation had had no effect on him, but after seven years of being all he had to cling to, Narcissa knew better. "Don't you listen, darling," she told him quickly. "That old madwoman never knew you to begin with. Rumors, that's all she knows. Rumors and lies! Don't you listen to her."

Draco hoped his mother was right, but self-doubt kept nagging in at him. Meanwhile, the argument on the second floor landing continued, its speakers quite unaware that they were being overheard.

"...hasn't tried anything yet," Arthur said. "And I told you what happened last night when I spoke with him. It's his mum I'm concerned about."

Draco took a deep breath and held it for a moment. You can't blame her, he thought. She was only trying to help me!

"Y-yes, exactly," Molly stammered angrily. "I trust her even less. She's taken far too many liberties in this house already."

"I understand, dear, but there's more to it than that. We'll get used to all of us living in the same house, but until then, think about what I've been telling you. I know it's hard to imagine, but he was literally begging me to let Narcissa stay. He was prepared to leave, under that condition. What could I have said? He was in tears, Molly. Would you honestly have sent them packing if it were up to you?" There was a pause, in which Draco could hear his own quickening heartbeat. Then, Arthur continued on. "Molly, dear, please keep an open mind about this. Do we really know that much about these two? Not enough to sentence them to Azkaban, or death if You-Know-Who finds them first."

Draco shuddered at the thought, but suddenly, he felt oddly compelled to join the conversation upstairs. He stood, but his mother grabbed his hand, and he turned to face her. "I know what I'm doing, Mother," he said, pulling away. But it wasn't true; he honestly had no idea what he would say to Molly Weasley. All he knew was that something had to be said.

He took the steps slowly, trying to make as little noise as possible. When he reached the bedroom door behind which the husband and wife continued to discuss his fate, and that of his mother, he paused, gathering whatever courage he could find to make his unwanted presence known. He had spoken to Arthur already, and he knew he had to try to talk to Molly, to tell her – even show her – that he wasn't like his father, and that he hoped he never would be.

He knocked quietly, full of self-doubt, but when Molly opened the door, took one look at him and frowned, he knew there was no turning back. "I – I couldn't help overhearing..." he began anxiously.

"What is it?" Molly asked curtly.

Taking a sharp breath inward, Draco said as steadily as he could, "I'm not an evil person. But I am a person. I'm a person you can talk to directly if you have something against me. And I know you do." Molly continued to stare at him coldly, delivering a considerable blow to Draco's hope of success. But he wasn't ready to give up. "I need to speak with you," he added simply.

Molly looked back at him warily. "Alone?" she said incredulously, as though daring him to make such a ridiculous request.

"No," he replied without hesitation. "I just want you to hear me out. I don't care who else is around, but... but Mr. Weasley's right. You don't know the first thing there is to know about me."

"I know your family..." Molly began.

"You know my father," Draco interrupted, his eyes downcast. "You know what he's done to your family. What you don't know... What you don't know is what he's done to mine." He looked back up at her intensely and waited for her to react.

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: Draco's talk with Arthur and Molly is overheard...

Lucky Little Weasley

For a while, Molly didn't say anything. All she did for at least a minute was stare back at him, looking as if she were lost in thought.

"Molly," Arthur said gently, "at least give him a chance to explain what he can."

Finally, she sighed and opened the door further so that Draco could enter. As he did, his mind spun dizzily in its search for some way to begin. He could tell they needed to hear about what his father had done to him and his mother, but he had kept it a solemn secret for so long, and it would take more than a few short hours to tell his full story. But something deep inside him rattled its cage; it wanted to get out. And with Lucius still in Azkaban after over a year, the risks involved in opening that cage, in letting out the mysterious, scarred creature that was his past, seemed to be disappearing before his eyes.

Looking at the floor, he took a slow, shaky breath inward. "He cursed us," Draco said uneasily, still fearful despite Lucius' absence. It was more than he could manage to keep from shaking as he stood there.

Molly must have been so shocked to see Draco Malfoy trembling that the anger seemed lost from her tone when she asked, "Who cursed you?" When he looked up, he saw her eyes had softened slightly, too.

Instantly, he knew who Molly and Arthur thought he was referring to. But the Dark Lord had only been a problem in the last two years, and the real problems, of course, had started long before then. Draco closed his eyes briefly and answered, "My father." A powerful rush of fear coursed through his veins as the words escaped his lips. It had been such a well-kept secret, and for so long…

Arthur looked worriedly from Molly back to Draco. "When?" he asked. "What curse?"

"All the time," he answered after another long pause. "It was the Cruciatus. He loved it; it was a game to him. A game only he could win." In the silence, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley stared at him with equally horrified expressions on their faces. Draco, however, kept his eyes on the floor, feeling dizzy and very ill. He had never spoken to anyone about all this except for his mother, who was faced with the same struggle. Now these two were questioning him about it… It just felt so wrong. He was used to being the target of his father's anger and cruelty. But he wasn't, and he guessed he never would be, used to talking to anyone about all that he and Narcissa had gone through before arriving at Privet Drive. And yet, some unknown force was driving him to say more. In a strange way, after all these years, revealing the truth to a world full of lies was an incredible relief.

"I'm not an idiot," he vented. "I know it could be worse, much worse. But does that make it acceptable? I used to think it was, but not so much anymore. There's no dignity in a life like that, and what good is life without dignity?" Draco finally found the courage to glance up at the Weasleys, but he still felt very awkward, standing there with his secret lying visible before them.

"Dignity means a lot to you, then," a voice said from outside the bedroom door. The door opened a few inches more to reveal Ginny standing there, her deep brown eyes more unsure than resentful. "If that's the case, why have you treated us with so much indignity in the past? That doesn't make sense, Malfoy."

Draco shook his head, his already unsteady mood taking a steep dive at the realization that his audience had become larger than he'd planned for. "Have you ever been under the Cruciatus curse?" he asked her, his voice shaking with anger. Ginny looked alarmed at the suggestion, and opened her mouth to speak, but Draco was too quick for her. "You haven't, have you?" he snapped. "You don't know the meaning of the word indignity. You think just because you don't have everything money can buy that you have nothing of value."

Ginny glared at him fiercely. There was that painful subject again: money. But once again, before she could protest, Draco spoke up. "But you don't realize… there hasn't been one day I wouldn't have given it all… for what you have."

The air itself went still. Ginny fell silent, her mouth slightly open; she couldn't begin to make sense of what she'd just heard. Arthur and Molly stood together, neither knowing how to end the thick hush that now surrounded them.

At last, Ginny found words. "I never got the idea you wanted anything of mine," she told him, although she couldn't bear to make eye contact with him as she said it. Something about his eyes chilled her, but Draco knew exactly what it was: she was beginning to realize she had been wrong about him all these years. She had never given him a closer look, merely accepting the idea that he was a bully in every way, and now she was starting to regret it.

But regret wasn't enough, not for Draco. She had to understand him, and so did her brothers, her parents, and Potter. They had to know him, beyond the façade he had been pressured into wearing while at school. He was willing to discuss it after all, under the condition that his true story would not fall on deaf ears.

"I wanted to live your life," he explained. "Ronald's life. You don't see what you have here, Ginny Weasley. You're safe. You're free. You're cared for. You're cared about. You're home, and with a family you can rely on for anything." He closed his eyes and said again, "Anything."

Shaking his head slowly, his eyes fixed on Ginny's, he added, "To think that someone like you, who has everything money can't buy, would care so much about all the little things it can…"

Ginny wasn't sure what to say. She looked up at Draco, but suddenly felt like she was being spun around like a top. She had never seen him like this, so… well, so civil. But the look on Draco's face was of more than mere civility. She couldn't describe it, nor could she bring herself to look anywhere but straight into his soul through those intense, mysterious, silver eyes. Now far from chilling, they were warmer than any she could remember seeing before, and for a fraction of a second, she felt as though she were looking at Harry…

But then, her mind caught up with her, and she broke eye contact again, though she secretly wanted to look back at him.

"Ginny?" Arthur said, watching her with an air of concern. "Are you alright?"

Ginny turned to her father to nod, but the question itself had reopened an age-old wound in Draco's heart. Without giving himself time to think, he grasped her firmly by the shoulders and gazed into her. "That's exactly what I'm talking about, Ginny!" he told her forcefully, desperate for her, for all of them, to fully comprehend the meaning of what he was telling them.

But in reaching out to her, he had crossed onto dangerous ground. Immediately, her parents sprang into action, protecting their only daughter from the unpredictable. "I wasn't hurting her!" he shouted as Arthur pulled him away.

"What are you doing, Draco?" Arthur demanded.

Draco looked back at Ginny, hoping she would tell her dad that he hadn't done anything to her, but she wasn't looking at him. Her eyes were half-focused and downcast, and she didn't look very ready to say anything at all. Disappointment hit him like a Bludger in the ribs, but he kept his eyes on hers. "I saw it…" he whispered. "I saw it in her… She understood… And then she turned away…" He swallowed hard.

"I honestly don't know what to think about you, Draco Malfoy," sighed Arthur, stepping back resignedly.

"That's fine," Draco replied bitterly. "No one ever does."

Ginny looked up at him again without meaning to, and noticed for the first time how emotionally exhausted he looked. She had to wonder in that moment how terrorized a 16-year-old would have had to be to try to kill as powerful a wizard as Albus Dumbledore. It boggled her how any parent could curse their own child so badly, but she could tell from what she'd heard that the young man standing before her had been born into a harsh world she would never wish on anyone. "I never pictured my life that way before. I mean, I never thought I was lucky."

"Feels great, doesn't it?" Draco scoffed.

"No," she answered without a moment's pause. "Not in the least." She took a few small steps toward him, braving his heated gaze all the while. "But if you ask me, this is a turn for the better. You'll be safe here, Draco."

At these words, Draco felt as though an immense, invisible weight had been dumped onto him, crushing his lungs. He was so overpowered with it that he didn't realize he was shaking even harder than before. The next thing he knew, he was taking the downward stairs three at a time, and he reached the living room couch just as the dam broke, setting free a flood of emotions to soak into the couch's old cushions.

You'll be safe here. How could he be? The evil outside these walls was far more powerful than the walls themselves. But there was just something about the way she had said it that made him ache for more. And beyond that, she had called him by his own name, not by his father's. That, by itself, was an extraordinary leap from the past; she was acknowledging him as his own person… and it felt amazing.

Later that morning, Ginny sat down to tell Harry what she'd discovered. "You were right, Harry," she told him. "There's more to Draco than we ever expected. And in a way, his behavior is just starting to make sense. I mean, if I'd been in his position, being mistreated to that degree, I can't say I would be any more friendly than he was to us all these years."

"I don't think any of us would be very different in his situation, Ginny," Harry assured her thoughtfully. "It's Ron I'm worried about. I know he's never really been the most forgiving person, but he's not even listening to what his own parents are telling him. He's just blocking it all out." It was true; although most of the Weasley family believed what Draco had said, Ron still seemed as eager as ever to see Draco and his mum thrown out of the house and into Azkaban. "None of us ever really liked Malfoy, but maybe it's time for a change."

Ginny nodded almost imperceptibly, but said nothing. She couldn't keep her mind very far from what she'd seen hours earlier, and how she'd felt, looking at him… Looking into the eyes that had, for so long, concealed such a terrifying secret. She felt herself sink slightly in her chair, remembering the look in those eyes just before he had hurried back downstairs. He had become so different overnight. One minute, he was letting a small army of Death Eaters into Hogwarts, and the next, he was explaining his own painful past to those who had always believed him a troublemaker and personal enemy. It was clear he was telling only truth, for he had never appeared so genuine in the time she'd "known" him; and yet she wasn't sure exactly how to believe him. A father torturing his own son on a regular basis? A lifelong bully like Draco having a reason to be hurt and angry? It was simply beyond her imagination.

Then, another thought ticked her memory. He had told her that very morning, albeit indirectly, that she, Ron and Harry had actually provoked him to bully them. Ginny looked up toward the living room, where she was certain Draco still sat, wondering feverishly what he'd meant by this.

A few more seconds of that curiosity was more than she could handle. Without another word, she stood to leave the room.

As expected, Draco was sitting in the living room when she got there. When he looked up from the coffee table, he tried unsuccessfully to hide a small sigh, relieved that it was her, and not Ron, who was approaching.

"Draco," Ginny said, almost without realizing it, "what were you talking about when you said we've all been provoking you?" Draco hesitated. He wasn't so sure he wanted to go down that conversational road just then. But Ginny knew there was more to grasp about what made him the way he was, and she persisted. "What did you mean?" she asked again, sitting next to him on the couch.

"It doesn't matter," he told her, waving his hand dismissively. "Forget about it."

"It does matter, Malfoy!" she exclaimed, realizing too late that calling him by his last name wasn't the best way to go about gaining his honesty. Quickly, she responded to his darkened glare, adding, "You might not realize it, but we're trying to help you. Don't you want—?"

"I don't need your help," Draco said without thinking. Immediately, his heart seemed to sink to ground level. Who are you kidding? He snarled inwardly. You need anyone's help!

Fortunately for him, Ginny wasn't fooled. "When have I caused you any harm?"


"What have I ever done to you? I want to know, Draco. I need you to tell me."

"I wasn't saying it to you!" he blurted, feeling more stressed by the second.

Ginny stared at him for a moment. "You weren't?"

Draco sighed, avoiding her gaze as well as he could. "No, I wasn't. I was talking to your brother, and to Potter. And believe me, they've done plenty."

Ginny stared at him, but Draco kept his eyes on the table. "Well… what did they do, then?"

Draco's gaze hardened again, now aimed at the old wood of the coffee table. "Ronald Weasley, the world's greatest idiot. You have no idea what a perfect life you both live, but at the very least, you're willing to learn. And not only does he refuse to listen to reason, but he spends a large part of his life actually complaining about what he doesn't have. Honestly, it's beyond me how someone like your father could have raised an ingrate like your brother," he fumed.

Just hours earlier, Ginny would have defended Ron, but as it was, she knew that in a strange way, he was right. Ron often complained about not being given a more "ideal" life. And it had gotten worse now that Draco and Narcissa had shown up. Having a rich kid in the house had certainly done nothing for his attitude. Thinking from Draco's perspective as much as she knew how, she understood that it must have been more hurtful to Draco than just irritating.

But that didn't explain everything. "What about Harry?" she asked him.

Briefly, Draco looked up at her, but then he forced his gaze back to the table. "That's easy," he said solemnly. "He's the Chosen One. Yes, I know how stupid I must sound, calling that a reason… But there's something else you don't understand: Every time Potter stopped the Dark Lord doing what he wanted and saved your necks, Father got angry at us, and it's always my responsibility to take the brunt of it."

"Your—?" Ginny began, bewildered.

"My responsibility," Draco repeated slowly, nodding almost impatiently. "It's my responsibility to protect Mother. Threatening my father would have been beyond foolishness; I knew of no defense he couldn't get through. So I just took it myself, I took the curses, I took the blows, I took the shame… for her. I took it all, so that she wouldn't have to."

Ginny was silent. She could feel her heart breaking for Draco's past, for his whole situation. It was somewhere between astonishing and sickening, how different he was up-close. Right then, more than ever before, she regretted not looking deeper into his life story earlier on.

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: Draco tries to be civil with Ron despite the young Weasley's hurtful attitude, but for how long will his strained efforts be able to continue?


Ginny watched him for a while more, unable to find words. Looking as melancholy as she had ever seen him, Draco avoided her eyes, preferring to let his mind wander to what lay in his pocket. He wanted to keep writing; he knew from experience that setting the magical ink free onto its field of parchment was the only way to make himself any more comfortable in this place. He was through being questioned. It was emotionally exhausting, and he wasn't in the mood for that.

It was a few moments later that the silence was broken, but neither Draco nor Ginny had made a sound. "Draco?" spoke a soft and comfortingly familiar voice. Draco's face remained solemn for another moment, but his heart lightened contentedly at the sound, and he turned to see his mother coming down the stairs. Her eyes sparkled when they met his, but then they noticed Ginny sitting with him. She hesitated slightly on the second-to-last step, but remembered almost instantly Draco's reasoning for trusting her. She sat next to her son on the couch and let a subtle smile show.

Then, glancing again at Ginny, she said, "I heard you talking upstairs. I never thought your family would listen to our side of the story, let alone that you would believe it." Draco half-smiled, remembering with no difficulty the way Ginny had looked at him once she realized that he was telling only truth. She had most certainly been the first of their generation to make that realization.

Ginny knew that Narcissa had meant to thank her, but her words only cut the young redhead deeper. "It shouldn't have happened. A father should be defending and caring for his family, not harming them. I believe you – of course I do! But I've never thought anyone would be so cruel… to their own family…" She looked at Draco, who wore a pained expression and glanced at his mother.

Narcissa's smile had faded, but the kindness in her eyes remained. "We've left that behind, Ginny," she reminded her, "and we aren't going back. This could be the second chance we've both been holding out for."

Draco nodded, then looked back at Ginny. A slight smile brightened her face, but he could see it concealed a hidden sadness. "I'll try talking to Ron," she told them, "but I can't promise very much. I mean, especially with Bill still at St. Mungo's, he's not going to be on his best behavior about this, no matter what I tell him."

"I should probably talk to him myself," Draco said. "He needs to hear the truth from me." Both he and Ginny seemed anxious about the idea, but he had already convinced Molly to listen. Surely, Ron's heart could be softened as well. Narcissa looked worried, but eventually nodded her agreement.

When Draco found Ron a few minutes later, the redhead was on his bed, glaring upward at the ceiling. Ron must have been lost in thought, Draco assumed, for it took a few more seconds for the boy to realize his solitude had been broken, and by whom. Turning to Draco, he snarled, "What do you want?"

Draco had to firmly remind himself not to let Ron's attitude problems become his own. "I'm not here to argue," he answered carefully. "I'm here to talk to you. You really need to have an open mind, like the rest of your family does." As he spoke, he walked over to the other bed in the room and sat at its foot, much to Ron's disgust.

"That's Harry's bed," Ron said flatly. "And as far as not having an open mind, who's the Death Eater?" he added. "Me or you?" Satisfied that he'd made his point, he went back to staring at the ceiling.

Draco, however, wasn't discouraged as Ron had hoped. "That's not what I'm talking about!" he growled, his frustration rising. "There's more to it than that. That's what I'm trying to tell you! I never wanted this to happen; I never planned for it. There's a concept you don't seem to comprehend; it's called duty. Potter knows what it means. You might want to take a few lessons from him, if you won't even listen to me."

Before Ron could interrupt, Draco explained further. "I had no choice but to do what I did. There was no getting around it. I've already told you I'm not proud of it. What more do I have to do to get you to listen to reason?" By then, both of them were fuming. Remembering his conversation with Ron's father less than twenty-four hours earlier, Draco marveled at the personality gap between Ron and Arthur once again.

If the young Malfoy really had gone too far in his "bullying," he had been in no position to care, and quite frankly, that hadn't changed. In Draco's eyes, ignorance was a crime, just as heinous as anything he'd ever done or tried to do, and in the Slytherin's mind, Ronald was as ignorant as anyone Draco had ever had the misfortune of meeting. It infuriated him to think he knew so much that Ron might never take the time to learn. While the Weasleys had fought against the Death Eaters' ranks, Draco had joined them. He had known terror sharp enough to blind a person. He had been the price of his father's freedom from Azkaban. That price, of course, remained unpaid – he had not been killed as expected.

As expected… Draco was supposed to have died; it was obvious by now. The loss of his life would have restored to Lucius his freedom, albeit in secrecy. But Draco was not the one who had lost the Prophecy! Why should he have been the one to pay for it? Had he not been, and had Lucius been punished for his own mistake, Draco wouldn't have had to be here, in the attic of the Weasleys' home, trying to talk some sense into the prat standing before him.

"There's no excuse for what you've done to me and my family, and not to mention, Harry!" snarled Ron. Then, he wore a half-smug, half-disgusted expression, and added, "You think I don't know how you got him to take you in? How much of an idiot do you think I am, Malfoy? You Imperiused Harry!" concluded Ron with a tone of visible rage. Before Draco could argue, however, he continued his rant. "I tried warning Mum; that's why she had you come here, so she and Dad could keep an eye on you. But now, I don't reckon you need to curse them, too. You've already got Mum, Dad and Ginny thinking you're harmless."

Aghast at the conclusion to which Ron had arrived so willingly, Draco felt his heart sink to the level of his stomach, which clenched in his rage. His next defense, however, was clear. "I broke my wand, you imbecile! You saw me do it!" he shouted. "No curse can endure that; if I had tried anything, why would I have snapped the wand I did it with?"

Ron's eyes widened as he took in what Draco had told him. Then, a look of realization spread across his face. "You've got another one, haven't you?" he suggested, folding his arms across his chest smugly.

Draco stared at Ronald, hateful thoughts racing through both boys' minds. "Search me," Draco managed to say through his blinding anger. "I have nothing left to hide."

Ron seemed to make yet another false realization, and with it, he stood from his bed and headed for the door. "I'll bet you haven't," he said, shoving Draco aside even though he had plenty of room to walk past him. "I'll bet your dear mother has it for you."

But before Ron could reach the staircase, Draco grabbed his arm from behind and threw him backwards into the bedroom with all the force he could muster. In merely mentioning Narcissa, the infuriating redhead had gone too far. With Draco's imagined second wand forgotten by both, Ron fumbled in his pockets for his own while Draco made ready to strike as hard as he could. "You lay a hand on my mother," he bellowed, "and you'll pay! You'll pay for everything! Do you understand? Everything!"

Ron had just managed to retrieve his wand when another familiar voice found their ears. "What's going on…?" Draco backed away immediately, but he knew just as well that the damage was done. Harry stood on the landing outside Ron's room, taking in the scene with an air of disbelief. "What do you think you're doing?" he demanded.

Draco didn't answer just then. He felt painfully trapped, his stomach turning as though he were flying backwards and upside-down. Ron, however, looked more than eager to start blaming his attacker, and making rash accusations to his heart's delight.

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: Everyone panics when news arrives from the Order that the Minister of Magic has been killed and the Ministry confiscated. Getting everybody to Grimmauld Place safely is one thing, but convincing the Order's new Secret Keeper to allow Draco and his mother to stay at least for the night is quite another.
Meanwhile, Lucius is broken out of Azkaban and brought before Voldemort to accept a very important mission...

And Into the Fire

Ron stood himself back up quickly, greatly relieved to find Harry on his side again, and of course, he wasted no time in giving his heavily embellished side of the story. "He just came in and started ranting," he told Harry, confident that his tale would be believed over Draco's truth. "I tried to tell him to leave me alone, and that's when he went mental!"

"That's ridiculous!" Draco shouted, seething again. "I came in calmly! How can you argue otherwise? All I asked you to do was listen to reason. But no, you didn't let me say a thing; you just kept accusing and threatening!"

Ron stepped toward Draco so that there were barely three inches between their noses, but Draco held his ground, his fingers so tightly squeezed in his palms that his knuckles had gone white. Still, Ron found words he saw fit for the moment. "Why should anyone believe you?" he retorted scathingly. "Why would anyone who has a right to be here give you the benefit of the doubt over me? This is my house!"

"Correction, Weasley: this is your parents' house."

"It's more mine than it is yours! Why do you insist on staying put when you know just as well you're not welcome here?"

"Why do you insist on lying to your own best friend?" Draco hissed, and he nodded his head in Harry's direction.

Ron's face went red then, and Draco felt a tiny swell of satisfaction rise as he watched it happen, glaring back at him through silver daggers. Regardless of what Ron might say in protest, the young Malfoy had made his point. Friends weren't supposed to lie bold-faced to each other. Having known company, acquaintanceship, friends-of-the-family, and yet never any real friends of his own, Draco was nothing short of disgusted that Ron could look directly into the face of his own closest friend and tell any lie at all. "If you intend on impressing anyone, Weasley, you'd be better off trying to be a better person than me, not worse."

With a brief glance at Harry, Draco addressed Ron once more. "There's so much in your life you've taken for granted." Before leaving, Draco was tempted to say more, but decided against it, and quickly relocated himself downstairs, hoping to find his mother still talking peacefully with Ginny.

On the way down, Draco tried to force his appearance into something calmer than he felt. As he neared the ground floor, he could hear Narcissa and Ginny continuing their discussion quietly, although he couldn't distinguish exactly what was being said until he had nearly reached the first floor landing.

"I try to remind him all the time," his mother was saying, "but I can't be certain he even believes me anymore. The truth is, Ginny, Lucius hasn't always been… the way he is now. Something changed him that day." Her eyes had faded somewhat, as if she had gone into a daydream. Still, she continued her story, but Draco was no longer listening. His mind was once again dizzy with questions and uncertainty, and yet again, he found himself on the same secretive quest he had been on countless times over the past years, aching to find the one answer that could lead him to the rest.

Before he could find any such answer, however, Ginny appeared in front of him, looking worried. "How'd it go?" she asked. Draco winced uncomfortably, avoiding Ginny's watchful gaze, but she understood. "I should have known," she sighed, and shook her head. "He won't listen until he's gotten more used to you being here. I guess the only thing left to do is wait for him to calm down. I just hope that when he does, he won't be so stubborn anymore. You can never really tell how he'll react until it happens," admitted Ginny.

Draco sighed and dropped his gaze to the floor between them. How long would it take for Ronald to accept that he had himself been wrong, and to face up to the truth? Would it ever happen? Would he live to see it? All these questions and more were racing through his very soul, but as he expected, the comfort of answers would be out of his reach for a long time to come.

Lucius Malfoy Apparated well enough inside the gates of his home to avoid being noticed by any passersby, and stepped through the front doors, appearing as though he had only been away from it for an afternoon. When he saw that the Dark Lord was inside, waiting for him, he knelt where he was. "My lord," he addressed the cloaked figure, whose red eyes bore into Lucius with the intensity of pure flame.

"Lucius," the Dark Lord spoke, "come closer." When Lucius did as he had been commanded, the Dark Lord continued. "You are aware, I presume, of why you have been taken from Azkaban?" Lucius looked up at his master, uncertain how to respond, for he had only guesses as to why he had been released.

"You are here, my servant, because your family is on the run. Yes, Lucius, your wife and son are nothing but slaves of weakness and cowardice, running feebly from their own pasts. But you, who know them better than your fellows, will find them for me."

Lucius half-twitched, but bowed his head in acceptance of his mission. "I will," he said.

"Narcissa is yours, you may do with her as you see fit. But I want Draco brought to me alive. Bring them to me, and your freedom shall be permanent. Now, go!"

"Thank you, my lord."

By the time everyone sat down to dinner that evening, Draco could more than feel the tension in the Weasleys' kitchen growing unbearably thick. Rather than withstand the silence he knew was at least partially of his creation, he stood from the table and turned away to leave it, avoiding everyone's gaze, especially Ron's.

"Draco, where are you going?" Narcissa exclaimed after him. The youth paused, feeling everyone's eyes locked on him, but with a meaningful glance at his mother, continued out to the living room. When he got to the couch on which he had been sleeping for the past couple of nights, however, he found that although he was alone for the moment, the feeling of tension had followed him out of the kitchen.

He sat down slowly, noticing a warm ache in his shoulder blades for the first time since his arrival at the Burrow, and sighed thoughtfully. Without thinking, he reached into his pocket for his quill and, remembering that he had used his last bit of parchment the night before, felt his heart sink. Without any outlet through which to vent his thoughts, all he wanted to do was sleep.

If only he still had his wand, perhaps he would conjure more parchment, or try to Summon a few rolls of it from his own bedroom. But no, he had broken it of his own free will. He had, at least for the time being, sold his magic for a safe place to hide. And where had it gotten him? Absolutely nowhere. He didn't feel the slightest bit safe here anymore, not with Ronald trying to get him thrown out or arrested at every turn.

He started somewhat at the sound of footsteps nearing him, but didn't bother looking to see who was approaching. What did it matter if the footsteps were Ron's? He was wrong about Draco, and they both knew it.

But they weren't Ron's footsteps at all. They were Ginny's, and when Draco discovered this and glanced up, she looked as if she were inwardly debating what to say to him.

Draco felt his throat tighten as he watched her watch him. "Just go on and say it," he sighed, turning away. "Just tell me I've ruined your family's day by being here. We both know it's true. Just tell me already." The newly-formed rift between Ron and Harry was harder on Draco than anything else at the moment, for it was likely that the wizarding world in its entirety knew of their long-lived friendship; if the young Malfoy had been the beginning of their end, then perhaps Ronald had been right not to want him to stay there.

Ginny frowned, her eyes wide with worry. Slowly, she sat down beside him, never taking her eyes off his expression for an instant. She could hardly bear to see him like this. As much as she had hated him at Hogwarts, seeing him only as the proud and arrogant heir to the Malfoys' fortune, now she knew better, and it pained her to find him so dragged-down by sorrow, the enemy of pride.

"It's not your fault," she said softly. "Ron's not acting like himself at all. Your simply being here doesn't excuse how he's been behaving toward everyone all of a sudden."

Draco looked at her, not planning on believing what she had said. "How could it not be my fault?" he wondered aloud. "Everything must have been just perfect here before Mother and I came."

Ginny opened her mouth to speak, and Draco was sure she was about to try to disagree with him, to console him as she'd done more than once before, but before another word could be spoken between them, a ghost-like, silvery figure leapt through a half-open window and landed right in front of them. Draco noted the cat-like form just as it started to speak with Professor McGonagall's voice.

"Scrimgeour and the Ministry have fallen… Prepare yourselves…"

Ginny gasped sharply and ran back into the kitchen to make sure the rest of the household heard the terrible news. Meanwhile, Draco remained where he sat, unable to move a muscle. The Ministry of Magic had been won over by the Dark Lord. He, Draco's aunt and cousins, and every loyal Death Eater, had risen victorious into a powerful position they could only have dreamed of before now. As the Patronus disappeared from sight, Draco put his face in his hands and sighed miserably.

Less than ten minutes later, everyone was gathered in the kitchen, discussing frantically what few means of transportation they had left at their disposal. Only one thing was for certain at that point: They had to relocate, and fast. The obvious destination was the Order of the Phoenix's headquarters at Grimmauld Place, but there was a slight problem with that idea. What would the rest of the Order's reactions be when they found out about the Malfoys? Would any of them be a drop more willing to listen to Draco and his mother's story than Ron had been? Apparition was out of the question, as was using the Floo Network. Anyone Apparating now would be highly vulnerable to capture or worse, and all the fireplaces connected to the Floo Network were sure to be under careful watch by the Death Eaters that now filled the Ministry headquarters.

Finally, out of half-suppressed panic, they decided to get there first and answer the rest of the Order's questions one by one after they were asked. And so, with great trepidation, Draco and Narcissa each took an old broomstick from the Weasleys' tiny broom shed, while Harry grabbed his Firebolt from his trunk, and the Weasleys got their own brooms. At last, bringing only what they most needed, they kicked off from the back lawn, the two Malfoys following everyone else to a location neither of them dared guess.

After several minutes of flight, the five who knew where they were going began lowering their altitude, and the Malfoys followed suit. Soon afterward, they had landed on a quiet back road, facing a line of houses all built together very closely. Draco guessed that one of the brick houses must be the headquarters of the Order. There was no chance of hiding his panic as he followed the Weasleys and Harry to gaze between the two front doors marked eleven and thirteen. Draco wondered what had happened to the twelfth building, but suddenly realized that it was hidden from view. The headquarters of the Order must be at number twelve!

Suddenly, right where number twelve should have appeared, it did! But just at that moment, its front door flew open, and an all-too-familiar young witch dressed in Muggle attire ran towards them at top speed.

"Oh, Ron! Harry!" cried Hermione, hugging them both tightly. "Thank goodness you're here! I've been so worried for you both!" Draco stepped back a pace, twitching slightly; this girl had, in his opinion, always been the most formidable of the Gryffindors, disproving pureblood mentality in high degree.

"Miss Granger, come back inside!" called another familiar voice, one he had heard less than a half-hour earlier. "If someone sees you—" Suddenly, Professor McGonagall had gone quiet, for her eyes had caught sight of what Hermione's had overlooked. "YOU!"

Before Draco could flinch, the professor had drawn her wand and was approaching him and Narcissa with frightening speed. Barely able to think through his dread, the youth shielded his mother, moving to stand in front of her. Narcissa looked pleadingly in the direction of the Weasley family, but caught Ron's eye. He looked relieved, at best, to see the two of them being threatened.

"Minerva," Arthur said quickly, "we have a lot to discuss with you, but may I suggest we explain after we're all inside?"

Minerva stared at him in disbelief. "Miss Granger, go inside, please…" she called over her shoulder. Hermione took a few steps back, but stopped and turned around again to watch her best friends with a look of deep concern.

The elderly professor, assuming Hermione had done as she'd been told, took a few cautious steps closer to Mr. Weasley. "What's happening here, Arthur?" she asked. "Surely you realize that this boy—"

"…is guilty of many things," Arthur interrupted, "but he has also come to realize that. Minerva, it's dangerous for all of us to talk about this out here. Couldn't we come inside?"

Minerva hesitated, and Draco held his breath. Finally, she agreed. "Come in," she said irritably. Then, to Draco, she warned, "And you, Mr. Malfoy… you'll keep your wand out of my sight, or I will personally—"

"Professor…?" Harry exclaimed. Draco had never seen her like this before, and he could clearly see from the expression of bewilderment on Harry's face that he hadn't, either. "Professor McGonagall, Draco broke his wand. We saw him do it."

She seemed to take his explanation to heart, but was still clearly wary of the two Malfoys standing together before her. Still, she turned back to the door and led them all indoors, pausing only to curtly remind Hermione that she'd asked her to wait inside. Even Hermione looked taken aback by the harsh tone from Hogwarts' new headmistress, but she opted to approach Harry with one-thousand-and-three questions rather than take too much offense to McGonagall's unexpected abruptness towards her.

"Harry, what happened? What are they doing here?" she asked in a hush.

"Hermione, calm down – I'll explain later on," Harry reassured her kindly.

With that, they all entered the house. Draco looked around in curiosity, but was disappointed to discover how unkempt it was. Stifling a yawn, he found himself hoping at least the beds were made and clean.

The corridors, at least those at the front of the house, were eerily narrow and tangled-looking, making the place appear more like a wild maze than a home for anyone. But he had no chance to investigate the rest of the building, for he was ushered – and rather roughly, at that – into a small meeting room that looked like it might have once been someone's bedroom, albeit a very long time ago.

Minerva, Harry, Arthur, Molly, Ginny and Ron sat down; Narcissa and Draco quickly followed suit. "Now," Minerva said finally, "what were you going to tell me about these Death Eaters entering our headquarters, Arthur?"

Arthur sighed, knowing it would be difficult enough to explain the Malfoys' presence to Minerva McGonagall, let alone to discuss it with the others in the Order. Draco, of course, knew better than to make the tiniest of sounds, and thankfully for all of them, so did Narcissa. Both mother and son were in an advanced state of panic and, desperate for the most minute of comforts, Draco grabbed hold of Narcissa's wrist, and she took his hand and squeezed it gently. Ginny noticed the wordless exchange between them, but decided not to bring it up just then; they looked far too afraid already, and making the situation more strenuous for them was not on her list of things to be doing.

Finally, when no one else had started to explain the situation at hand for a few more seconds following the professor's query, Harry took it upon himself to do so. "They came to find me at the Dursleys' house a few days ago, and right away, I could tell they were both different from the way I've known them to be. Draco told m—"

"I haven't missed the fact that you've uncharacteristically called him Draco twice in the past five minutes," Minerva interrupted loudly, taken aback by the small yet seemingly abrupt change in him.

"Professor, please, you wanted to know why they came here with us…" Harry was able to hide all but the tiniest hint of frustration in his voice. He, the Weasleys and the Malfoys had all been increasingly and thoroughly stressed for the past two days, but Draco was amazed at how well Harry was composing himself. In a way, seeing the Chosen One acting calmer than he must have been under the circumstances helped Draco to calm himself as well. He knew that after all things were said and done, he had at least a dash more respect for the heroic young man than he had been showing in his actions of late. Harry had, after all, been the first to give the two Malfoys a second chance, and in doing so, had allowed Draco to benefit from his company, and that of the Weasleys, in ways he had never let himself imagine.

Finally able to think clearly again, Draco realized that, yes, Harry had acknowledged the vast differences between Draco and his father – in fact, far more than twice in recent days. Perhaps, he decided, the time had come for him to stop calling the Gryffindor by his surname in return.

Harry went on. "They've been at the Burrow with us for the past couple of days, and they haven't done anything you'd need to worry about."

"It's true!" Ginny agreed. "And they've been through so much already." She looked across the room at Draco and added apologetically, "But I'm sure they'd rather tell it to you themselves."

Draco twitched visibly. It had been hard enough telling Molly and Arthur that very morning. Shaking his head, he pleaded, his eyes wide with terror, "No… Not tonight…" While Minerva continued to watch him as though waiting for him to reconsider, he began to tremble again, wishing painfully that he could Disapparate back to the Burrow. Maybe, if he had been able to do so, he might have enjoyed a few minutes' sleep before the worst happened. But alas, his wand, unfortunately so necessary for Disapparition, lay broken in halves under the faraway roof of the Burrow. "Please, I just want to sleep…" he whispered, fear dissolving quickly into exhaustion. It seemed so long ago that he had found slumber in his own bed back home… And after being scrutinized by Ronald for the most minuscule of faults, and interrogated by Ginny, her parents, and Harry about things that perhaps he should never have mentioned—as well as threatened at wandpoint by the obvious leader of the Order of the Phoenix, Draco was just about ready to collapse inward from the emotional strain of it all. I can only take so much before it kills me, he thought wearily.

Before she could stop it from happening, Minerva felt her resolve begin to break. As Molly had done that morning at the sight of the shivering young Malfoy, the elderly witch took pity on Draco, and with a brief glance at Narcissa, who looked on the absolute verge of helpless tears at the sight of her son's misery, Minerva sighed, feeling inexplicably helpless herself: helpless to deny the two unexpected arrivals further entry into the house. Wondering wildly how she could be doing this, she led them to two adjacent, empty bedrooms while the rest of them went wordlessly to their usual rooms to unpack what they had managed to bring with them.

Draco entered his new bedroom and eagerly doubled his pace until he had reached his bed, which stood like a beacon of hope in the center of the otherwise bare room. By the time his head touched the pillows, he had already fallen asleep.

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: Draco's Dark Mark miraculously stops paining him. And yet, when he learns what this miracle really was, he finds himself on a turbulent rollercoaster ride destined to lead him back to the wizard who had ultimately given him his first exhilarating glimpse of freedom and self-respect.

The Quill, the Portrait and the Sorting Hat

For the first time since he had been forced to watch the Dark Mark burn its way through his skin, when Draco awoke late the next morning, not only did he feel blissfully well-rested, but he noticed almost immediately that his left arm was painless. Reveling in the sensation of a forearm no longer ablaze with the curse of the branding, an unbelievably welcome idea slid into his mind: Was it possible that the dreaded Dark Mark had disappeared? When he moved up his left sleeve, however, he found that it remained etched in his skin, somehow bolder and clearer than ever. And yet, unable to feel its burn, he stood from the bed and looked idly around his bedroom.

It was a smaller room, by far, than his bedroom at Malfoy Manor, the paint somewhat worn on its otherwise bare walls, and the bed stood alone on a rather dusty floor. Still, the even dustier curtains were open, bathing the unkempt spare bedroom in brilliant daylight.

The fear from the night before had dispersed overnight, and Draco didn't even flinch when he heard a knock at his door across the room. Hopeful that it was his mother who wanted to see him, he went to open the door, only to find it already ajar. "Hmm," he mumbled in his curiosity as he pulled it the rest of the way open.

"Morning, Draco," Ginny said brightly, looking relieved. "Good to see you're finally awake. Your mum's been up for hours; you might want to let her know you're not ill or anything. It's already past noon!"

Draco blinked and chuckled at the advice, but noticed with a hopeful heart that she was conversing with him much more freely than she had been while at the Burrow. "Good morning to you, too…" he answered, the amusement still evident in his voice.

Ginny laughed, too, but a moment later, her smile dissolved into a look of concern, and her voice took on a hush. "Are you feeling any better? I hoped you would after… well, you know… after a good night's sleep." As she finished speaking, Draco noticed she looked almost shy all of a sudden, as though she had said too much. He nodded to try to reassure her, but she wasn't looking very reassured. Instead, she was looking at his arm. "Does… Does it still hurt?" she asked quietly.

Draco looked from his left arm to Ginny's face. "It was you, wasn't it?" he breathed, realization dawning on him. "You healed me…?" Not knowing how to react or even what to think, he stared at her in amazement.

She nodded. Without warning, without even trying to stop himself, Draco took both of Ginny's hands in his. "Thank you," he said earnestly, his silver eyes locked on hers of deep amber. Now she, too, gazed back at him with something like wonder written in her eyes. Slowly, gently, he stepped closer… She closed her eyes in cozy anticipation…

But barely a second later, Ginny pulled back from him and ran upstairs, leaving Draco standing there solemnly, watching her disappear up the stairs and through a door. Instinct told him to follow her, aching to know why she had gone, and against what he knew might just be his better judgment, he did.

Most unfortunately, when he was halfway up the stairs, he realized Ginny had not simply run off to be alone. Ron's voice, followed by Hermione's, could be heard from the doorway through which Ginny had gone.

"Ginny? What happened?" Ron said carefully, sounding more concerned for his younger sister than he had throughout Draco's stay at the Burrow. For half an instant, Draco thought twice about hating him quite as much as he did, but quickly snapped himself out of it.

When Ginny apparently hadn't answered, Hermione joined the conversation. "Are you all right?" she asked gently.

"I—I'm okay, I just…" Ginny cut off. Draco took a few more steps toward the scene, but stopped before the landing.

"Is it Malfoy?" Ron guessed. He barely gave her time to answer before he went on. "What did he do to you? Did he hurt you?"

"No!" she replied forcefully. Then her tone softened, and even shook somewhat. "I don't know. But no, Ron, he didn't do anything to me. Except somehow… I guess… he did…" Draco held his breath, now straining to hear them, wondering what she'd meant by that.

"What did he do, Gin?" Ron repeated.

"I don't know…" she said again. "I'm just so confused! I never thought… Oh, Ron, please don't…"

A sudden creaking of floorboards told Draco he had only seconds to prepare an explanation for Ginny's unexplainable state. And as expected, within the next five seconds, Ron appeared, his face contorted in rage. Draco stumbled down a step, knowing full well that no words could prevent the impending, violent reaction from Ginny's protective big brother.

"YOU SNAKE!" Ron bellowed, aiming his wand at Draco's face. "WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO TO MY SISTER?"

"Ginny…" Draco whispered, not daring to take his eyes off of Ron's wand. It was the only word in his mind – What else could he say? He hadn't done anything; he hadn't even had the chance to kiss her when she was with him.

"No, Ron, stop! Don't hurt him!" Ginny cried out, but Ron didn't lower his wand so much as a half-inch.

"If this Death Eater feels any pain, he can know it's his own fault!" snarled Ron, undeterred. Draco could tell the Gryffindor was debating in his head over which spell to cast on him. He could only hope the Cruciatus Curse would not cross the boy's mind.

Just then, Ron's gaze fell to the stairs on which Draco stood, and he appeared to have arrived at a most satisfying decision. Draco had a vague idea of what was coming, but knew he ought not to wait around and find out if he was right. He spun around and sprinted down the steps at top speed, but he couldn't outrun spells…

"Ron, don't!"


Draco coughed a little as the spell hit him in the back, causing him to stumble, and finally to fall, face-down, on the bottom steps; his hands had slipped on the stair, and so had failed to break his fall properly. His jaw began to throb where it had hit the rough, dirty wood, and a second later, he tried to push himself up, but a sharp, sickening pain in his ribs kept him immobile for the moment. He heard indistinct, angry shouting from the landing above, and quick footsteps soon afterward; the next thing Draco knew, both Ginny and Hermione had come to his aid.

"Draco…" Ginny whispered, in too much shock to keep her voice steady. "Are you all right?"

He lifted his head and nodded, but he knew he was far from 'all right'. He could hardly breathe, and he knew the longer he lay there, the harder it would become for him to get himself off of that filthy floor.

Hermione was thankfully more perceptive than he had guessed she would be. "Is he even breathing?" she asked Ginny with a tone of genuine concern.

Draco fixed Ginny with a look that he hoped would give her the message his lips could not send: Help…

Ginny seemed to understand, for she took action immediately. A quick sweep of her wand brought Draco rising from the bottom of the staircase into the air, making breathing a slightly easier task for him. "Come on, Hermione, he'll need your help, too!" she explained.

Draco kept his eyes on Ginny as much as he could. Would she go so far as to heal him a second time? He wondered this almost hopefully, but shuddered in the meanwhile from the powerful sting of being placed back on his bed. His lungs felt like steel balloons: once again, breathing was impossible. His eyes ached now, but he locked them on Hermione as she neared him slowly, as though expecting all of this to be merely an act. Please, he pleaded in thought, please, now, help me now! I need air…

Hermione looked anxiously over her shoulder at Ginny, who nodded urgently back. Then, she turned back to Draco, the schoolmate whom she had come to hate most of all over the years; the same Slytherin who, ever since his sorting into every Gryffindor's least favorite Hogwarts house, had seemed to make her his favorite candidate for bullying, calling her a Mudblood whenever the chance arose; the only person at whom she had ever been angry enough to strike, as she had done in her third year at Hogwarts; and positioned her wand a few inches above his chest…

"Corpus reparo…"

Immediately, Draco's broken ribs seemed to move back into place before finally mending themselves, and he felt remarkably as if he had never been hurt at all. His starved lungs filled with great gulps of sweet, sweet air until he was able to speak again. "Tha— Thank you," he heard himself whisper just before passing out.

When he woke up again a moment later, Hermione was staring at him with angry tears in her eyes. "Why did I do that just now?" she asked herself aloud, her voice hard and cutting.

Draco stared at her, took a deep breath, and sighed, never daring to let his eyes off the source of the question. "Do you honestly regret it that much?" he asked. "Would you rather have let me die?" Secretly, he dreaded the answer he was most expecting.

Hermione stared back, bewildered. Before long, her eyes narrowed very slightly, giving her the appearance of one who knew exactly how to respond.

"I don't know, Malfoy. Would you have saved me?"

Draco's first instinct would have been to look away at once, but this was no time for instinct to take over. He knew honesty would do little for him now, but she would surely have seen through anything else. He was about to answer her directly when, suddenly, he had a better idea. "I couldn't say, exactly. But if I hadn't come looking to Harry for help, do you really think you would have healed me, either? It's a matter of perspective. A month ago, you saw me the same way I saw you: as someone to despise. But times have changed. I'm not your enemy anymore, not unless you want me to be. By coming here, I made my decision. What's yours going to be?"

Hermione was struck wordless, and she looked over her shoulder at Ginny, who looked back, waiting to hear what she would say. Finally, Hermione simply shook her head and left.

Draco frowned. It seemed Ron had found the backup he had been hoping for. The odds of him and his family remaining safe were steadily shifting for the worse. Ron clearly had McGonagall and Hermione on his side now, and goodness knows who else would join up against him.

He had been forced into the stagnant darkness of loneliness before, but he had gotten through it, and he knew how. He had always had the pages of his diaries to blend himself into. Again, he knew the simple, comforting practice of writing would get him back into daylight. But this time, his quill sat uselessly in his pocket, and he took it out just as Ginny followed Hermione out of the room.

Watching them leave through the corner of his eye, he felt as if he were falling down an endless staircase, with no one to stand him back on his feet. With a small sigh, he pulled the bed sheets up over his head and closed his eyes, too hopeless to move another inch.

A few minutes later, a soft knock sounded at his door, but he didn't budge. But another came, followed by Narcissa's voice. "Draco, are you in here?"

He stayed put and gave no answer. He didn't want her to see him like this, and yet he knew he needed her more than anything. But he forbade himself to move, to make any noise, no matter how many times she asked him to.

He heard the door opening, and his mother walked in. "Draco, are you honestly still asleep?" she asked her son, aghast at finding him lying in bed in the middle of the day. "I have something for you…"

At that, Draco stirred, and hoping she had a few rolls of parchment to give him, pushed the sheets towards the foot of the bed just enough to see what she was talking about. He found to his disappointment, however, that she was instead referring to a corned beef sandwich. Draco wrinkled his nose and went back to pretending he was asleep, but being presented with it quickly reminded him that the pancake breakfast of the previous morning had been the last thing he'd eaten. Then again, he hadn't had much chance since then to dwell on mealtimes. Besides, an empty stomach didn't faze him as much as it once had.

"Darling, why are you acting so stubborn all of a sudden?" Narcissa urged him when he hadn't stirred for a while. "You'll make yourself sick this way."

As much as he hated himself for letting her talk him out of his depression, he gave a heavy sigh, sat up, and took the plate from her. He eyed it with a look of measured distaste, but took a bite nonetheless, if only to give his mother what she wanted.

"That's it," Narcissa sighed happily. She placed a hand on his head in a characteristic, adoring gesture, and left him to his thoughts. Deep down, he wished she hadn't left, but he didn't feel up to calling her back. Gloomily, he finished his lunch, but instead of lying back down as he had expected to do, he felt compelled to venture out of his room once more.

When he did, he soon found himself heading upstairs again, despite not wanting another run-in with Ron or Hermione. Not knowing what it was he sought, he kept walking until the sound of voices was noticeable, further down the main corridor.

"…believes he's the only one who can get rid of You-Know-Who for good? He's only a boy!" cried McGonagall, her voice slightly raised.

"If I recall correctly, in two weeks' time, that will also change. And as I've come to realize, Minerva, destiny waits for no one."

Draco stood, frozen in his tracks. He knew that voice well; it had been that voice which, in its final moments, had beckoned him, lured him into this place with seemingly impossible promises of protection and forgiveness.

But hadn't Dumbledore died? Hadn't Draco seen him murdered, watched him fall limply from the Astronomy tower that very evening? And yet, had his voice not just reached Draco's ears, sounding as if that frigid scene had never taken place?

"Albus, he hasn't even finished school…" Minerva protested. "You could have charged any of us with this responsibility! Surely you don't expect Potter to take it on alone?"

Draco resumed and doubled his pace toward the conversation. Harry, being burdened with a task he might not be able to handle… it sounded all too familiar.

"Rest assured, I believe Harry to be exceedingly well-prepared for the risks he is sure to take in the near future. Need I remind you, my dear Headmistress, that he is a highly intelligent young man, and quite capable of fulfil—"

"But he is only a boy…"

Dumbledore paused briefly, then answered her in earnest, "Speaking truly, Minerva, I disagree. He has risen to the occasion countless times as the need has presented itself, and has grown more into a man each time I've seen him. I believe Harry is as capable of defeating Lord Voldemort as any great wizard before him, if not much more so. I realized this when I showed him his prophecy over a year ago, and I know it even more surely as I speak to you now."

Draco had slowed to a stop beside the door from which the voices came. As he continued to listen, however, old feelings of raw jealousy were unearthed. How he longed for such words to be spoken of him! Draco closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall while his heart danced, his mind teasing his most desperate wish with bright visions: for once, his hand had caught the elusive Golden Snitch; for once, he had saved the Wizarding world from mortal peril; for once, he was proud of himself, for the world was proud of him! How wonderful, how blissful the feeling as he saw his mother and his father rushing up to embrace him…

"Ah, Draco. What a pleasant surprise."

Draco felt the world around him shatter as he opened his eyes and reality took the place of his daydream. All he could see was grey; grey walls, grey floor, grey ceiling. Swallowing hard to repress the disappointment overtaking him, he stepped slowly into view, only to realize he was being addressed by the portrait of the late headmaster. He felt himself sink into the floor as if it were quicksand. Dumbledore had not survived as Draco had hoped.

"Professor Dumbledore… I…" he stammered, still trying to will his vision out of his mind. Dumbledore watched him mildly, and inclined his head brightly in acknowledgement of his arrival.

"I don't suppose you'd be willing to tell me what you're doing here, Mr. Malfoy?" McGonagall hissed, clearly still distraught from her argument with Dumbledore about Harry's future.

Draco stepped back. "Was I to be confined to my bedroom, Professor?" he asked, but he immediately wished he hadn't.

Minerva's eyes flashed with outrage. Draco could practically hear her thinking, How dare you speak to me that way! Luckily, before she had a chance to say it out loud, Dumbledore asked her kindly, "Minerva, my dear, would you mind terribly if I were to speak with Draco unaccompanied?"

With that, McGonagall seemed to lose her steam, and after glancing worriedly at the portrait, turned on her heels and left without another word. Draco watched the doorway, half expecting her to return any second, but she didn't.

"Draco, I must first tell you how pleased I am to see you here," Dumbledore told him with more than a note of empathy. "You have come a long way already."

Draco looked down at his shoes and didn't answer. He didn't know how. Was it possible that the aged wizard, though deceased, had somehow seen through the wall, straight into the boy's vision? Further realization told him that not only was it possible, it was how Dumbledore had known Draco had been standing there in the first place. Why else would he have given the youth a tiny taste of the praise he wanted so badly?

"Shall I assume that your mother is here with you?"

Draco nodded. "Yes, sir…" he replied. The words felt awkward as they left his lips, but he decided that after essentially clearing the way for Severus Snape to kill this man, it was the least he could do. Meanwhile, the portrait seemed to study him for a moment, and Draco knew better than to try Occlumency against the man he had tried to kill.

Dumbledore shook his head slowly as he addressed his disarmer, "It is my mercy, and not yours, that matters now."

The words thundered in the young Malfoy's mind, reverberating off the walls of its prison.

"Dumbledore cornered! Dumbledore wandless! Dumbledore alone!" Amycus cried out in excitement when he saw Draco with his wand aimed at his professor. "Well done, Draco, well done!"

Draco heard this again as vividly as if it were happening for the first time. But the next words spoken came not from within.

"No, Draco," Dumbledore told him gently. "It was not you who caused this to happen. Amycus was, as he has been many times before, incorrect in his judgment. He, like many of Lord Voldemort's other followers, assumed that you were eager to kill me. But you were neither willing to accept the job, nor the one to complete it."

Draco's eyes blurred behind half-shed tears of shame. "I want to believe that…" he began, his voice scarcely his own. "You know I do."

Dumbledore smiled at him and asked simply, "Then what's stopping you?"

Draco swallowed hard and answered hesitantly, "The same things that always stop me."

Dumbledore gave him a small, understanding nod. "And may I ask you what those are?"

Draco couldn't take the pressure any longer. He had tried so hard to fight it all back since he'd gotten here, but standing before the portrait of his former headmaster, approaching the excruciating subject of his father, and the incurable self-doubt that years of torture and fear had instilled in his heart… He hated himself for letting those tears slide down the sides of his face, but he knew just the same that he could not keep them hidden, not from the Legilimens who sat before him, centered neatly in his solid gold frame, saying nothing of his student's weakness.

"Had I not been confined to this canvas," Dumbledore sighed regretfully, "I would have been better able to console you. My dear boy… it seems such a long time ago that we first spoke, on the night you were Sorted."

Draco remembered that evening well. He and the other new Slytherins had finished their first Hogwarts feast, and were following their Prefects out of the Great Hall to their common room, when he slipped through the crowd, seeking out another destination entirely…

Draco looked over his shoulder as he parted from his housemates, watching as they and the Hufflepuffs went downstairs to the dungeons while the Ravenclaws and the Gryffindors went up to their respective towers. It didn't trouble him at all that no one had bothered to notice he was missing; in fact, he was both used to being left behind, and counting on it to happen again. Once they had each disappeared around a corner, Draco's heart flooded with excitement. In his book, he had yet to be Sorted, for the Hat's shout of "Slytherin!" had been forged. It had taken no magic spell to confuse the Sorting Hat into putting him safely in his father's house. After all, all he had done was gather his determination and, with his thoughts, scream the name of said house as soon as he felt the old hat touch his hair.

Chuckling gleefully to himself at his success thus far, he glanced around once more before darting back down the wide corridor toward what he hoped would be the headmaster's office. During the feast, he had nonchalantly asked a third year where the Sorting Hat was stored after the ceremony was complete, to which the older wizard had replied, his mouth ungracefully full of mashed potatoes, "Dumbledore's office."

Just when Draco's luck seemed to be fading, he saw a vaguely familiar face, one whom he remembered seeing at the staff table during the Sorting Ceremony and the feast. Perhaps it would be too bold to approach the man at this late hour, he decided, but he hoped following this dark-haired, darkly-clad professor would be somewhat helpful to his search.

Quite suddenly, however, an unseen someone behind him gave him away. "Aren't you supposed to be in your common room, young man?"

Draco's heart jumped into his throat, and he spun around to find a very wide ghost standing – or rather, floating – there, his transparent eyes scolding the boy. Meanwhile, the professor he had been following turned his head to look at the young wanderer, and began to walk towards him.

"I'm not out here to break the rules!" Draco said quickly, hoping to be spared whatever punishment was in store for students caught out of bed at this time of night. "I just wanted to…"

"Yes, Mr. Malfoy?" prodded the professor, crossing his arms over his chest impatiently.

Draco flinched at the man's apparent knowledge of his students. "You know who I am, Professor?"

The man stepped closer, and Draco had a hunch he'd seen him before arriving at Hogwarts. "Yes, Draco, I know you."

Draco remained silent, studying the man. His voice, his features, the expression he wore… They all seemed so familiar… But who was this wizard? And why couldn't Draco put a name to it all? He hated feeling stupid like this… Finally, he grew tired of guessing games and asked plainly, "Where's Professor Dumbledore's office?"

The professor pursed his lips as though debating whether or not to give Draco a direct answer. "I suppose I had better take you there myself. First years should be in bed at this hour," he added with mild disdain.

"Thanks," Draco said, feeling secretly relieved, even hopeful. "It won't happen again."

They didn't have to walk very far, but there were a few twists and turns along the way, and overall, Draco was glad to have enlisted his new professor's help. When they arrived, the man addressed the two gargoyles guarding the door in a firm, clear voice: "Honeydukes."

With a loud thud, the gargoyles jumped out of the way, and the heavy doors behind them swung open. Dumbledore was seated at his desk; he looked up pleasantly when he heard them coming. "Ah yes, good evening, Severus," he said, and Severus inclined his head in an unspoken greeting. "I see that one of our new students has lost his way trying to find his dormitory… Well, the more the merrier, am I right? Pumpkin juice?" he offered the boy as, with a wave of his wand hand, he conjured a goblet and filled it with the thick, orange liquid.

Draco shook his head, still rather full from the feast, but felt a bit more at ease after the headmaster's bright greeting. "No, thanks," he said, smiling just a little.

With a nod, he looked back at Severus, "I will see him safely to his common room after a little chat. Good night."

Severus hesitated for a split second, but decided to comply. "Good night, Headmaster," he replied almost awkwardly, and left. Draco watched him walk away as the doors closed by themselves.

"Shall I assume, my dear boy, that you did not break school rules within hours of entering Hogwarts without a good reason?" Draco turned back to the headmaster, half-expecting him to be angry, only to find that he looked no more so than when he had first welcomed the youth into his office.

"I was just…" Draco tried, but he hadn't a clue how to explain what he wanted to do, much less why he wanted to do it.

But Dumbledore made it easier on him. "…looking for something?" he suggested with an air of light-hearted amusement.

"Er, yes…"

Grinning mildly, Dumbledore pointed to a shelf not far from where he sat. "Is that it?"

Draco turned his head to look at what Dumbledore was referring to, and gasped. There in the bookcase, on the fourth shelf up from the floor, was exactly what he had been looking for! "The Sorting Hat! But… how did you know?" Barely waiting for an answer, he hurried over, grabbed the Hat by the point, and placed it on his head then and there.

"Okay, Hat," he thought, "this time you get to make up your own mind. Go on, Sort me for real."

"Slytherin didn't suit you, then?" it answered indignantly into his ear.

Draco thought back, "I had to get into Slytherin the first time. Father would have had my sanity if I was sorted anywhere else."

"Then why do you want to be placed differently now?" it asked.

"Because I'm not like my father."

"Ahh," it seemed to sigh, "very well. Hmm… Very interesting indeed. A Malfoy, yes, but one's soul is far greater than their blood… Yes, I do believe…"

As suspense gnawed at him from within, Draco began to consider the possibilities, and the consequences that would come with them. Gryffindor would have gotten him the worst reaction imaginable from his father… Hufflepuff was unthinkable for any Malfoy… Ravenclaw seemed better, at least, but he would most likely still be punished for breaking family tradition… but, Merlin… Slytherin just felt wrong…


Dumbledore applauded politely, as he had done for each new student at the Sorting Ceremony, and while Draco replaced the Hat back on its shelf, his heart soared. He may have broken the Malfoy code, but he felt as if he'd been let out of a tiny cage, finally free to be what he wanted, the way he wanted it.

Dumbledore stood and walked around his desk to where Draco stood. "If that is all, then let us set off to our dormitories, shall we?" With that, he led Draco to his common room where, to his relief, no one appeared to be looking for him. "Wizard's gold," the professor told the seemingly empty wall, then nodded to Draco once more. As the wall slowly uncovered a hidden passage of its own, which Draco started to make his way through, the headmaster turned to leave.

"Good night, Draco."

Remembering his second Sorting was almost soothing for Draco. Taking a deep breath, he recalled the sense of pride he had experienced that night when he had realized he wasn't the spitting image of Lucius.

"Professor," he began, mildly curious, "did you ever tell anyone about that?"

From his portrait, Dumbledore smiled knowingly at his student. "No," he replied, "I did not. I decided that, should you wish anyone to know about it, you might have preferred to tell that person yourself. Was I right?"

Draco nodded. "I didn't even tell Mother about it," he admitted.

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow in what might have been surprise. "Now, Draco, do you mean to tell me that after nearly six years, your mother still believes you to be something you never were to begin with?"

Putting it that way unsettled Draco a little. "She never asked…" he mumbled.

"I see. Were you worried she would be upset with you if she knew? Afraid, perhaps, that she would think less of you?"

Draco bit his lip at the thought. "I don't know… I suppose I… I just never thought much about it until now…"

"Haven't you?"

"I will, though," was his earnest reply. "I'll tell her."

"Very good. It's been my experience that your love for your mother, and hers for you, is built on a foundation too strong to be shaken by a mere change of your house at Hogwarts."

Draco nodded and turned to leave the room, but paused before he got to the door. "P-Professor?" he said, looking back hopefully.

"Yes, Draco?" Dumbledore answered kindly.

"How long before everyone starts to realize I'm not a danger to them?"

Dumbledore sighed; his pleasant expression had become melancholy. "That is a very good question," he said, "but alas, one which I fear I cannot answer."

Draco's gaze fell once again, and with a heavy sigh, he went back downstairs without another word.

Author's Note:Okay, PLEASE don't hate me! That Ravenclaw piece has been nagging at me for a while, and I had to put it in! I can prove with passages from the official HP series that Draco shouldn't have been sorted so swiftly, and that he might have done well in Ravenclaw, had he been given the chance to 'try it on for size'. Anyway, time for you lovely people to review this chapter! Please?

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: Dumbledore leaves a very valuable bequest to an unsuspecting Draco in the hope that it would be of greater use to him than anyone else.

Dumbledore's Bequest

With little effort wasted, Draco soon found his mother sitting primly in the drawing room, scanning headlines from that morning's issue of the Daily Prophet. He smiled at the familiar sight; Narcissa, having been both well-bred and well-raised in a proud and elegant household, had always been elegant herself whenever she could manage it. It was a habit of hers that Draco was particularly fond of. Somehow, in the midst of what had been happening in her own home for years, she was able to remain as dignified and proper as she had ever been, if not to become even more so.

And yet, as good a mother as she'd been to him over the years, he knew it hadn't taken long for the china teacups, magical toys and playful banter of his distant past to change form before his eyes. For in no time at all, he would see the teacups shattered against the wall, the toys confiscated, the play heavily restricted, and his bedroom door kept locked for days at a time. It would have been enough to roughen anyone's character. But as he stood there, watching his mother as though she were a Muggle artist's masterpiece in a fine museum, he saw only the present, and knew nothing but fond admiration. He stayed where he was, unwilling to end the precious, rare moment of peaceful thought.

Keeping her gaze on the Daily Prophet, Narcissa pretended to be reading the beginning of an article aloud to the room itself: "Interesting… It says, 'Journalists all over Wizarding Britain are reporting today that Hogwarts' star student, Draco Malfoy, was found to be entertaining himself in a most unusual way. He was sighted this afternoon watching his mother read the Daily Prophet.'" That said, she glanced up suddenly, looking around as though bewildered by the content of the 'article'. It was moments like this that kept him sane…

Draco didn't even bother trying not to laugh. "Mother…!" he chuckled, shyly running his fingers through his hair. "Hogwarts' star student… I can think of two likely candidates for the title in this house right now, but I'm hardly any match for either of them, am I?"

When he had finished protesting, he remembered his conversation with the late headmaster, and quickly began easing her toward the point of his wanting to talk to her. "Not to mention, a few hundred students who got themselves sorted into Ravenclaw the first time around."

Narcissa sighed in polite laughter. "'The first time around?'" she echoed playfully. "And just what might that mean?"

Draco's smile faltered considerably, but he had brought up the subject, and it would do no good to drop it now. His mother's amused smile was fading now, as well. "Suppose…" he tried hesitantly. "S-suppose you'd trusted someone for their whole life, like the way we trust each other…" (he could feel his heartbeat quicken) "…and one day, they told you something you… you never would have guessed of them… Something they'd kept secret for… well, for a long time…"

Narcissa took him in a welcome embrace. "Oh, Draco," she whispered soothingly. He could feel her shoulders and chest rise and fall slowly, peacefully, like the rhythmic movement of the ocean as it slept, promptly washing away his anxiety. "What on this earth could make you afraid to tell me anything?"

Draco smiled a bit, feeling his nerve return to him. "I forged my part in the Sorting Ceremony," he explained. "Only Dumbledore was around to hear where I really belonged." He paused briefly and sighed. "I wasn't meant to be in Slytherin, Mother."

While Narcissa listened to his sudden confession, her eyes went wide. She needed to know more. "Where did you belong, then?" She hadn't wanted to sound shocked, but in all honesty, she found the news he had brought her after so long quite shocking, in fact. One thing she was not, however, was angry.

Noting her surprise, Draco was tense again as he answered her: "Ravenclaw."

Narcissa beamed at his answer. "All the more reason to believe you were the star student there, mon fils."

Draco relaxed, but his mood dipped very slightly at her choice of words. 'Were'. He had known for a long time Hogwarts would never accept him back for the final ten months of his education, but from the moment Harry had given him that second chance less than a week ago, he had hoped some way could be found to disprove that theory. But somehow, even a slipped-out phrase such as 'you were the star student' brought home the worry that he would never again see the castle from the inside.

"Thank you," he said then, snapping himself out of it, "for not being ashamed of me."

Narcissa watched her son though the warmest eyes he had ever seen. Hoping she could comfort him better in their 'secret tongue', she asked him, "Draco, mon fils… Tu sais que je t'aime immensément! Pourquois as-tu peur de moi?"

To her question, he smiled in return, finally allowing himself to surrender his full trust to her again. He shook his head slowly, the thought of Hogwarts pushed to the back of his mind. Dumbledore had been right. She still loved him, and cared no less about him now than when she had so humorously welcomed him to the drawing room, and into and her presence. "C'est un mystère," he said comfortably.

For several hours thereafter, there was no Hogwarts, no Harry Potter, no Voldemort – there was no Dark Mark on Draco's arm, nor on Narcissa's. There was only the drawing room, and the two inseparable Malfoys who populated it.

Again, Draco enjoyed an untroubled sleep that night, but awoke early, having spent most of the previous day in bed for one reason or another. He could tell from the long shadows outside his window that the sun had just risen over the forbidden horizon, and a dull, grey sky told him that if it didn't rain by nightfall, it wouldn't take much longer than that.

Draco glared out defiantly, his narrowed eyes turned upward at the thick blanket of clouds. "You send your worst, go on!" he dared it. "That stupid, redheaded moth might have Granger in his army, but I have his family in mine!" Confident again that at least he wasn't alone there, he opened the door, wondering what he could find to do with his time until more of the house had emerged from their bedrooms.

With little debate, he decided to further investigate the interior of the house, knowing he might be there for a long time. Might as well get to know the place, he thought as he set off, curious about his surroundings.

The first thing he noticed was the many portraits covering the peeling walls of the front room; the largest of which was covered by long, surprisingly dust-free curtains. Wondering why there were curtains hanging over the frame, he took the corner of one to lift it, but he had no time to move the cloth more than an inch or two before a gasp sounded behind him as though he had triggered a very wheezy siren, followed by a muffled thud. Draco let go of the curtain at once and spun around, but then lowered his eyes almost to the level of the floor, where a very old house-elf stared back at him in disbelief with great, round eyes.

"Draco Malfoy, sir! Can it be?" the elf cried ecstatically, continuing to stare as though he had made some marvelous discovery.

"Yes," Draco said, utterly bewildered at the sight of him, "it's me." He had been unaware that the place had a servant at all, let alone a house-elf, and one that would recognize him.

The elf immediately bowed so low Draco thought he might do a somersault. "Kreacher is honored, sir, honored to be in the presence of such noble blood again!" he exclaimed, and straightened up.

"Do you work here?" Draco asked uncomfortably once Kreacher had finished his greeting.

The house-elf nodded, his now narrowed eyes glancing up the staircase at some obvious enemy of his, and answered dutifully. "Kreacher does as his master orders, but he remains loyal to the most noble Black family line!"

Draco thought this over, and realized how Kreacher had known him by sight. "My mother was a Black," he said thoughtfully. "Before she and Father were married, of course."

"But Miss Cissy is still a Black, and so is her son!" Kreacher told him.

Draco raised an eyebrow, but decided to humor the elf. "If you insist. But if you're as loyal as you've said, why does this place look so untidy? Why haven't you been keeping up with your duties?" he demanded. After all, he had always been careful to fulfill his duties as his parents' son, so why should Kreacher get off easy for being lazy about his own?

Kreacher looked quite ashamed as he was scolded, and afterward, ran into the wall repeatedly, as if he were attempting to bash a hole through it with his tiny body. Draco cringed, repulsed by the sight. "Stop, stop!" he snarled, careful to keep his voice down. "Do you want to wake everyone up?" Kreacher stopped hitting the wall at once, and swayed slightly before looking back up at Draco. "Now that we're past that madness…" Draco muttered under his breath.

"Kreacher must punish himself when he has done wrong, sir," the elf reminded him.

Draco rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Or," he suggested, "you could always just skip the self-harm and get right to cleaning up the place."

"Thank you, sir," Kreacher said, and after giving another low bow, he Disapparated.

Draco exhaled sharply, but before he reached the top of the stairs, he found to his chagrin that he was no longer the only human awake in the house.

"Feeling heartless today, Malfoy?" asked Hermione from the landing, holding her wand in one hand and the top of the railing with the other.

"No, Granger," Draco retorted before he could stop himself, "but I appreciate your concern."

Hermione glared at him, and hastily returned his sarcasm. "Concern!" she scoffed. "Hmph, don't hold your breath for my concern! I saw how you just treated Kreacher, you arrogant little—"

Draco cut her off, hardly in the mood to hear her continue to rant about his exchange with Kreacher. "If you don't mind!" he growled as he tried to push past her. She pointed her wand before he could get by, and he stayed put, his eyes narrowed.

"And just where do you think you're off to?" mocked Hermione, who was now barring his way with the help of her free arm. Draco could feel the vengeance in her voice, but he was too angry and humiliated himself to care.

"Did you enjoy it when I called you a Mudblood, Granger?" he hissed back. "Did you like the way I treated you all through school?"

"No!" she shrieked. "Of course I didn't! No one did! Are you mad?"

"Then why are you doing the same things yourself?"

Hermione scoffed. "Well, someone has to give you a dose of your own potion," she told him matter-of-factly.

Draco had to marvel at her ignorance. "You're so self-righteous, you and that selfish brat, Ronald! Can you honestly stand there, grinning at me, and tell me you think I deserve more hell than I'm already getting?"

Hermione let out a sharp laugh. "Hah! What kind of hell have you been through? How can you expect anyone to take you seriously when you call your life hell?"

Raw, hot rage hit him in the stomach like a spiked Bludger. With the back of his fist, he whipped the wand out of her hand and took her by the collar of her Muggle shirt. "DON'T YOU EVER, EVER JUDGE ME!" he roared into her stunned face. "My life is beyond your intellect, beyond any nightmare you'll ever be able to fathom! I grew up in hell, Granger, so never speak to me like I haven't been there!" He shook her once to frighten her. "UNDERSTAND?" She stared at him, looking more terrified than he'd ever seen her. Still trembling with anger, he jerked her again. No pleading eyes could force him to let her go, not until she'd given him the answer he was demanding from her.

Just then, she muttered something under her breath that Draco could not distinguish. But before he could ask her to repeat it, her wand flew back into her ready hand, and she took aim. When he realized he was about to be outsmarted, the once-warm embers of his fury were fanned into flames of searing intensity. With a new strength, he shoved her across the landing toward the corridor. She let out a quick shriek, but managed to keep both her wand and her balance. "You tried to curse me just now, didn't you, Gryffindor?" he scowled. "But frankly, I don't think I could picture you trying Dark magic on for size. Even you must know you're incapable of cursing anyone, much less an 'arrogant little bully' like me. But then again, who's the bully this time, Granger? You know I gave up my wand – and I'm sure you know why – and yet you're turning yours on me like a coward!" By now, he cared no more for keeping his voice low than she had.

"I wasn't going to curse you…" winced Hermione.

Draco could tell she hated being called a coward, but he wasn't about to back off. "Oh, no?" he sneered.

"I was going to Disarm you… Y-you were choking me…"

"Was I?" Draco jeered, feigning a look of apology. Then his stare darkened again. "Rubbish," he snapped. "And have you forgotten what I just told you? I'm already disarmed!"

"Why are you so angry at everything, Malfoy?" she demanded, standing with her back against the wall.

Draco sneered at the question, thinking of what he'd written just a few days ago, after he and his mother had first arrived at the Burrow. "You wouldn't happen to have a Pensieve lying around, would you?" he quipped.

Hermione's eyes widened, her mouth slightly open. Without a word, she started off down the corridor, and Draco followed her, wondering if, perhaps, her unspoken answer was their destination.

She stopped short in front of the office where Dumbledore's portrait had been the day before. Draco reached over to open the door, but Hermione stopped him, apparently having second thoughts.

"We've already spoken," Draco told her quietly. She looked at him questioningly, but followed him inside, leaving the door only slightly open behind her.

Meanwhile, Draco caught sight of the stone bowl beside the portrait in which Dumbledore slept. "Is this…" he whispered, reaching out to touch the fine marble.

"…Professor Dumbledore's Pensieve," Hermione finished, her wary eyes watching Draco's every move.

There was an awed silence, and then Draco grimaced and said, "Do you think he'd mind m—"

Hermione gestured toward the portrait with a sideways nod. "Ask him, not me."

"But he's…" Draco looked at the portrait to find Dumbledore wide awake. "Er…" he said awkwardly.

"Of course you may," Dumbledore said, smiling. "Who better to leave it to than someone who won't use it to store his dust collection?"

Draco's eyes widened in awe. "Leave it t— It's mine?" he stammered, wondering breathlessly if the sudden bequest was some kind of joke, or if he had really just been given such a rare and priceless possession.

"Yes, Draco. It is yours." With that, Dumbledore nodded to Draco, then to Hermione, before standing from his painted chair and walking beyond the frame, out of sight.

Draco continued to stare at the lone chair for a moment longer, but when it occurred to him that Dumbledore wouldn't be back so soon after leaving, he let his gaze drop to the gift he had been given. Instinctively, his hand went to his pocket, but just as suddenly, reality overtook him. "I can't use it…" he told her sadly.

Hermione looked shocked. "Why?" she asked.

"My wand." He looked longingly at the Pensieve once more before walking away.

Hermione hesitated, confused, but then ran to catch up. "You mean you actually snapped it?" she called after him.

Draco slowed his pace just long enough to answer her. "Yeah," he sighed, his heart growing heavier with each step he took. "I 'actually' snapped it."

Hermione grabbed his wrist, pulling him back to look at her. "Why?"

Draco stared at her for a moment as though he wanted to answer, but then turned his back to her and returned downstairs without another sound. He knew she would never be able to comprehend his reasoning for doing what he had, even if she were to honestly try. No matter how much he wanted to be understood, he knew in his heart that a person like Hermione Granger would never take his story for what it was worth. Too much had happened between them, for unlike Ginny, whom he had essentially ignored until recently, Hermione had been a real, even preferred target for Draco's growing frustration over the years.

When he was nearly to his room, his eyes downcast, his thoughts were interrupted by a sudden 'ahem' from directly ahead. Draco stopped short and looked up to see Minerva McGonagall waiting for him outside his door. "Mr. Malfoy," she announced, "I'd like to have a word with you."

Draco nodded worriedly, and followed McGonagall into the office by the front entrance. "Er… Good morning, Professor," he said at once, hoping to at least start off their meeting on a positive note.

"I didn't hear from you yesterday," she told him, ignoring his awkward greeting.

Draco stood very still, wondering if she was expecting an answer. Guessing that she must have been waiting for something, he replied, "Did you want to?"

McGonagall suddenly glared at him, looking furious. "Well, naturally! I've been hoping for some sort of explanation from you, and yet you haven't said one word to me since you got here."

"Professor…" he tried.

"Why are you here? Answer me!"

"I came to hide, okay?" Draco explained quietly. He was getting sick of answering the same question time and time again.

"Hide? From what or whom do you expect to remain hidden while you are here?"

Draco winced at the thought. Most unsettling, however, was how little the headmistress seemed to know about him. "Don't you already know who I'm hiding from? Didn't Professor Dumbledore ever tell you how much I had to worry about over the past year? He knew! He knew the whole time!" He tried to fight the tension out of his tone to keep from raising his voice too much. He had enough experience from his dealings with Ron and Lucius to know that losing his temper would only ever cause him more trouble.

"Mr. Malfoy, I'm going to be frank with you, because so far, nothing else has proved effective, and my patience for you has long since worn thin." Draco clutched at the hems of his robes to keep from shaking at the look on her face. "I don't know why you came here, and as for your excuses, I don't want to hear them. Potter warned the Order of his suspicions during the school year, but I admit, I thought it nothing short of absurd that You-Know-Who would order an underage wizard to kill!" Draco opened his mouth to speak, to tell her he had wanted nothing to do with the Dark Lord, nothing to do with cold-blooded murder! But once again, the elderly witch cut him off before he could make a sound. "But Potter was right about you from the very beginning, wasn't he? And now, Albus is dead!"

"He told me it wasn't my fault," Draco mumbled softly, beginning to have his doubts yet again.

"He was a trusting man," she said thoughtfully, looking across the room as though she had forgotten for the moment to whom she was speaking. "He was selfless to the highest degree, and in the end, it cost him his own life."

Draco sat down slowly, watching her face while she grieved aloud to him. In the still moment that took place after she had gone silent, he sensed that there had been something less visible between McGonagall and Dumbledore than the typical, professional acquaintanceship he had expected. "Professor, I…" he began, but her features hardened again at the sound of his voice, and he lost his nerve.

"You are no longer my student!" she reminded him shrilly. "For the six years I've come to know you, I was sure I could at least trust you not to attempt murder…"

"Have you told Professor Dumbledore what you think of me?" Draco asked, knowing that if she had, she had not wanted to believe the aged wizard's reply, as though she were angry at him for succumbing to a Killing Curse.

"Of course not! We have far more worthy topics to discuss."

Draco's heart sank. "You mean Harry?" he surmised.

"That's right."

His conclusion confirmed, it took all of Draco's strength to force thoughts of pent-up envy back into the darkness. "Are we done, then?" he said as calmly as possible.

Minerva looked at him as if she couldn't believe how he was reacting. "No remorse, no sign of emotion at all…" she breathed, her words barely audible to Draco over his own quickening heartbeat.

Draco jumped to his feet, outraged. "You hear only what you've already insisted on believing! You want the truth? All right, here it is, so plain and simple, even you can't ignore it! I don't give a damn who or what you think I turned out to be! I know the truth, and that's all that matters! I'm not here for my own sake; if you had bothered to listen to me in the first place, you'd know that!"

Unwilling to stay and have another round of thoughtless accusations thrown at him, he took the opportunity to leave. Even the little bit of satisfaction he got from slamming the door of his room as hard as he could behind him could not quiet the angry voice inside him. Several moments passed before he realized that it was still the early part of the morning, and the loud bang of his door might easily have woken many of the sleepers in the house. Sighing in resignation, he got up to see if his mother had been rudely awoken, and if she had, to apologize. None of this was her fault, after all.

But the second his hand touched the doorknob, he was thrown backward into the opposite wall with a crash. Groaning in pain and shock, he stood himself back up and gave the door a confused look. What had just happened?

Cautiously, he walked back to the door, but this time, let his fingertips hover over the knob, barely a half-inch above it, careful not to touch the painted metal. He could feel some strange sort of magic twisting and repelling the skin of his hand, as though he were touching tiny, spinning wheels.

Draco removed his hand from the reach of this unknown spell at once, immediately casting himself into a panic. He was being locked in… Just the same way Lucius had locked him in the confines of his bedroom at Malfoy Manor whenever he had lost his temper at his father. It was horrifying how much smaller the room seemed now.

"M-Moth…Mother!" he called frantically. His father had always had the grace to let him know when he had been trapped, and to tell him when he would be allowed back into the rest of the house: two days, three days, a week… But he hadn't known before closing this door that it would soon be locked behind him, and a gnawing feeling deep in his soul suggested that Minerva, who must have hated Lucius as well as his son, would not be so prompt in unlocking it.

"Mother…" he whispered hopelessly. Slowly, he felt himself sink into the corner of the room, sitting on the edges of the worn, matted carpet. His throat felt parched, his wide, unfocused eyes flooded with unshed tears, and his mind gave way to the horrors of his past. "M-Mother…"

French Glossary: Tu sais que je t'aime immensément! Pourquois as-tu peur de moi? - You know how much I love you! Why are you so afraid of me? C'est un mystère… - It's a mystery…

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: More of Draco's hidden past catches up with him when a furious Professor McGonagall imprisons him inside his bedroom. Little does his captor know, he's been locked up before...

Greatest Moments

The dull gray walls that were slowly closing in on Draco now seemed to glow with sunlight. Draco could tell that the clouds he had seen just after sunrise were clearing as they drizzled onto the street below. He cursed it all: the young, mocking sunlight that was now sweeping across the room in agonizingly slow motion; the sinking sensation in his heart that threatened his sanity; the closeness of vivid, terrifying memories as he fought, inside and out, to keep them away. He had to keep them away…

But the more he struggled to control his thoughts, the greater their effort to control him, until, at last, he looked up to find himself no longer sitting in that lonesome, dusty corner of his new bedroom in the Order headquarters, but back in his bedroom at his father's manor.

Draco lay in bed, trying too hard to fall asleep. It wasn't easy. His throat burned with every breath he took, and his tongue felt as though it had swelled up enough to fill his whole mouth. It hurt him to cough or swallow; his throat felt more like sticky tissue paper than anything else. He had been thirsty before, but not like this. No, this was a form of torture all its own, slow and as degrading as Lucius' curses. For that matter, it had lasted far longer than any Cruciatus Curse he had ever endured.

He had given up calling for his mother, for Dobby, for anyone who might have wanted to help him, to unlock that awful door, to bring him water, to save his life. Why his mother hadn't come, he could only guess, but he knew exactly why Dobby hadn't dared or been able to jump to his aid. Right outside his son's firmly locked door, Lucius had made absolutely certain to iron out any loopholes in his latest order that Dobby was his house-elf, not Narcissa's, and most certainly not Draco's. Under no circumstances was Dobby to obey any order of theirs.

Turning his stinging eyes to the old wall clock on the other end of his bedroom, Draco noted even in the thickening haze of his mind that he had ten dreadful hours to go before his punishment would end. Yet, as if three days of thirst wasn't a cruel enough sentence for the boy, that alone was not the only consequence of his father's shame in him. With thirst came hunger, and with that came far worse: a room filled with the fierce whisper of loneliness.

Draco knew what had brought him to this point: two and a half days ago, he had tried against all common sense to escape this place for good. In the pursuit of freedom from his father's strangling rules and unfeeling glances, he had lost what little freedom he'd had left. Now, without even his mother's company, there were moments when he couldn't help but feel lost, and it seemed as though no one would even notice if he were to die there. And who would have noticed? He had been locked in here without a hope for over two days, with no one to speak to or even look at, and perhaps not intended to make it through the third night. Maybe that really was what his father wanted. That had been what his loneliness had told him.

But whether or not he was meant to make it out of this, he had to get water right away. That alone might be enough to keep him alive for the next ten hours. After all, just because his father wanted him out of his life, that didn't mean Draco was ready to just curl up and die. As long as Narcissa wanted him alive, and somehow he knew that she still did, he would not give in – no matter how badly he wanted to.

Fumbling with balance, Draco forced his aching body into a sitting position, and from it, stood slowly. "No…" he gasped in a hoarse whisper, for the room immediately began to whirl around him, testing his determination while thick darkness clouded his vision. Grabbing the nearest bedpost with one hand, he clutched his stomach with the other as it seemed to do a backward flip. Shaking violently, he tried with everything he had to will his insides to stay inside, where they belonged. Finally, he hugged the bedpost to his chest with both arms, resting his forehead against it and closing his eyes. Very slowly, the sharp pangs of nausea and dizziness began to subside. As the feeling of illness gradually passed, he let go of the bedpost and sat back down on his bed.

What am I fighting for? he wondered hopelessly, swaying slightly from side to side to keep his mind from slipping off into darkness. After all, Lucius had proven two and a half days ago that no escape from this dismal place was possible. His determination was teetering dangerously on the edge of failure, and it was only getting harder to think of anything but how thirsty he was, and how much he longed to see another human being, to hear that person's voice, no matter what it had to tell him. Just to hear some sort of noise, apart from his own breathing… even if the sound was of his father's scornful voice – anything to prove to him that he was still alive – perhaps he could feel hope again.

And he knew that hope would be worth living for.

Draco must have been in the claustrophobic stillness of his new bedroom for many hours, he knew, before any noise could be heard from the hall just outside it. When the sharp sound of footsteps finally reached his ears, he strained to listen, but scowled when it was followed by McGonagall's voice.

"Don't worry, they won't be out here again for a while," she assured someone quietly, perhaps speaking to some new arrival. "A few quick charms on the door handles should keep them out of our way for a few hours more." Indignation boiled in Draco's stomach at these words. He had guessed right away McGonagall had been the one to lock that door, but the confirmation of that guess had only made him feel worse.

"You're sure it's safe to have them here at all?" one wizard inquired in an obvious hush.

"That's exactly the question, McGonagall!" another, harder voice agreed. "After all that's happened, between Dumbledore's murder and that horrid takeover over at the Ministry, how can you be sure they won't attempt the same kind of thing here?"

"That's precisely what I wanted to discuss with you, Alastor… But for the time being, I believe we are safe enough. Please Remus, come in here. This is very serious, and we mustn't be overheard."

A door across the main hall shut with a soft click. Draco pressed himself against the wood of his own door, careful not to let himself stand too close to the knob, but heard only the pounding of his own heart. Finally, he backed away, a split-second before another voice beckoned his attention.

"Draco…" Narcissa whispered, the sound of her voice muffled by the two doors between her and her son. "Draco, tu es ?"

"I'm here, Mother," he answered, leaning the side of his head against the wall, and wishing he could reach right through that wall and take her hand in his own. "She's got you locked in, too, hasn't she?"

"They're coming, chéri; the entire Order will be here before long…" she whispered frantically. Draco could feel the fear in her voice as she spoke again: "Draco, my wand… They must have taken it last night… Oh, Draco…"

Draco was struck with a sickening rush of dread at his mother's words, but replied without hesitation in the most comforting voice he could manage in the midst of his own fear, "Ne vous inquiétez pas, Maman! Tout ira bien…"

Just then, Draco noticed two small shadows slipping through underneath his door: the shadows of someone's ankles. "Who's there…?" he called warily.

"I didn't realize you two spoke French," said the someone.

"Granger?" Draco gasped, but no answer was needed. He'd have known that voice anywhere. But what was she doing there?

A third shadow joined the first two in the corner of the slit of light from the hall, indicating another pair of ankles nearby. "Draco, are you okay?" Ginny's softer voice called quietly through the wooden barrier.

A million thoughts raced through Draco's mind at the knowledge that Ginny was right there, just beyond the bedroom door. A soft smile formed on his face; she knew he needed her again. But his smile fell quickly; she might not realize what had been done.

"Ginny, don't touch the door handle. It's jinxed!" he warned.

"Who jinxed it?" Hermione asked.

Draco sighed heavily. "It was McGonagall."

"Can you reverse the spell?" Narcissa asked. "Can you tell what it is?"

"I don't think so… It looks too powerful for a Finite Charm to undo," Hermione said, mostly to herself.

"All right, then. Stand back, Draco!" Ginny said boldly. Draco moved quickly to the back of the room, wondering what she was about to try.

"Diffindo!" Ginny commanded her wand. The door was immediately broken in half, and Draco grinned defiantly as it was unhinged cleanly from its frame by the impact of Ginny's spell, and finally fell to the floor, kicking up bits of dust from the carpet. As he walked toward her, he had to fight down the urge to wrap her in a grateful embrace.

"Ginny!" was all he could say, his mind on nothing else for that very short moment. Ginny returned his happy gaze.

"Did it work, Draco?" Narcissa asked hopefully, reminding him that his mother was still trapped.

"Yeah, I'm out," he said awkwardly.

"Diffindo," Ginny said again, albeit a little less forcefully, her wand pointed at Narcissa's door. This time, although the door had clearly broken in two, it didn't fall down as the first had done. Still, it fell through easily enough when Draco reached over to push it down.

"Mother!" he exclaimed, and stepped over the large bit of debris to reach her. She pulled him into a tight hug, which he returned.

Hermione was the only one in the area who wasn't smiling. Instead, she sighed, her gaze on the floor. "It's really true… isn't it…?" she said quietly. "What Ginny told me…"

"Hermione…" Ginny consoled her friend.

Draco broke out of the hug and looked between Ginny and Hermione, eyeing them with care. "What did you tell her?" he asked Ginny cautiously.

Ginny slowly turned to face him, looking just as careful. "Only what you told me," she answered.

Draco could feel all their attention on him, but he continued to stare just at Ginny, not sure what to think.

"I had to tell her, Draco," she said, gazing back at him beseechingly. "She needed to know what I know about you." Narcissa put a calming hand on Draco's shoulder, but said nothing. Ginny took a couple steps toward him. "Draco, I didn't know you wanted me to keep it a secret. I'm sorry."

Draco looked down thoughtfully. "No," he said. "I've kept it a secret for too long." At this, he raised his eyes again to meet Ginny's, then Hermione's. "It's better if people know why I made the choices I did. No one ever came very close with guesswork, did they?"

Hermione looked back up at him, visibly on the verge of tears. "I never did," she whispered.

They watched each other, empathy written on both their faces. "But that's changed now," Draco told her calmly. "Hasn't it?" Hermione nodded, but looked even closer to tears afterward.

"Listen to me," he said, his eyes intense yet kind. "That era of my life is over. Father's been in Azkaban for more than a year, and I don't expect he'll be leaving there anytime soon."

Hermione closed her eyes, sending down two streams of teardrops, and shook her head slowly. "I thought Professor McGonagall would have told you already," she said, "but I guess she wouldn't have, not if she was the one who locked—"

"What?" Draco cut her off before he could think to stop himself. Then, more softly, he asked again, "Told me what?"

"Azkaban's had another breakout. Lucius Malfoy was one of the escapees. Your father could be anywhere."

With a moan of dismay, Narcissa dropped to her knees, clutching the side of her bed for support. Draco ran to her, and tried to help her stand up, but she grabbed his elbows, and whispered darkly, "Le Seigneur des Ténèbres ne pardonne pas facilement! Do you realize, mon fils, that he did not release your father out of mercy? He had a reason, Draco…"

Realization dawned on him full-force, and he turned quickly back to Hermione. "Is he alive?" Draco asked, his eyes wild with terror.

Hermione took a few seconds to comprehend Narcissa's words, at least those she could distinguish. "I… I don't know…" she said at last. "But if he had died, the Order would probably know within a day or two, at most… I'd guess he's alive… But what—"

By then, Draco felt quite ill. "Then he's accepted," he told them all quietly, though mostly speaking to himself. "He's accepted his new task, or he'd have been killed right away for the crime of disloyalty, the same crime I committed."

Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but Ginny found her words first. "What task?" she asked, looking as though she were being mesmerized by something nearly unbearable to see.

Draco glanced at her for an instant, but quickly looked away. "Isn't it obvious? Less than two months ago, I failed to follow the Dark Lord's orders, by not killing Dumbledore. Now, my father's orders are to punish me one last time. To kill me." Draco's eyes faced the wall, faced away from those to whom he spoke, but he saw nothing, absolutely nothing but darkness ahead of him.

"What?" Ginny cried. She ran to Draco and knelt down beside him, not caring who was looking as she wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close. "No…" she said again, teeth clenched in anger at the injustice of it all. "This can't happen! A father does not try to kill his own son! That's the most disgusting piece of insanity I've ever heard of!"

Draco turned his head towards her, still staring at the wall, yet aware enough to realize the young witch was sobbing into his shoulder. "It's okay, Ginny," he whispered into her soft hair, putting his numb arms around her in return. "I should just be used to this by now."

A tiny scream of despair left Ginny's throat at these words, muffled by Draco's shoulder, but just then, a fifth person had come within earshot.

Hearing his daughter's outcry, Arthur hurried down from the staircase to the little room. "Ginny…?" he called softly, surveying the room for hints to the how's and why's of the scene before him. He looked briefly at Hermione, who stood in stunned silence by the doorframe, and then at the main part of the door, which still lay flat and halved on the carpet. "What's happened here?" he asked, worry and shock clear in his voice.

Ginny looked up at her father and sniffled, the broken-down door far from her mind. "Dad…" she sobbed, and turned back to Draco, still holding him tightly around the shoulders. "It's so unfair…"

Trembling, Draco began to slowly let her go. "Would you rather tables were turned, Ginny?" he asked her. This only made her cling more tightly to him, but he pushed her away tenderly until she finally let go of him. "It's better this way. I'm used to this sort of thing… Really…"

"How can you say that?" Ginny questioned him, horrified.

At last, Draco looked at her. "I can say it with all of you in mind. I'll never forget all those years at Hogwarts, all those reminders that you, and Granger, and everyone else had each other." A tiny flicker of bitterness swelled in his heart, filling it slowly but surely. "And don't think for a minute I didn't realize how alone I was in my own common room!" At Ginny's bewildered expression, Draco stood and added, "Of course, sorting oneself into the wrong house could eventually cause a few problems."

"Draco, don't you think—" Narcissa tried cautiously.

"I'm tired of hiding behind a mask!" he shouted. "Look where it's gotten us!" Then, turning back to Ginny, he said in a voice he barely recognized as his own, "After all this, after all that you know about me and why I'm here… do you really still think I was at home in Slytherin?"

Arthur, Ginny, and Hermione could only stare at him in shock. Even Narcissa watched her son in disbelief; after all, she had been sorted into Slytherin in her youth, and not by any trick of the mind. "Draco…!" she gasped.

Draco realized his mistake, and quickly sought to mend what his words had broken. Kneeling down beside her, he took her shaking hands as steadily as he could. "I'm sorry, Mother," he said. "It was careless of me… But you know times have changed since you were at Hogwarts, and people have changed, as well."

Narcissa nodded hesitantly, but before Draco could say anything more to her in apology, Hermione chimed in. "But… you were put in Slytherin right away… I remember; I saw it! No one's ever been re-sorted. The Sorting Ceremony doesn't work that way!"

"You, Granger, who are so incessantly sure of yourself, really wouldn't know that, would you? Have you ever even tried to be resorted? Or were you perfectly happy with the Hat's decision during the ceremony?"

Hermione sighed, exasperated. "Malfoy, just tell us what you know we're all waiting to hear!"

Draco glowered at her as he got to his feet. "Believe it or not, that was an actual question," he said. "You hardly seem like much of a Gryffindor yourself, at least not lately. But to answer yours… I'll just say that if things had gone the way they were meant to, we might have been housemates after all. Imagine that, Granger – you could have been forced to share a common room with an 'arrogant little' Ravenclaw like me."

Hermione gawked at him, as did the other two he was addressing, but he had more to say. "You're not the only ones who'd have been surprised at the news. Father would never stand for a Ravenclaw in the family, much less as his own son! That's why it had to stay a secret, and ever since, you might say I've had a part to play in order to keep up the façade. But there were still times when I could go off and find a quiet place to do some writing of my own." He smiled sadly at the memory.

"Those were my greatest moments. All alone and armed with a quill, I could write my life over, the way I wanted to live it. No one could tell me how fill my diaries. It was my world, something no one else could ever see or take control of." Sitting leisurely at the foot of his mother's bed with an arm against the bedpost, he sighed. It took a few seconds for his mind to return to the bitter present, but when it did, he felt crushed under its weight.

"Draco…" Ginny sighed softly when she saw his expression change.

Draco shook his head. "I left it behind," he said painfully, "the night I left Hogwarts. It's still there… along with all my other 'school things'."

"You left what behind?" Arthur asked.

Draco reached into his pocket and pulled out his quill, staring at it sadly. "My diary," he told them. "My world."

"You could have just asked for some parchment if you wanted to write so badly!" Hermione half-offered.

For the second time that morning, Draco felt ill. His hand tightened into a fist around his quill. "Asked for it, Granger?" he snarled through clenched teeth. "You want me to go around, asking people for bits of spare parchment, do you? Asking for donations to the Disowned Malfoy Fund? Is that what you were saying just now?"

"Asking for something you need is nothing to be ashamed of," she countered indignantly.

Draco scoffed at the feeble attempt at an argument. "Yeah, there are worse things," he snarled back, refusing to look at any of them. "Like being hunted down by your own father, for example." Narcissa moaned again, and in spite of his own shock and anger at his situation, Draco knew his first priority was his mother. Now more than ever, she was all he had in the world. And so, turning to the others, he told them all wearily, "Enough interrogation. Just go."

Hermione sighed heavily, but turned to walk away. Ginny, however, stayed rooted to the spot, her eyes still on Draco. "Ginny," Arthur said, "let's go upstairs, dear."

But Ginny shook her head. "I don't believe you really want to be left alone, Draco," she asserted softly. "Not at a time like this."

"I don't want to be questioned anymore!" Draco half-shouted, glaring straight through her. "I'm done giving you answers. I have my own matters to handle!"

Ginny took a small step toward him, her eyes not leaving his for an instant. "Then I won't ask you anything. Just don't isolate yourself, not now. I want to help you!"

"What can you possibly do or say that would help me?" Draco asked, carefully concealing his hope that she had an answer.

But when Ginny opened her mouth to reply, a sharp outcry sounded from the hall behind her. She jumped slightly at the sudden burst of noise, and spun around to find its source. When she and Draco found it, his mind overflowed with a nauseating mixture of trepidation and ire. The meeting across the hall had come to a close; McGonagall was hurrying straight toward them, her wand aimed directly at Draco.

"How did you—" she stammered, aghast at seeing the two cracked wooden doors lying away from their frames. "The doors—What did you do?"

Attempted French Glossary: Tu es là? - Are you there? Chéri - Darling Ne vous inquiétez pas, Maman! Tout ira bien... - Don't you worry, Mum! Everything will be fine... Le Seigneur des Ténèbres ne pardonne pas facilement! - The Dark Lord does not forgive easily!

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: Dumbledore reminds McGonagall that he continues to place unquestionable trust in Draco and Narcissa, as well as in Severus Snape.

Unquestionable Trust

Draco glowered at McGonagall, all thought drowned out by the cry of outrage as it scorched its way from his heart up to his throat. "To be frank, Professor," he snarled, not even trying to hide his indignation, "you might want to think about what you're doing to us before you waste time worrying over your precious, inanimate doors."

"How dare you! Tell me how you got out of that room!" cried McGonagall. She gestured with a jerk of her wand toward Draco's bedroom, although she was very careful not to let her guard down for more than a split-second.

But Draco didn't have time to speak again before his mother took the opportunity. "And you!" she demanded, her face turning a pale shade of pink in outrage. "I'd like to know what you've done with my wand now that you've stolen it!"

Minerva looked half taken aback at the allegation, but Draco was sure a sneering retort was on its way. Pursing her lips for a moment, she answered accusation with accusation: "And what would you need with it? I assure you, your wand is safe in its current location, and it will remain such." Behind her, Alastor Moody and Remus Lupin had emerged from their meeting room, and were making their way to the doorway where she, Draco, Narcissa and Ginny were standing.

Meanwhile, the clash went on. "I don't suppose you would have liked having your wand snatched away in the middle of the night?" Narcissa countered, her voice barely short of hysterical. "I did nothing to you to warrant that, nor to anyone else here!"

Draco could feel a powerful aura of humiliation radiating from his mother, and as he turned back to Minerva, he mirrored the latter's hot glare. Now more enraged by her conduct towards his mother than anything the old woman had done to him, he ached to strike her. The only thought stopping him was of the conclusion Minerva would draw from his impulsive reaction. The last thing either of them needed was to present her and Ron with so-called proof to that the two Malfoys were somehow dangerous, even as they were both wandless.

But before he could think of a better option, Alastor hobbled over. "What's going on here? Minerva, a few minutes ago, you seemed certain your spells would keep our prisoners in their place." Ginny's eyes went wide, as did those of Draco and Narcissa.

"Prisoners!" Draco spat, cringing inwardly at the thought. "We're not your prisoners! We came here of our own free will!"

"And not to be treated like mindless criminals!" added Narcissa.

Minerva narrowed her eyes in detestation. "Oh, I have no doubt of it, Mrs. Malfoy," she said icily, "but that's just what you are."

While Draco and Narcissa seethed, Remus stepped forward, raising his hands in front of him in a peaceful gesture. "Minerva," he began, "arguing will only serve to aggravate our already dire situation. Don't you agree?"

Minerva seemed to take this to heart, and sighed. "Perhaps you're right," she said.

"But the question remains," Mad-Eye countered, "how did these two break out? You told us they'd be locked in for several hours!"

Minerva looked back from one door to the other, and then at the Malfoys. "Well?" she asked sharply.

Neither of them made a move to answer. Ginny didn't need to be 'blamed' for helping them. Ginny, on the other hand, wasn't ashamed at all for doing what she had. "I broke the doors," she said boldly, gesturing toward Draco's doorway with her wand. "You shouldn't have tried to lock them up in the first place."

Minerva gasped, horrified. "Miss Weasley! What in Heaven's name were you thinking?"

"They're not dangerous, Professor McGonagall!" Ginny argued, exasperated. "If you'd just listen…"

"Don't you understand?" cried Minerva. "The Ministry has been confiscated, Miss Weasley, and you're not yet of age! Surely, you don't believe that the Death Eaters can't, or won't, trace whatever spell you used straight to this room!"

Ginny fell silent, and no one dared to say another word for a long while. Minerva looked around once more before heading upstairs, her sharp footsteps echoing Draco's rushed heartbeat. Mad-Eye followed her, keeping his magical eye fixed on Draco until he was out of sight.

Once they had disappeared down a corridor, Ginny turned to Remus. "They couldn't find us here, not just by tracing a spell… could they?" Ginny asked, worried. "I mean, they haven't found us yet, and… and I used magic here before, yesterday! If they had found out about this place the first time, then why haven't we heard from them by now?"

Remus shook his head. "We can't count on that, Ginny," he told her. Then, he turned to the Malfoys. His stance was calm, but his dark eyes shone with apprehension as he studied them, and they studied him. "Minerva told me what she understands of your situation, and your reasons for being here."

"She understands nothing." Draco interrupted defensively.

"What I can't quite work out," continued Remus despite the interruption, "is how you were able to find Harry so quickly, or at all. Naturally, there were a number of protections in place around that area while he was there, and even Lord Voldemort hasn't been able—" Remus paused a moment when Narcissa pulled Draco close sharply, both of them glaring fearfully at him. Draco shuddered as though he had just been immersed in ice-cold water, but Narcissa kept silent almost defiantly. "—hasn't been able to find it," Remus finished.

Calming himself, Draco pondered the question. "I'm not sure," he admitted thoughtfully. "I was sure there would be something guarding the place, but Mother and I never came across any real obstacles." He shrugged, quite as bewildered as Remus. "We just had to find it, that's all."

"If you ask me, the greatest difficulty was staying hidden," added Narcissa.

Remus shook his head. "That doesn't make sense. You shouldn't have been able to find him at all."

Draco watched him warily. "And now that we did? We are going to be safe here, right?" He felt a terrible foreboding then, reminding him of the very real dangers that he and his mother would face alone – and wandless – were they to be forced out of hiding.

"On my own, I'm not in a position to say yes or no," Remus explained.

"Where else can we go?" Narcissa asked him. "With Lucius out there, doing who-knows-what to find us…" She shuddered at the thought.

Draco took hold of her wrist, but said nothing for the moment. Not knowing what lay in store for them yet again, it was strangely comforting to put his mother's heart before his own, as he always tried to do; to deny to himself, even for an instant, that he was just as afraid as she was.

"This is crazy," blurted Ginny. "They're in as much danger as any of us!"

Remus looked quizzically back at her for a moment, but then seemed to put some of the puzzle together on his own. Turning to the Malfoys, he said, "As I've said, I can't promise anything just yet. But I'll see what I can do to keep you two under a safe roof. It takes a great deal of courage to defy a wizard as dangerous as Lord Voldemort."

Narcissa pulled her son closer suddenly. "How all of you can say his name so freely…"

"It's like summoning him!" agreed Draco, looking just as shocked.

Remus looked taken aback by their outburst, but tried at once to calm them down. "It won't summon him. Trust me, he can't hear what we're saying while we're here."

"How can you know for sure?" Draco demanded, paler than usual.

Remus managed a small, knowing smile for the first time since he'd arrived. "Well, I'm sure they'd love to know where we all are, and we've been here for a couple of years now… but they have yet to show up at our door. I'd consider that proof enough for now, wouldn't you?"

Both Malfoys went quiet, but Draco still looked fearful. Trying not to look at Ginny, who he knew had meant no harm by freeing them from their rooms, he stammered, "But you said… now that they have the Ministry… Didn't you just say…"

"That doesn't mean they can hear what we're saying, Draco," Ginny explained.

"Can't you just… not say it?"

Remus smiled again. "We don't want him to show up any more than you do. Believe me, saying his name won't show him the road to this house." Draco nodded, still very tense, but eager to move on to a more bearable topic of discussion.

Minerva and Alastor hurried to Dumbledore's old office, where his portrait hung. Minerva approached the late headmaster and spoke as steadily as she could. "Albus," she addressed the empty portrait, "We need to speak with you. It's urgent."

Within a few seconds, Albus Dumbledore walked back into his frame. "Good morning, Minerva. Alastor," he greeted them kindly.

Minerva quickly returned his greeting, and Mad-Eye gave him a preoccupied nod. "Albus, as you know, Draco and Narcissa Malfoy are here…" (Dumbledore nodded) "but I'm concerned about the effect they seem to be having on Miss Weasley. I've known her for five years; she's an intelligent young witch. She knows better than to try underage magic in a place like this. But today she's done just that, and I'm not talking about simple charms. And what's worse, she claims she'd done it before, not long ago." Minerva looked thoughtful for a moment before raising her eyes again to meet Dumbledore's. "Do you think… Do you suppose You-Know-Who could use her spells to trace our whereabouts?"

Dumbledore thought this over briefly, but shook his head. "No, I wouldn't worry about that. Lord Voldemort is eager to find our headquarters, and had he found any clue as to its location, he would waste no time in bringing with him all the destruction he could manage.

"And as for our guests," he said, in a slightly less comforting tone of voice, "I should tell you that their journey here has not been easy. I do not think referring to them as 'prisoners' or 'criminals' will simplify matters, as much as they've done wrong in the past. In their case, I think it would be more appropriate to hear what they have to say, and choose your actions accordingly."

The idea of giving a pair of known Death Eaters a second chance left Minerva somewhat more upset than she'd been at first. Yet, a part of her told her to trust his judgment; she always had before, and only once had she regretted it.

But that one regret was what pushed her to argue further. "Albus, I can't forget what that boy did to you. Whether or not he cast the Killing Curse, he's just as responsible for… for what happened to you as is Sev—"

"Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy are not to be blamed for my demise, Minerva," explained Dumbledore. He spoke defensively, as though Minerva had accused his dearest friend of his murder. Minerva was quickly losing her nerve, but she felt that after all the years she had known him, she had some right to know more about all of this than she did. Despite her admiration and respect for the aging wizard, there were times when she truly resented the secretive way he spoke to her, as though she would not understand if he were to confide in her those secrets. That he looked down to her had never once crossed her mind, but his disregard of many of her questions had not gone unnoticed, either.

Before she could utter another word in protest, Alastor's hardened voice stirred the silence. "Then who? Who else was to blame? Snape was the one to cast the curse, and Malfoy led him straight to you!"

Dumbledore frowned slightly. "Apportioning blame will not help you to win the war. I assure you, Severus would have found me with or without help, and I would have been just as willing to accept his curse either way. As for Draco's part, why would Harry have led his least-favorite classmate to the Weasleys' home, and then to our headquarters, knowing how my death was brought about?"

Alastor nodded, ready with an answer. "Ron Weasley insists Potter's been cursed. The Imperius Curse, he says."

Dumbledore sighed. "No, Alastor. Harry is acting of his own free will." When neither Alastor nor Minerva answered, Dumbledore went on: "Mr. Weasley is no doubt worried for his family's safety, but he is also eager to continue seeing the Malfoy family as an enemy, the way he has always seen them. I find that it is much more frightening for a person to point out their own mistakes than those made by someone else. And yet, the evidence is there, for all to see. If I may, have Draco or Narcissa been a source of trouble at any point since their arrival? Have they acted in such a way that would cause you concern? Have they made any visible attempt to contact Lord Voldemort, to guide him here?"

No one said anything for a few seconds, and Minerva looked especially bewildered, avoiding the others' gaze. "But then why—?" was all she could manage.

"I don't have time to explain right now. I'm needed at the school. But do realize that if our guests have not yet acted in violence, chances are slight that they will."

"Albus!" Minerva cried at once, but when she looked back, the frame was already empty. Silently, she left the room, followed soon after by Alastor. Slowly, she walked to the stairs and looked down at the scene below, where Ginny, Draco, Remus and Narcissa were still talking.

"I don't know what else to try!" exclaimed Draco. "How do you get people to listen when they just don't feel like it?"

"There's got to be a way, Draco," Ginny said soothingly.

Draco watched her wordlessly for a while, fondness in his gaze. She was the most stubbornly hopeful person he'd ever been around, and it drew him to her. For reasons he could barely understand, the optimism that would normally have struck him as spoiled actually endeared her to him. Something about her made her different from the rest of them. Painful words like 'trust', 'friendship', and even 'love' crept up on him as she stared solemnly back.

"If only I could think the way you do…" Draco muttered pensively.

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: Even after their breakup, Harry still loves Ginny. But Ginny doesn't want to be loved in secret, so it's hardly surprising that a brief, romantic moment with Draco would only leave her wanting more.

Loved and Lost

Days passed, and although Ron stubbornly stood his ground, he seemed to be the only one left who remained entirely cold towards the Malfoys. Even Professor McGonagall had begun treating the two with measured respect. In fact, realizing he was once again alone in his battle made his encounters with the Malfoys all the more heated and, unsettlingly, all the more frequent. At times, Draco was compelled to wonder whether the impossible redhead was actually seeking him out, just to have someone to shout at.

"He doesn't usually act this way…" Ginny said apologetically, sitting at the foot of his bed while Draco paced furiously from one end of his room to the other and back. She had been saying that sort of thing every time Ron had him steaming, in the hope of calming him down, or perhaps to prevent retaliation.

"Of course not," snarled Draco, his reply drenched in sarcasm. At once, he stopped pacing and turned back to face Ginny. "Why do you keep defending him?" he asked, exasperated. "It doesn't matter what he was like before I came looking for help. What matters is that he's been an insufferable git ever since!" Seeing her shocked expression, he sighed, making a mental note not to yell at her for her brother's actions. She was, after all, the only one in the house who seemed to have the time and patience for him, besides his own mother. "Sorry…" he mumbled, taking a seat near Ginny.

Ginny, too, softened her gaze, never taking it off Draco. "I'm defending him," she told him in a serious tone, "because he's my brother. I know him a little better than you do."

Keeping his temper in check as much as he could, Draco looked back up at her, his eyes intense and pleading. "Then please, talk some sense into him. He won't listen to me, and I've tried a thousand times…"

Ginny sighed. "We've all tried talking to him."

Draco turned slightly to scowl at the wall. "Perfect. So now what?"

"I guess we just have to steer clear of him till he comes back to his senses."

"I'm trying, Ginny… I've been doing all I can to stay out of his way."

Having nothing left to say just then, Ginny watched Draco sadly until he finally looked back. When he did, she knew exactly what to say. "I'm sorry, Draco."

"It's not your fault," he told her, letting his gaze fall again. "You're not the one I'm angry at. It's not right to bring you into this like I've been doing." Then, giving her a melancholic smile, he added, "I'll learn my lesson one of these days; you'll see."

"Draco…" Ginny began in a near-whisper, "don't apologize for getting something off your chest. You didn't offend me, so why be sorry?"

Draco didn't answer right away. "Merlin," he said instead, "I'll never understand the way you think. You honestly don't think it's selfish for me to involve you in this, when it should have nothing to do with you? I know what I must have sounded like a minute ago… You don't need to be talked to like that."

Ginny could only stare at him for a long time, marveling in the difference between the Draco she was seeing and the Malfoy she'd thought she'd known in school. "Why did you do it?" she asked, barely hearing her own voice over her thoughts.

"I was angry… I wasn't thinking. I'm s—"

"That's not what I mean… Why did you always hide yourself away? Why didn't you ever let anyone see what you were going through? You could have left it behind long ago!"

Draco frowned. "Because I was being watched, Ginny, all the time. Father would never have let me out of his sight completely. Even at Hogwarts, I was lucky to get a moment to myself. That's why my diary always meant so much to me. It's not just the things I wrote. It's knowing that no one else would see them. Besides, it's not like anyone would have believed a word of it if I had told them. The only reason you believe me now is because Harry trusted me first."

"Then why couldn't you have told him?"

"I tried," was all he said, his mind halfway in the present, halfway in the past. He had offered Harry his friendship on the Hogwarts Express nearly seven years ago, but he had been turned away. He remembered how deeply young Harry's look of loathing had cut him, and all because he'd poked a bit of fun at Ron. Thinking back, he almost wanted to laugh at the irony. Merlin, how the tables had turned!

"Trust me, Ginny, nothing I could have done would have made him think better of me any sooner. No one would have lifted a finger to help."

"I would have," Ginny argued.

Draco shook his head slowly. "I don't think so. You hated me for your family's sake. I'm not stupid."

"I never said you were! And I—"

"You hated me, Ginny, just like every other student at Hogwarts. It was always, 'No one but a Malfoy likes a Malfoy.' I learned that one early."

"They said that to your face?" Ginny asked, shocked.

"What difference does it make?" snapped Draco, glaring through her.

Ginny shifted uncomfortably, knowing she had just made a major mistake. "W-well, it couldn't have hurt you so badly if… if you didn't know they were saying anything…"

"It hurts a lot more when you find out they've been saying it behind your back all along!"

Ginny's eyes went wide. "What did they say?" she whispered, feeling a sudden chill.

After a few seconds with no answer, Draco closed his eyes and turned away. "Just leave me alone." His voice had become cold, making the idea of leaving sound rather wise, but she hesitated, not wanting to leave him hurt.


"I told you to leave!"

She immediately stood and hurried out, leaving the door open in her haste.

I can't believe you almost told her, Draco reprimanded himself in thought, shivering as he, too, felt the chill.

In the Slytherin common room, the cool colors of green and silver were visible all around, save for the soft, warm glow of the fire. It was late, for midnight had come and gone without a sound, but Draco couldn't sleep. How could he rest at all with his arm searing as if it were on fire? He wasn't allowed to rest, it appeared, until his task for the Dark Lord was complete. But he knew now more than ever that he couldn't complete it. He wasn't equipped to kill, not for any reason, not even to save his and his mother's lives.

It was tearing him apart, and he knew that he, of all people, could not hope for a miracle. He had never received a miracle, and he certainly hadn't earned one. All things in life had a price, and he could tell he was already paying dearly. His whole body ached in want of sleep, and as he sat there, he still found himself wishing against all odds for an answer, some way out of this mess, so that he wouldn't have to kill just to live.

Just as he was about to get up and head back to his dormitory, figuring he'd give sleep another try, a pair of jubilant voices reached him from the staircase, laughing and quite oblivious to the time of night. Draco couldn't see whose they were from where he sat, and right then, he was too distracted to care. As the two emerged into view, Draco got up slowly and winced, feeling the sting in his arm intensify.

The mysterious couple entering the common room stopped laughing at the sound of Draco's groan, and at last, he could make out their faces. Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini stood arm-in-arm, staring back at him blankly, until finally, Pansy pulled Blaise into a passionate kiss.

Draco saw red at the sight, and immediately whipped his wand out, ready to blast the betrayers into oblivion… Pansy broke away and grabbed Blaise by the arm as he was about to wield his own, and before Draco could decide on a fitting curse, they had both disappeared from view.

Still seething, he lowered his wand and let them go. What did it matter who Pansy was with? She had never really known him, never cared to ask. And what would he have told her if she had? He would never have trusted anyone with the truth, but it didn't matter now.

As he stood there, staring after them, his wand still in his hand, he knew he had not lost anything. Pansy had never seen him as anything more than a childhood toy, some inanimate and unfeeling object to be tossed around and manipulated, just a passing phase to be outgrown. No, he had not lost anything. She had never been his to lose.

It didn't take Draco much longer than a minute to realize what he'd done. He stared at his hands, hating himself for driving away the one person he could really talk to. He had just scolded himself for taking his anger at Ron out on Ginny when he started accusing her of hatred. He couldn't make any sense of it. And now, he guessed, she was most likely furious with him. You brought this on yourself, his mind snarled, and he allowed loneliness to envelop him. After all she's done to try to help you, you practically slam the door in her face! Friendship isn't a right, it's a responsibility…

As the voice inside him raged on, he slid down from the bed, leaned his head back against the side of the mattress. I'm losing it, he thought. Taking a deep breath, he looked up, only to find Harry glaring at him from the doorway. Draco flinched, but stood at once.

"You know why I'm here, Malfoy," said Harry sternly.

Draco grimaced, getting more worried by the second. "Yeah, I do."

"Then why don't you tell me why I saw Ginny in tears just now?"

Draco's eyes went wide. "She was crying?" he asked in horror.

Harry's frown deepened. "She never cries! What did you do to her?"

"I… I–I just…"

"You what? Tell me!"

"I was… We were talking, and…" Draco could barely speak. How could he possibly explain why he'd snapped at her, and how much he hated himself for letting it happen? Even he didn't fully understand why he'd done it. He was breathing quickly; he knew it was Ginny who needed the answers, but he had to give Harry some explanation. "I lost control. I'm sorry… I never meant to hurt her."

Harry took a few small steps toward Draco, his expression unmistakably threatening. "I'm warning you, Malfoy, if you laid a hand on her—"

"No!" Draco gasped. "Never!"

"Then what happened?"

"I just shouted at her! I have no idea why it upset her like that, but I swear, I would never strike her, Harry!"

Harry shook his head incredulously. "I'm not so sure I believe that. She's been through a lot worse than a shouting match in her lifetime, and I've never once seen her in tears."

"I need to talk to her…" Draco told him, and he tried to head for the main staircase, but Harry blocked his path.

"You need to talk to me," Harry demanded.

But Draco knew he had no time to waste, and dodged his way around Harry, who followed close behind, glowering at his back. Draco had just started walking quickly down the corridor when the faint sound of sniffling reached his ears. He turned to face Ginny's bedroom and braced himself as he neared the half-open door. Timidly, he knocked.

Ginny looked up from her desk. "Draco?" she asked, her voice unexpectedly soft. She quickly tried to wipe away any trace of tears, but Draco could still see them in her eyes.

This is your only friend, Draco told himself silently. Kneeling down beside her, he let guilt take over. "I'm so sorry, Ginny… I don't know what I was thinking… But I'd never want you crying because of me."

"I wasn't," she said. "I'm not angry at you." She took a deep breath, preparing to explain when, suddenly, Draco gently took her hand in his, his eyes warm and steadily focused on hers. She stared at him for the longest time, completely speechless. She was so immersed in the moment that anything she'd wanted to say simply evaporated.

Harry stared on, unseen by either of them, wondering wordlessly whether or not to intervene. What would have looked like a perfect little scene to any other observer felt like a painful knot in Harry's stomach. His heart wanted to deny it, but there it was, before him. Ginny was falling for Draco Malfoy, gazing back at him as if she thought he was the most fascinating person on the planet. Harry had so hoped that his breakup with Ginny would be temporary, that it would not be the end of their feelings for one another…

After a few more seconds, he turned sorrowfully toward his own bedroom, deciding that it was better this way. He knew he wouldn't have had much time left to stay and be the romantic boyfriend Ginny deserved. His seventeenth birthday was less than a week away, and he still had a world of work to do.

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: Draco is finally allowed to share a piece of his past with Ginny, but when he does, her reaction is somewhat... unexpected.

The Pensieve II

"Why were you crying?"

Draco was sitting with Ginny on the edge of her bed. It took Ginny a couple of seconds to even register the question in her mind. Her brain felt so busy with questions of her own. Eventually, she snapped herself out of her daze just enough to answer. "I was hurt, but not by you. For you. For whatever it was you wouldn't tell me. I thought you already knew you could trust me with anything."

Draco shuddered. "I trust you, Ginny… But…" Ginny watched him, her face radiant with empathy, and he looked as though he wanted to explain, but decided to resist. "I can't."

She nodded slowly, understanding that he wasn't about to change his mind. He looked so troubled at the memory, though, and she racked her brain for words to console him. But how would she go about healing an injured soul without knowing the cause of the injury?

It was strange, but what Draco had said to her about her hating him for her family's sake was true, in a way. She didn't like thinking back before he had arrived at the Burrow, but when she finally did, she saw Draco's cold world through his point of view. She'd hated him because he bullied Ron as though it were a hobby… because his father and her father feuded day after day at work… because he would constantly brag about how his family compared to hers in status, and in wealth… But all of that fell apart before her eyes as she returned to the here-and-now. None of it was real, nor had it ever been. With him there, she realized that his attitude towards the Weasleys had been nothing but a curtain to hide much more frightening things: confusion, fear, humiliation, even jealousy.

Ginny closed her eyes for a moment and let out a slow sigh. She hadn't seen any of that. It didn't matter to her that no one else had. She could have done something; she could have noticed the signs. She'd heard somewhere that bullying was really a sign of insecurity, but it hadn't made sense to her back then. Needless to say, it did now.

"Ginny?" Draco's voice startled her out of her reverie. She opened her eyes and immediately let her gaze meet his. "Don't let it bother you that much," he said. "What's important is, you're not like them."

A small smile crept across Ginny's face. "Neither are you," she said. It had become more or less irrelevant to her what 'them' meant. What mattered now was whether something could be said to comfort him.

Draco broke eye contact, turning his gaze downward. She had no idea who he was talking about. It was better kept a secret, but he found himself wishing he could just give her the memory, so that she could at least know who they were discussing without him having to put it into painful words. His thoughts drifted to the gift Dumbledore had left him. If he'd only kept his wand, he wouldn't have to explain; he could show her.

Ginny's hand touched his shoulder, unintentionally startling him. "What is it?" she asked softly. "What's wrong?"

Draco looked up at her again. "The Pensieve… in that room where Dumbledore's portrait is… He g—"

"Gave it to you?" Ginny asked. "Hermione told me."

Draco nodded. He had half-expected that. "Well, this would have been a great time to use it."

Ginny blinked at him for a moment. "Draco, why did you break your wand? Didn't you think you'd miss having it?"

"Of course I did, Ginny. But I had to set priorities. Mother and I needed somewhere to go where we would be safe. Some things are more important than magic."

"But why did you do that?" Ginny asked again. "No one was telling you you had to."

"Think of it for a minute. If I hadn't, you'd have thought I was going to attack you in your sleep. You still believed I was on the Dark Lord's side. You all did. Sacrificing my wand was the only way to prove we really needed help. I figured it would be a small price to pay."

Ginny nodded thoughtfully. "I wonder if Dumbledore knew you were wandless when he gave you the Pensieve. He might have been making a point, don't you think?"

"What point, Ginny? That I shouldn't have snapped my wand in the first place? If he already knew I was wandless, he would know why."

Ginny shook her head. "No, Draco, I'm sure he wasn't scolding you. What I'm saying is, I don't think he'd just give it to you on a whim and walk away. That doesn't sound like him. I think he must have known about this beforehand."

"He knew I'd come here," Draco thought aloud, his unfocused eyes staring down at his knees. "He said so. I never would have thought I'd end up living at the Order of the Phoenix headquarters, of all places, but he knew."

When Ginny gave no reply, Draco looked back up at her, but another redhead caught his eye from the corridor, looking livid. Ginny stood almost immediately to face her brother. "What are you up to now, Ron?" Ginny asked nonchalantly, as if the expression on his freckled face was of anything but anger.

While Ron took a few slow steps closer, Draco wondered what his problem was this time. "If you don't mind," he began in a voice laced with tension and topped with sarcasm, "I have something to say to our guest."

Ginny tilted her head to one side and returned Ron's tone. "You can say it to me. I'll be sure to pass on the message… if it's more than a collection of insults."

Ron's eyes narrowed further. "Sorry, Ginny. This is one message I have to send personally. Get out here, Malfoy!"

"And why would I do that?" Draco scoffed in an effort to hide his dread.

"Well, I wouldn't want you getting blood on Ginny's floor, you see…" As he spoke, Ron's expression turned smug again, and Draco wanted to kick him for it.

Ginny's mouth fell open in horror, her eyes narrowed defensively at her brother. Draco, on the other hand, was already boiling. "You think I'd give you the satisfaction, do you?" He started towards Ron, both fists at the ready.

"Draco, no!" cried Ginny, and she grabbed his wrist tightly. "Don't, please don't… You'll only be giving him what he wants!"

Draco stopped for a moment, but kept his eyes on Ron. "If it's a fight he wants, Ginny, I'd say it's about time I gave it to him." With that, he pulled his arm free of her grip and left the security of her bedroom. "So, where's your wand, Freckles?" he taunted, making a point not to call him by the surname of the family he so stubbornly defied.

Ron's expression took on a smug appearance. "I don't need a wand to make you pay."

"Pay?" Ginny exclaimed. "For what? He's been a gentleman compared to the way you've been acting!"

"I could care less how well-behaved you think he is!" Ron shouted in her direction. Turning back to Draco, he added darkly, "I know better."

Draco had no time to raise his arms in defense before a swift blow to the side of his head made him stumble back, with nothing but the hard floor to break his fall. He could hear Ginny cry out, and she hurried to his side. Draco shook his head to clear his thoughts, but it was Ron's voice that brought him out of his disoriented state.

"That was for Harry," he snarled. "You're not worth my sister's time, Malfoy, so stop trying to steal her away."

"Harry broke up with me, Ron! This is none of your business!" defended Ginny.

"That wasn't a break-up, Ginny!" Ron said, taking a different, less harsh tone with Ginny than he had with Draco. "He just wanted—"

"To protect me, I know. I understand. But the fact is, he did break up with me. He made that decision. Things change, Ron, and with each change comes another. When are you going to realize that?"

"I don't—" Ron protested.

"Then mind your own business!" Ginny said as she took a few quick steps toward him, ready to shove him away.

Ron stared at her for a couple more seconds, then stormed off down the corridor.

Draco glowered after him. "Next time will be the last," he muttered, and raised his right hand to soothe the spot where he'd been struck. He winced at the realization that the top of his ear was bleeding. "Bastard…" he whispered, letting down his hand to see the sticky, red substance on his fingertips.

At that, Ginny finally turned back to him, immediately making the change back from furious to worried. "Draco..." she whispered. But then, breathing in sharply, she wasted no time in trying to help. She took his wrist and started for the stairs. "Mum's great at healing," she told him. "Come on, she can help you."

Draco shuddered and stayed put, tugging his hand away from her. "How am I supposed to explain this to his mother?" he asked frantically.

Ginny turned back to him, shook her head and reached again for Draco's hand, which he did not pull back. "It's going to be fine, Draco. You're with me." This time, when she pulled him gently towards the staircase, Draco made no protest and followed willingly.

Before long, they came to a closed door, through which Molly Weasley's voice could be heard, then Narcissa's. At the sound of his mother's voice, Draco jerked his hand out of Ginny's grasp, more nervous than before. She looked surprised, but said again, "It's okay, Draco."

"It won't be if Mother knows..." he replied ominously. Ginny's eyes asked her questions for her, and Draco tried to answer them at once in a whisper: "If she finds out about this, she'll go after him, wand or no wand. She's not a – coward – like I am." He cringed at the word. It had been used on him enough times to teach him when it was appropriate, and right then, it seemed to fit perfectly.

Confused more than ever now, Ginny could think of only one thing to say. "Not striking back isn't cowardice, if that's what you're thinking."

"No?" asked Draco incredulously. "Try telling the rest of the world that."

"I've told you all I can." Narcissa told the meeting room full of listeners. "I'm afraid anything else of value is beyond my knowledge." She had refused to look at any of them throughout their discussion, choosing to gaze intently at the painted wood of the table before her. She would not reveal any more that she had to. On one hand, she could wholeheartedly vow not to attack or betray these people – she was certainly grateful to each of them for allowing her and her beloved son to stay safe at their headquarters. But to openly swear allegiance to the Order of the Phoenix was, in her opinion, tantamount to suicide. It was true that she bore no loyalty to the Dark Lord, but her one and only cause was her son's well-being. It had been that way for years, and nothing short of nothing would change it now.

Minerva frowned and sighed wearily. For the past week and a half, she, Alastor, Arthur and Molly had been questioning Narcissa, hoping in vain for a breakthrough. The new Ministry was working with dangerous resolve to hunt down Muggleborns, members of the Order, and anyone else who opposed Voldemort's rise to power, whether openly or in secret. She knew Narcissa must be aware of this, though the blond woman disclosed very little. But they needed any information she had on what was to come, and they needed it quickly.

Yet, just as Minerva was about to explain this, a sharp knock sounded at the door. She turned to Molly, who was nearest to the door, and asked, "Could you get that, Molly?"

Molly got up to do so, but was surprised to find her daughter waiting there, looking slightly nervous. "Ginny?" she greeted her, looking puzzled. "What's the matter, dear?"

"Can you come out here for a minute?" Ginny asked hesitantly.

Molly looked back only for an instant before leaving the meeting room. She was startled to find Draco leaning against the wall, staring at red stains on his fingers, and when he turned to look at her, she saw his injured ear. The bleeding had nearly stopped, but the spot still ached and stung, and somehow felt worse than when he'd first been hit.

"It's nothing like the Cruciatus," he admitted once Molly had gotten him to the kitchen, "but I don't have to like it."

"What happened?" Molly asked. Draco knew she might have suspected the answer, but he was still too worried to explain; he wasn't eager to be accused of provoking a fight. He bit his lip and glanced over at Ginny.

"Ron hit him," she said. Draco hoped that that would suffice, at least for now.

Molly looked down at the counter, her expression unreadable. At first, she seemed to be thinking something over, but after a second or two, she snapped out of her momentary daze and went to retrieve a small bottle of purple liquid from a drawer. Then, wetting a small, white cloth with the potion, she nodded to a chair by the counter and said, "Do sit down... I'll have to clean the cut before I can heal it."

Draco made an effort not to flinch as he felt the potion burning on his ear, but Molly wasn't fooled. "I know it stings a bit, but it's best not to heal it until it's clean." Ginny watched on with sympathetic eyes, but Draco avoided her gaze, stiffening slightly as the potion was applied once more.

"It's just a little cut..." he mumbled in protest.

Molly didn't reply, but instead replaced the potion in its drawer. Then she took her wand from her pocket and pointed it at Draco's ear. Before he could think to flinch, Draco felt the pain in his right ear and temple dissipate without leaving a trace. Ginny smiled when she saw him relax a little.

"Thanks, Mrs. Weasley," he said, and he stood to face her.

"Of course," Molly answered, still looking worried. "Now I think I'd better go find Ron…"

Draco's anxiety was reawakened at her words. He wondered what Ron would tell his mother in his own defense. "He doesn't have a scratch on him," he assured her, certain that she was just as concerned for her youngest son's well-being as she was about what to say to him. "Not from me, at least."

Molly nodded, but her worried expression remained. For a moment, she looked like she wanted to say something, but turned to leave instead.

"Well, you were right, Ginny," Draco sighed, relieved that he hadn't gotten himself into more trouble.

"I know my mum," Ginny said, smiling. "She's not the sort of person who gets angry at someone for what somebody else did." Draco nodded.

At next glance, Ginny seemed lost in thought, and when she returned to the here-and-now, she grasped Draco's wrist again and said, "Come with me."

"Where are we going?" he asked.

"To your Pensieve. You said you wanted to use it, didn't you?"

Draco pulled her to a stop a few feet away from the staircase. "I can't, Ginny… Without my wand—"

"Yes, you can," she interrupted him, grinning again.

Still confused, he followed her, wondering hopefully what she had planned. When they arrived there, Dumbledore greeted them with a polite nod, but said nothing for the moment.

Draco nodded back. To his surprise, Ginny retrieved her own wand from her pocket and, giving Draco a meaningful look, handed it to him. He stared at it, shocked at the idea. She wanted to see the memory so badly that she was letting him use her wand to do it… He searched her eyes for any sign that this was a joke of some sort, but found none.

"Draco, take it," she told him.

Taking a deep breath and wondering what he was doing, he took a few steps toward Ginny, knowing he would have little choice now but to show her what had happened. Yes, he had wanted to at first, but by now, his heart was racing. He glanced up at Dumbledore's portrait and slowly took the wand in his hand. It felt different from his own, but he hoped that it would work for him as well as his had done.

Taking one more step to the Pensieve, Draco thought back to a book he'd read in his fourth year, information he never imagined he'd have the chance to use. In its chapter on Pensieves, it had explained how the mysterious object worked, sparking his fascination, and had hinted at how to use it.

He sighed. Concentrate… he instructed himself in thought. Lifting the borrowed wand to his temple, he forced himself to recall the late night encounter. Deep down, he could feel the fury and humiliation from that night as if he were watching the scene all over again, and he slowly brought the wand – and the memory – down until the bright thread landed in the bowl.

Through his anxiety, he felt a rush of excitement at the sight of his own memory sitting in the Pensieve. The nonverbal spell that he'd used had been more trying than he'd guessed when he had first read about it, but he'd done it on the first try, and with someone else's wand! As simple as he'd once thought the magic would be, he had imagined he would need a bit of practice at first. He could only guess that the extra pressure he was under from Ginny being there to watch was enough to urge the spell to succeed.

Ginny smiled when she saw the look of awe on Draco's face. She bent forward to watch the memory, and as soon as her nose touched its silvery surface, she was pulled into it without a sound.

Draco jumped a little, and looked back at Dumbledore uncomfortably, but Dumbledore gave him an encouraging smile. "She will understand."

Draco nodded, but had his doubts, as always. He leaned with his back against the wall, watching the Pensieve, waiting anxiously for Ginny's return.

After a minute or two, she was thrown out of the Pensieve and onto her back. When she stood herself back up, she looked across the room at him, her eyes shining in the lamplight. "I want to see more," she said.

Draco just stared at her, wide-eyed, wondering why she had said that. It hadn't been the reaction he was expecting at all. "More? Why?"

Ginny walked slowly toward him. "Because I want to know you," she told him. "I can't imagine what kind of life you've been forced into, and just hearing about it isn't going to help. I want you to show me, Draco."

Draco swallowed hard at the thought; his throat had gone dry. "You want to see everything?"

Ginny nodded. "Seeing your memory showed me I need to see what happened to even begin to understand it all."

Draco felt his lungs and heart begin to work double-time. On the one hand, Ginny was clearly trustworthy, and no part of him doubted that. But to relive each memory, and the emotions and pain that went with it, was to recall a truth he wanted nothing more than to forget.

"I think it could help you, too," continued Ginny. "It might help you to sort it all out. It's worth trying, isn't it?"

Draco grimaced. "Easy for you to say," he said. "You're just watching." He gave her a meaningful look before handing her back her wand. "I know you want answers, Ginny, but I don't have any."

Ginny took the wand and looked down at it. She seemed disappointed, but in the next moment, she looked back up at him. "I know it would help you, Draco," she said again before turning to leave.

Draco winced at the look on her face just before she left. Not knowing if she wanted him to follow her, he glanced back at the Pensieve, and with a heavy sigh, started for his bedroom. Once there, he sat on his bed for a moment, and then laid back across it, staring at the ceiling. As endearing as it was to him, Ginny's insistence that there would be a happy ending to his story was just as much a barrier between them as an attraction. Her need to 'make things right' was keeping her from understanding how 'wrong' those things were. He knew, deep down, that the only chance she might really grasp that was if he showed her what she wanted to see, and went into the Pensieve with her.

He knew what he needed, but it was something he was unsure that he had ever possessed: courage. It would take more than he could conjure, he realized, to guide her through his years at Malfoy Manor, and at Hogwarts.

Worst of all, though, was the unknown. He had no idea how Ginny would react. Two different varieties of common sense tore him in half; one seemed certain that Ginny would understand, as Dumbledore had assured him, while the other suggested that showing her the truth would make her uncomfortable around him, as if he were some sort of freak. The latter might have seemed unlikely to anyone slightly more confident, but to Draco, it was enough of a risk to be cause for minor panic.

One of the most important things he had to make her understand was why he felt so indebted to his mother, and that receiving the Dark Mark had not been the first time he'd risked his life and more to defend her. She had lifted his spirits in the darkest moments of his life with stories of love and true happiness. She had fought with everything she had to protect him, to shelter him from pain. She had loved him through failure after failure on his part. Even when it seemed as though the world would be better off without him, she begged him to hold on. She had never once asked for a thing in return, but Draco had known better than to forget. She was the reason he was alive, and if the time to share this truth with Ginny had come, Draco knew he should not be afraid. Not now, not ever.

Slowly, deliberately, he got up from the bed and headed back up the stairs to Ginny's room. She was getting what she wanted after all.

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: More memories, more angst, more lessons... More romance surfaces, but still more barriers stand in the way... More questions are found amid the continuing search for answers.

The Birth of Debt

When Draco got to Ginny's room, he took a deep breath and knocked quietly. "It's me," he called through the closed door. The door opened right away, and Ginny looked as hopeful as ever when he saw her. He knew why, and he wasn't going to let her down this time. "I'm ready if you are."

Ginny smiled and nodded. "You're finally letting me in," she said brightly. Draco sighed and nodded, but his expression remained solemn. She had no idea… but she would.

When they arrived at the office-like room where the Pensieve was kept, Ginny once again gave him her wand to use. It took Draco only a moment to decide which memories to show her first. In much the same way as he had extracted the first memory, which still lay in the basin, he took one more, and then another, and placed them in the Pensieve.

"After you."

Ginny bent down to enter the Pensieve as she had done before, and true to his word, Draco followed. The next thing he knew, they were in his bedroom at Malfoy Manor. Ginny looked briefly around the room, and her eyes fell on a young boy standing by his bed.

Young Draco's gaze was fixed on the door, his body rigid and still as though he were afraid to move a muscle. Only when the sound of approaching footsteps reached their ears did he flinch.

The door opened to reveal Lucius standing there, his wand held at his side. Ginny's pale features hardened at the sight of him.

"Father," young Draco greeted his father dutifully, his frightened eyes darting between Lucius' wand and his face.

Lucius strolled to his son's bed and sat down, motioning for Draco to sit beside him. The boy merely stared at him, confused by the friendly gesture from the man who had tortured him on several occasions. "Sit, Draco," Lucius ordered, trying again.

Young Draco obeyed, but the look of surprise remained. Still, he seemed to think it was safe to speak freely. "What are you going to do?" he asked.

"Why ask a question like that when you'll find out soon enough?" Lucius asked in return. "And don't you tell me it's because you don't want curses. Of course you don't like them, Draco. But it's for the best."

"But why?" groaned Draco. "Nobody else's father curses them."

"You're not like other children. I tried for years to convince myself you were normal, but I know better now. There's just something wrong with you that only that one curse could possibly cure."

Ginny began shaking her head as she watched the scene before her unfold. She turned back to present-day Draco and mouthed the words "Not true."

Draco only glared at her. If he was going to have to show her all these memories himself, he would not let her turn away, not even for a moment. She had asked to see this! "Watch," he mouthed back. Slowly, Ginny returned her gaze to Lucius.

"How will it cure me?" Draco asked him, looking only slightly disbelieving.

"It won't until you realize that no matter what you want your life to be like, this is the best you're ever going to have. I'm not stupid, Draco. I know what you're after. You want me to just scoop you up and tell you everything will be fine. But it's not going to happen. I'm not going to love you." He spoke the word 'love' as though it were a shameful thing to want.

Tears filled young Draco's eyes, but he bit his lip to keep them from falling. "Mother loves me," he said after a moment's pause.

Lucius stood up and turned to face Draco, wearing a malicious smirk that present-day Draco had seen many times since. "Draco," he sneered, "your mother is nothing but a dreamer. Does it matter what she has to say about this? She's worse than you are!"

Lucius exited the room without another word, leaving the door wide open. Draco grabbed the nearest pillow from his bed and buried his face in it, sobbing audibly. Ginny started walking closer to him and lifted her hand to touch his shoulder to comfort him, but her fingers just went through him as if he were made of smoke. Letting her arm return to her side, she closed her eyes and sighed.

This time, present-day Draco felt no resentment when Ginny looked away. Instead, he watched her with the same empathy she felt for him. The world was full of people like his father, as he had learned long ago. Yet people like Ginny Weasley were remarkably few. She was more than his friend, more than just an ally. She had cried for him, and she looked ready to do it again.

But before he could reach out for her hand, the sound of footsteps once again reached their ears. Ginny looked up to see Narcissa running along the corridor. "Draco?" she gasped when she had gotten to him. "Draco, what's wrong?"

Draco cried harder and shook his head, refusing to speak. Narcissa sat beside him and took him in her arms, holding him until he calmed down. "Shhhh," she whispered over and over, not to quiet him, but to soothe him.

When he was calm enough to speak, he asked her, "What's wrong with me?"

This confused Narcissa, but her voice remained calm and steady. "What do you mean, darling? There's nothing wrong with you."

Draco shook his head again. "Father told me there was. But he won't tell m—"

Narcissa broke the hug suddenly, shock written on her face. She grasped Draco's shoulders and looked into his eyes. "What did he say?"

"He just said there's something wrong with me…" Draco stammered, terrified at the look on her face. "He said that's why he's been cursing me…"

"Cursing you!" she breathed. "What curse, what…?" She trailed off, unable to say any more.

"I-I don't know what it's called. It just h-hurts…"

"Good Merlin!" she moaned.

She jumped to her feet and dashed to the door, but before she could get out to the corridor, Draco screamed, crying hysterically again, "MOTHER, PLEASE! Please, don't you hate me, too! PLEASE!"

Narcissa ran back to him, wrapping him in another embrace. "No, Draco… No, never… Draco, my darling child, nothing will ever make me stop loving you! But he's gone too far…" Once Draco let go of her, she left to find her husband.

Both Dracos went after her, young Draco staying hidden whenever he could, and Ginny followed close behind. When Narcissa found Lucius, he was downstairs in the sitting room reading the Daily Prophet. "How long have you been torturing my son?" she demanded, her voice colder than Draco had ever heard it.

Lucius lowered the Prophet just enough to get a good look at her. Chuckling lightly, he went back to looking at the newspaper. "I see you've finally opened your eyes, Narcissa," he said, appearing as calm as he had ever been.

Narcissa whipped her wand out, aiming it straight at him. "How long?" she asked again. Without waiting for an answer, she shook her wand, and instantly, the center fold of the Daily Prophet was ignited. Lucius leapt out of his chair and dropped the halves as the fire spread across the parchment pages. By the time he had retrieved his own wand to extinguish the flame, it had caught the corner of the rug, and when he did put it out, the Prophet was destroyed and the rug was singed.

"Are you mad?" he bellowed.

"Answer me!" shrieked Narcissa, her wand still aimed in his direction.

Lucius looked murderous, and before she could defend herself, he took aim and fired his spell in one quick motion. She collapsed to the floor, screaming and writhing, fighting to shake off the pain. The instant Draco realized what was happening, he sprinted across the room and stopped in between his father and his mother, shielding her from the torture curse and taking it himself.

Without thinking, Ginny tried to grab the back of a nearby armchair to steady herself, but just as before, her hand went right through it. Present-day Draco took hold of her outstretched arm to support her, and they faced each other.

"I think you've seen enough for one day," he said gently. "Let's go home."

Ginny shook her head. "I'm fine," she told him, but he knew it wasn't true. That memory had shaken her.

Draco gave her a solemn look, but his tone was still warm as ever. "Come on." He took her hand, and they left the Pensieve, landing on their backs. Draco wasted no time in standing up so that he could help Ginny to her feet.

Once some of the shock had worn off, Ginny glanced back at the Pensieve. "No!" she protested. "There were two memories. I need to know what the other one was…"

"Ginny," Draco interrupted her, "you can see it another time. I can tell you need a break – and personally, I don't blame you."

"You always did that?" she asked after a pause, dazed.

Draco looked at her questioningly. "Did what?"

Ginny swallowed hard. "Shielded her…"

Draco let out a heavy sigh. "Whenever I could get to her in time," he explained, looking downward to hide the bitterness he felt at the thought. "I remember being locked up in that prison cell of a bedroom, hearing her screaming, and I couldn't do a thing to stop him. Those were the times I was actually ready to give up." He raised his eyes again to meet hers, but the look on her face made him regret answering her with anything more than 'yes' or 'no.'

"I'm sorry, Ginny."

Ginny shook her head, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. Draco could only stare back at her; he had no clue what he should do at that point. He only knew he wanted her cheerful again.

"Sorry?" she asked. "What for?"

Draco sighed. "For doing this to you. Harry told me he's never seen you cry… and he knows you better than I do."

Ginny half-smiled, her answer ready in her mind. "Harry? Draco, just because he's never seen me crying, that doesn't mean I never have."

"Well, I don't want to be another reason for you to feel that way."

"You're not the one bothering me, Draco," she assured him. "I wish you'd believe me when I say that. It's Lucius I'm angry at, not you."

"But if I hadn't—" Draco tried, but Ginny interrupted him.

"Draco, don't do that."

Draco could feel tension rising slowly in his throat. What did she expect him to do then, stand back and pretend he hadn't dragged her through the memory? Still, he reminded himself firmly that he could not let it get out of hand again. "What am I supposed to tell you, Ginny? Why shouldn't I apologize?" he asked as calmly as he could. When she only stared at him for a few seconds in puzzled silence, he only became more agitated.

"Don't do that to me. All through my life, that word, 'why,' has been useless. All it ever gets from anyone is silence. I gave you the answers you wanted… What about answers to my questions? How long have I been waiting for an answer?"

Before the wide-eyed listener could conjure a response, Draco closed his eyes and sighed, running his hand through his hair as he turned from her. He wasn't ready yet to start scolding himself again, but he knew he would be in a few minutes if this went on. Having a true friend wasn't as easy as he'd hoped it would be.

For an instant, the image of his diary appeared in his mind, and he knew that more than ever, he wanted to be alone. But that wasn't all he wanted, and when he left the tension of the room behind this time, he didn't head straight for his room. Rather, he stopped outside another room before reaching the staircase. It was the same bedroom into which Ginny had disappeared after Draco had nearly kissed her, not too long ago.

The door was wide open. He peered in to find Hermione lying on her bed, her nose buried in a thick book. Draco knocked quietly, and Hermione looked up.

"Is it too late to accept your offer?" Draco asked from the doorway.

"My offer…?" Hermione asked him, bewildered. "What did I offer you?"

"Parchment," he replied hopefully.

She grinned slightly. "I remember now. No, it's not too late." She got up and took a roll of parchment, then handed it to him.

Draco smiled back, eager to put his quill to work. "Thanks." With that, he headed for the quiet privacy of his own room.

With no desk in the room, he had only the bedside table to use as a surface. He closed his door firmly behind him so he could have some precious time to himself. Getting his quill out from under the bed, he set it to work.

Dearest Diary,

Since the fateful evening I left Hogwarts for the last time, I've missed you desperately. Even now, as I'm surrounded by people, I know that people are nothing like your blank pages. People judge; you listen. People ask all the wrong questions; you wait until I'm ready to answer. People focus on the way I say something; you just hear what I have to say.

Miles of parchment would hardly be enough to tell you what has been happening here since Mother and I arrived, but these past two weeks have been a shaky ride. In the end, I suppose I feel safer here than I did at first. At least nobody's locked us up for a while, which is a good sign. But knowing that everything could change in the blink of an eye makes it hard to relax. Ronald is still doing everything he can to get us thrown out or killed or whatever, no matter what Ginny or anyone else tells him. Having us both live in the same house is a disaster waiting to happen. Well, at least it hasn't happened yet.

Meanwhile, Ginny's been trying to help me somehow, and I know she genuinely wants to, but so much gets in the way. She wants to see my darkest memories, but I really don't think she's ready to see what I've seen. Then again, I wasn't ready to see it, either, but that's not her fault. Why should she be dragged into that? No, I like her just fine the way she is: innocent, cheerful and free-spirited. I won't be responsible for making her anything like me.

Draco read over what he had written, and allowed himself a rare smile. As difficult as things still were, it felt good to be writing again. It was true: talking to other people was very different from writing his thoughts down for only his eyes to see. In keeping a diary, there was no one to impress or satisfy. There were no rules, only the security of knowing that his secrets, or what was left of them, were safe, invisible to everyone else.

This parchment might have to last for a while, he thought to himself, although the trace of a smile was still visible. I'd better save the rest. He signed the letter and stored it and the remaining parchment in a drawer in the bedside table.

Just as he closed it, someone knocked on his door. He looked up, hoping that whoever it was, they wouldn't ask too many questions about his door being closed or whatnot. His writings were his, and no one else, not even his mother, was allowed to see them. Still, he went to the door, pulled it part of the way open, and smiled.

Narcissa stood there, smiling back at her son. For days, she had been in forced meetings with members of the Order of the Phoenix, trying with all the will she had not to say too much, and to keep from causing more trouble than they were already in. After all that, all she wanted was to speak freely to the one person who she knew cared. "Hello, darling," she said.

Draco took her hand in greeting and opened the door the rest of the way. "I hardly see you anymore," he told her.

As Narcissa stepped inside, Draco saw her smile fade. Turning back to face him, she sighed. "I would gladly do without these meetings they've insisted that I attend," she replied sadly. "They take time I would much rather spend with you."

Draco had stopped smiling when he first noticed how worn out she looked. "What do you do in there all day, Mother?" he asked.

"Well," she sighed again, "to be honest, I try to do as little as possible. It's more tedious than anything else."

This only confused Draco. "Why would they make you sit through meetings that don't pertain to you?" he asked, not expecting her to have an answer. "That's ridiculous."

Narcissa wore a slight grimace. She knew by now Draco had already taken sides, and that his loyalties had followed him into the home and presence of the Order. Perhaps it was the right choice in the long run; she had considered that as well. But the right choice was notorious for being the most risky, and as both Malfoys were nearly empty-handed at that point, it felt as though all they had left to risk was each other. That wouldn't do. Sometimes the right choice was the most unthinkable.

Narcissa took a deep breath and spoke slowly, careful to choose her words tactfully. "Sweetheart, I know you've become attached to some of these people… but you need to… I need you to remember that our backgrounds and experiences differ from theirs. We don't know them any more clearly than they know us."

Draco was growing more worried by the second. "What are you trying to say?" As he spoke, he realized he didn't want to hear where she was leading the conversation. Was she hinting that he had trusted too easily? Or that he had chosen the wrong people to trust? He didn't want to know.

For at least a full minute, they stood watching each other, both hoping the other would be the next to speak. Finally, Narcissa broke the silence. "As happy as it makes me to see you investing your faith in someone new, I know you really should keep some more boundaries. Understand, mon fils, that they could very well be the exact reverse of any loyal Death Eater."

By now, Draco doubted there was any room left in his mind for any more confusion. "They are the opposite! What—"

"I don't mean the opposite. I mean the reverse. Just as Lucius, Bella, or any other true Death Eater would go to any lengths to serve the Dark Lord… for all we know, the Order could be willing to make the same sacrifices for their cause."

"Mother!" Draco protested, unwilling to believe his ears. "This is different! They don't even have a master to serve. How could it possibly be the same here?"

"Draco, Draco, calm down. Please, I just don't want you getting hurt."

"I'm not getting hurt," he pointed out defiantly. "For once in my life, I'm not getting hurt. Aside from Ronald's madness, it's like a dream here. Don't try to tell me I'm about to wake up!"

Narcissa stared at her son through wide eyes as realization dawned on her. There was more than loyalty at work here. And now, she was torn between breaking up what hope he'd found in this place to make room for reality, versus waiting until one of these Phoenix people broke it up instead. She knew in her heart that one of these would eventually happen. And yet, hoping her prediction was wrong, she forced down her instincts and decided to at least let him be happy for as long as fate would allow.

"What led to all this?" Draco asked suddenly, looking ashamed. "We were talking about those meetings they make you go to every day. How did that lead to an argument?"

Narcissa had to fight back a relieved laugh when she heard him say that. It often amazed her to see how resilient he was. Right after being angry enough to shout, he could cool down, step back, and reflect on what had caused the outburst, all in a matter of moments. For most people, the process would have taken hours, even days. But perhaps it was more than resilience, she thought to herself. Perhaps it was a kind of wisdom as well.

She sat down on the end of the bed, and Draco sat beside her. "Tu es la seule personne contre qui je ne peux rester fâché," he told her, seeming to sense her unasked question, and making her smile. This time, she meant it.

French Glossary Tu es la seule personne contre qui je ne peux rester fâché. ~ You're the one person I could never stay angry at.

Chapter Text

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: Nora Rookwood is my own original character. All other characters, canon settings, etc. from the Harry Potter series are the property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made through this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

On Draco's sixteenth birthday, he knows better than to expect a cake, or a party, or a day he'll want to remember for the rest of his life.
From experience, he knows perfectly well that his birthday presents will be far more sinister, and perhaps the last two he will ever receive...
The Dark Mark...
And a task to perform.

Summary: Draco tries to aid the Order, but when he goes to talk to Harry, he realizes that the Boy-Who-Lived may not want his help.
Meanwhile, Lucius comes a little closer to finding his wife and son.

Dream Yourself Awake

The painted, grey walls of Draco's bedroom shone a parchment-like shade of yellow as the light of day began to fade. The old house no longer looked unkempt, for ever since Draco's exchange with the house-elf, Kreacher had taken much more pride in the upkeep of the place. Although Draco hadn't heard from him since, he had certainly noticed the change in the general appearance of the Order's headquarters, and the uplifting effect it had had on everyone's mood. It didn't feel so confining there anymore.

"So, the meetings… what are they about?" Draco asked again. He was only curious, but it was the kind of curiosity that wouldn't leave him alone until it was satisfied. "All Order of the Phoenix matters, I'm sure," he added in an official sort of tone that made Narcissa smile.

She sighed, knowing she'd have to explain eventually. "They want information, that's all. It's nothing I want you worrying about." When Draco looked incredulous, she nodded. "Yes, they've been spending days asking me for any clues I have of how to rid the world of the Dark Lord. It would be easier for everyone involved if I had the clues they're asking for."

She was about to say more, but Draco spoke up, his eyes thoughtful. "What do you mean? We know plenty of details that could help them win the war. I know I do."

"Draco," Narcissa whispered, grabbing Draco's shoulder suddenly, "we don't know what they could do with anything we tell them…"

Draco stared at her in astonishment. "Of course we do," he told her. "They'd win the war! Mother, which side are you on?"

"I'm not choosing a side. I'm trying to find a place in between where we'll both be safe."

"But we're safe here!"

Narcissa looked as though she felt guilty for not telling him sooner to be careful. "Draco, I don't think you understand…" she began, still speaking in hushed tones. "From the moment we entered the Burrow, I knew we had taken too great a chance. Just because most of these people have been friendly to us, that doesn't make this a safe haven. In deciding to seek out Harry Potter, you took a great risk, and by revealing ourselves to members of the Order, and then showing up at their headquarters, we only added to that risk." Draco lowered his eyes, turning his head away, knowing he had been reckless yet again, but still certain that his choices were already being justified. "Can you even be sure that Ginny—"

Draco's heart raced at the mention of Ginny, and he felt the muscles in his face and neck tighten. Rather than listen to the rest of his mother's point, he stood and headed swiftly for the door. Ignoring her protests as he opened it and walked out, he busied himself trying to block any hint or thought from his mind that Ginny, the charming balance between hope and patience, would ever betray him the way that Pansy had.

In his effort to keep the harmful notion away, his attention wandered to a corridor by the staircase, from which several muffled voices could be heard at once. Draco walked closer, and as he did, the voices quieted, until only one could be heard at a time.

"…that unless there's a major breakthrough within the next few days, we'll all be fighting this war on our own. We can't afford to wait!"

"We've tried everything we can, Minerva. I get the feeling she's been leading us on a wild goose chase from the beginning. What more can we do?"

Draco took a few more cautious steps toward the door and, drawing in a deep breath, he gathered what courage he could find and knocked before he could talk himself out of it.

There was near-silence inside, but shortly afterwards, the door opened a few inches, revealing a sliver of the brightly-lit room. Then, Minerva stepped in front of the doorway, looking slightly bewildered, as though Draco had been the last person she had expected to see there.

"I… want to help…" Draco said slowly. He tried to look her directly in the eye while he spoke in an attempt to disprove any preconceived suspicions she might have had, but it was hard. His mother had spent days stubbornly keeping anything she knew a secret, and now he was offering all that knowledge to the same people she had warned him not to dare trust. His heart was already heavy with guilt, but in thought, he begged fate to see that his actions now would cause no further harm, especially to his mother.

But then another thought nibbled at his mind. If he told the Order all he could, swore his allegiance, and thereby took Dumbledore's advice to another level… not only would Dumbledore be proven right about him for all to see, but Ginny would know how badly he wanted to do what was right, no matter how much resistance his mother would give him. He wanted that; more than anything, he wanted to show Ginny that he wasn't a product of his past.

"I'm not sure what information you're looking for, exactly…" he said, "but I'll do what I can." When Minerva didn't allow him entry right away, he added, "I want this war to end as much as you do."

Finally, she opened the door wider so he could join the others. Draco took an empty seat and looked around.

"Well, Mr. Malfoy—" Minerva began. Draco shifted uncomfortably at the mention of his surname. Minerva, of course, was wise enough to take the hint. Unable to hide a good-natured smile, she corrected herself. "Draco…" Then, she grew serious again. "To be perfectly honest, anything you can tell us would help a great deal. As it is, we're outnumbered, and we're fighting blindly. If we're going to stand any chance at all, we'll have to turn the tables quickly. Time is of the essence."

Fear prickled at Draco's heart. Of course they were outnumbered, but Draco had hoped they were well-armed and well-protected. Now, apparently, it wasn't as safe there as he wanted to believe. The urgency of the situation was clearer now than it had ever been, but the more he scrambled to conjure a solution, the more unprepared and useless he felt.

"Draco, look at me," spoke a voice, sounding a thousand times steadier than Draco felt. He looked up from his lap to the speaker, which turned out to be Arthur Weasley. "Nobody's asking you to come up with an entire war plan on your own. The rest of us can figure that out. We just need to know what to expect."

Draco's heartbeat slowed to a more comfortable pace as he listened, and he tried again to find what the people surrounding him sought.

"Do you know where he might be?" Draco asked all of a sudden. "What I mean is… even with his loyal pawns in control of the Ministry, he wouldn't go there himself, at least not yet. I think he'd want to take Hogwarts first. But just imagine, hundreds of minds being brainwashed, and those who resist would be sent to a kind of detention they might never recover from…" The thought of Hogwarts being turned into a Death Eater youth recruitment center was enough to make him literally feel ill. "We can't let him do that…"

"So, he's trying to get to Hogwarts now," Alastor said. "I suspected as much. And they've damn well given him a golden opportunity to do it."

Draco looked up at him, horrified. "What do you mean?"

Molly answered before Alastor could explain. "They're already out in the open at Hogsmeade, searching the shops almost daily, and watching the streets and alleys for anyone suspicious…" She trailed off, looking frightened for the first time Draco knew about. Seeing her that worried brought back memories that made him start shivering as the fear in her eyes proved contagious. She and Narcissa weren't as different as they both believed they were. A wave of empathy surged through him, although he said nothing for the moment. Arthur placed a comforting hand on his wife's shoulder, but he, too, could find nothing encouraging to say.

"Where there isn't prejudice, there's terror," Alastor added, "and when people give in to fear, they do things they never could have believed of themselves." His gaze fell meaningfully on Draco until the boy could no longer stare back.

Forcing his gaze away toward the wall to his right, Draco understood perfectly. "Things like getting the Dark Mark, or… or trying to kill."

Alastor nodded, his magical eye now watching Minerva for any sign of agreement, but she was no longer listening. She had turned toward a window and pulled the curtains apart just enough to see the street below, which looked as though it were shaking beneath the driving rain. The swift descent into darkness almost surprised Draco, who was the next to notice the curtain opening. It felt almost as if the room had lost much of its own lighting when Minerva had unknowingly welcomed the night inside.

The moment of peaceful reflection lasted only a few seconds, however. It was then replaced with an uncontrollable pang of frigid fear. Draco gasped for air as the room spun wildly around him. Old visions and living nightmares reawakened before his eyes, spinning even faster until they had no form. But worst of all were the memories…

He was in the Astronomy tower at the age of sixteen, watching hopelessly as his headmaster fell to the hard ground, broken… He was fourteen, locked in his former bedroom, screaming and kicking and banging at the door with all his strength, while his mother's cries for mercy echoed throughout the manor… He was twelve, spending every second of Christmas Day shut in that miserable bedroom for the first time, wishing only for life-saving water… He was ten, still in confused shock after his first Cruciatus Curse in living memory, yet somehow unable to remember anything from the years before…

"Expecto Patronum!"

Five voices speaking the same incantation woke Draco from this worst of daydreams just enough to make him aware that he had slid off his chair, and onto his knees. He opened his eyes when he realized that both the spinning and the visions had stopped. What he saw was a room full of silver light: five Patronuses taking the shape of a cat, an owl, a weasel, a lioness and a lynx.

For a moment, he could only stare at them in awed silence, but once the light returned to the lamps both indoors and out, the silver creatures disappeared. The air in the room was warm again; all that remained of the incident was the mixture of fear and amazement written on Draco's face as he slowly stood himself back on his feet.

"Dementors?" he breathed. "Here?"

"You-Know-Who lets them go wherever they please nowadays," Kingsley said, somewhere between worried and exasperated. "Let's hope he didn't send them here…"

Draco looked at him, wide-eyed. "If he did send them… w-where would we go?" Everyone looked at him, but no one spoke, which terrified him further. "We would all have to leave if he found out we're here, right? There is another place, isn't there?"

He had lived more or less out of fear for seven years: fear of torture, fear of dying, fear for his mother's life – but now, there was more at stake. Icy shards of broken glass seemed to form in Draco's stomach, and as he looked around at the others, he realized that they, too, were afraid. He had thought it impossible to frighten his old Transfiguration professor, and yet the aura of deep concern surrounded her, as well.

"But there's got to be some place in Britain that's still safe…" Draco protested, unwilling to lose what little composure he had left. "We can't just sit here and wait for him to—"

"We're not waiting, Draco," Arthur said. "We're doing everything possible. We're not the only people we have to worry about."

"I can only imagine." Draco's voice had gone quiet, though still audible. He decided that now might be the worst possible occasion to ask any more questions, so he left it at that.

While silence had filled the room for a little while longer, Draco was anything but relaxed. He was busy searching his brain for anything that could be used to aid the Order, when he found something he had overlooked before. It was strange; he had never thought much of it in the past. Yes, his father had been more secretive than usual when Draco had found that old hiding place years ago, but Lucius had always been unpredictable, hadn't he?

To this day, Draco could not recall why he'd gone into the drawing room at that particular moment, but when he had, he found a large, square hole in the hardwood floor, revealing a hidden chamber below. The hole, he had surmised, had been safely concealed under the rug all this time, the corner of which was now pulled back. As he neared the entrance to this underground chamber, he noticed that it was not simply a hole, but a complete room, filled with shelves upon shelves of ominous things. When he tried to get a better look, a glint of gold met his eye from among the otherwise black and grey collection. Before he could get any closer, however, Lucius came back into view and ended up cursing Draco so badly that he couldn't move for at least two minutes but to cry. He never saw or heard how his father sealed that hole, but when he was finally able to sit up, he saw that the entrance he had seen before had disappeared without a trace.

He hadn't thought about it very much since, but it reappeared for him now as though it had happened only days ago. Knowing what lay in that hiding place could be essential to the Order. In the back of his mind, he wondered what the gold object had been, but he set aside his curiosity and stood at once, not sure what to say first.

At the same moment, it occurred to him that for whatever reason, Harry Potter was absent from this meeting, and quite possibly, from every other Order of the Phoenix meeting, as well. It seemed that the Boy-Who-Lived was the first person who should hear about this.

"Where's Harry?" he asked before he could stop himself. He couldn't imagine why those who would accept his help would seemingly show little interest in Harry's.

Minerva sighed, her expression unreadable. "The last I've seen, he was upstairs talking with Miss Weasley."

Draco tensed a bit at the thought of what the two of them might be talking about, but he forced his worries down, remembering that with a war going on all around him, there were more pressing matters to be concerned about. "Excuse me…" he told the others as he hurried out of the room, leaving them in confused silence.

It took a few minutes for him to locate the Chosen One, but when he did, he found Harry and Ginny deep in conversation.

"It wasn't because I don't love you anymore, Ginny. I always will."

"I understand. But after we all came here, I realized that there's something else I want, something I've wanted all along; I just never thought about it."

"What's that?"

"To be needed. Being loved is one thing, and it is important. But being needed is different, and I never realized how meaningful it was until… until I found out I had it. Draco needs me, Harry. And meaning that much to him, or to anyone, means the world to me." Draco inched closer to the half-open door so that he could hear them more clearly.

"But... Ginny..."

Harry's tone alarmed Draco. He actually sounded heartbroken, and it made Draco shudder to think of his part in the reason. Earlier that year, Blaise Zabini had destroyed Draco's relationship with Pansy, and Draco had been heartbroken himself. Now, he realized that his feelings for Ginny, and hers for him, were causing Harry the same grief. A faint voice spoke from within, reminding him that he wasn't here to discuss Ginny; he had come to tell Harry about the hidden chamber back at the manor. Even so, it was hard to focus on that when guilt kept creeping up on him.

"I think I know what you're going to say, but I don't agree. You don't need me. Not like he does. You're independent, Harry, and that's also a good thing. I just need to be more than a girlfriend to someone. I know you love me, Harry, and I love you, too. But it's just not the same as it was. You'll find someone new. I know you will."

Draco had already reached the door to the room from which the conversation was heard, but he dared not make his presence known. His father's secret room was pushed out of his mind, and common sense told his legs to turn him around and run, but they would not obey, for reasons Draco could not guess. So he stood beside the doorway, leaning his back against the wall, his nerve gone. Harry would surely hate him again, and this time, it would be personal.

Just as Draco was thinking this, Ginny stepped out of the room, looking melancholy. "I'm sorry…" she sighed. It wasn't till she had turned back towards the staircase, it seemed, that she noticed Draco standing there. She startled, obviously not having expected him to hear anything she'd just said to Harry.

Draco swallowed back his words as they began forming questions in his head; he wasn't sure which to ask first, or whether he should ask them at all. Why would you throw away your chance at the kind of future he could give you, Draco wondered feverishly, just to be a friend to me? You've got to keep your options open. What sort of future could I offer you? This was one of the more pressing mysteries on his mind.

It was sudden – it was inconceivable. A young blossom would never turn from the sunlight to befriend the shadows; that Ginny had turned away from what was best for her, letting go of a very promising relationship in the process, was downright unbelievable.

But then, something strange occurred to him. Maybe he wanted this. Immediately, shame at the idea overtook him, and he quickly labeled it as the work of selfishness. He tried to shove it aside, but it wouldn't budge. In all honesty, he knew what she had said about him was true. He did need her. Like any human being needed air or water, he needed her. He needed to know she would never go away, and he needed her to need him in return.

Maybe she did.

Overwhelming hope welled up in his heart, and for once, the thought that it wasn't right to be happy at a time like this was the one he pushed down.

Slowly, Ginny took his hand and started toward the stairs again. Draco followed without a word, never once taking his eyes off of her. When they neared her bedroom, Ginny gently guided him in and closed the door, and they sat down together on the edge of her bed.

"Are you okay?" Ginny asked. "You haven't said anything…"

Draco sighed, trying not to smile. He nodded. "Why did you do that?" he asked after a small pause.

Ginny glanced down at her knees, and Draco's urge to smile at her vanished. "Because he had to understand. He has to know I don't want to wait around until the war is over. But I didn't tell him everything… I couldn't."

Draco's heart started racing. "What couldn't you tell him?"

Finally, Ginny looked back up at him. Her eyes were shockingly timid, and the I-know-what-I'm-doing confidence that usually dwelt there was missing. "That I love you." Her voice matched her eyes, and it seemed as though she thought he was about to tell her to leave him alone. For Merlin's sake!

The next thing they knew, they were sharing the warmest, most amazing kiss either of them had ever experienced. Where they were and why had never been further from Draco's mind. All that mattered now was that they were together, and that this kiss would last forever…

But it didn't.

When they at last pulled away from one another, Draco had about three seconds to gaze at Ginny before his Mark suddenly began searing with invisible fire. It had been less than two weeks since he had last felt it burning, but he had hoped that whatever healing magic Ginny had used to make it stop would last. At first, he was in too much shock to cry out, or to make any noise at all. As the burning grew to an unbearable intensity, he took a shaky breath inward and closed his eyes tightly against the pain. It was the Cruciatus Curse all over again, only this time, it was concentrated in that one forearm. Still, he refused to make a sound.

"Draco! Draco, what's wrong? What is it?" Ginny tried frantically to work out what was happening. Unable to speak, Draco clutched at the sleeve that concealed the Mark, hoping she would understand.

She shuddered, but wasted no time in trying to help. She opened a drawer in her desk and pulled out a round container of thick, pearl-white liquid, then squeezed a dollop of it onto a handkerchief. But the instant the potion touched Draco's arm, he howled in agony, praying with all of his strength for it to stop. Tears slipped down either side of his face like a stormy downpour on a windowpane.

Ginny looked up at him in horror. This potion was meant to soothe pain, not cause more! Rereading the label on the potion bottle, she found nothing that would explain what was going on. She panicked; this was the same potion she had used to heal him before! What had gone wrong this time? There was no time to wonder.

"I have to… find someone…" She threw down the handkerchief, then sprinted out the door, down the stairs, and straight to Narcissa's bedroom. "Mrs. Malfoy!" she shouted as she got to the closed door. She knocked as loudly as she could until the woman opened up, looking annoyed.

"What's the meaning of—" Narcissa began.

"Draco's hurt! I don't know what happened, but you have to come and help him!" Ginny stammered breathlessly.

Narcissa took on a highly distressed look. "Where is he?"

Ginny beckoned for Narcissa to follow her, and dashed back upstairs, looking over her shoulder once to make sure the elder witch was still close behind.

When they reached Ginny's room, Draco was still sitting on Ginny's bed and clutching at his sleeve, even though it no longer covered the Mark completely. His eyes were open again, and he turned his head to the doorway when Narcissa and Ginny appeared there. The curse remained strong, but the harsh burn had eased enough to allow him to breathe and think properly. He stiffened a bit at the sight of his mother, not wanting her to see his pain, only to discover she already knew about it.

"Draco…" she whispered at once, kneeling by him. "What happened? Ginny told me you'd been hurt. What is it, darling?"

Draco shook his head. "It's just… It's nothing," he stammered with a forced calm. "I'm fine. I'm okay now."

But Narcissa knew better. "You're shaking, sweetheart," she pointed out gently.

Knowing further protests would prove futile, he looked down at his arm remorsefully, and she followed his gaze. Realizing what was happening, she took his left hand in both of her own, and closing her eyes for a moment, let out a dejected sigh. Her empathy was comforting and worrisome at the same time. He found himself wondering if she felt the same thing, but was unwilling to let him see.

"If he's trying to summon me, it's not going to work," Draco assured her, defiance written across his face. Then, his eyes softened as he looked up at Ginny. "There's more than fear keeping me here now."

Lord Voldemort was already seated in the drawing room when his servant arrived, looking moderately anxious. "You bring news, I trust?" he addressed the hooded figure as it knelt before him, its head bowed in an extra show of respect.

The man chose his words carefully before speaking them. "I have not found them yet, my lord, but I—"

"Do you think this is a game, Lucius?"

"N-no, my lord, I assure you—"

"Was I mistaken in thinking I could rely on you to complete this simplest of tasks?" Lord Voldemort snarled, his snake-like, red eyes gleaming with malevolence.

"I haven't given up, my lord…" Lucius protested, sounding as though the air had momentarily been knocked out of him. "Half of the job is done; there can only be one way they have remained hidden for so long." He stopped short, knowing that what little news he had brought his master was not good news after all. He knew that if his wife and son had been on their own all this time, they would have been found. There was only one other option, as unlikely as it seemed. But undoubtedly, his hypothesis would not make the Dark Lord any happier with him. On the contrary, in telling his conclusion, he would be fortunate to live another day. No, it would not please the Dark Lord to hear that two of his former servants had turned on him, and were now living under the protection of the Order.

Lord Voldemort, however, was growing impatient. "Well?" he prodded. "What have you discovered?" He was ready to find out for himself using his skill as a Legilimens, but Lucius finally answered, albeit rather uneasily.

"I know my son well," explained Lucius, making no effort to hide his loathing of his connection to the boy. "Draco is far too reckless to remained undetected for long with only Narcissa to protect him. I believe they have sought protection from a more capable ally."

For the next few seconds, Lord Voldemort only glowered at Lucius, which prompted him to continue. "I see no other possibility but that they found that protection at the meeting place of the Order of the Phoenix."

"Impossible!" Voldemort snapped, and he rose slowly to a standing position. "How would they so much as locate the Order? No one loyal to Harry Potter would give them a second glance!"

Lucius could only hope he had been wrong.

Harry groaned in obvious frustration, watching his two best friends argue over his and Ginny's official breakup. It should have been Harry's and Ginny's situation, and theirs alone, but in an admittedly impulsive act, he had confided in Ron who, in turn, confided in Hermione. Perhaps it had been the initial sense of "this shouldn't have happened" shock that had gotten Harry to speak up about the unhappy ending, but whatever it was, he had acted on it, and he was regretting it.

Moreover, he had far from forgotten the task with which Dumbledore had left him. He didn't have time to try and keep them from bickering. He had to start searching for the rest of Voldemort's seven Horcruxes, before the vile creature could manage to make an eighth.

Finally, he got up to leave, with Ron and Hermione watching him in surprise. Neither of them said another word to each other for the rest of the night, but went to prepare for sleep in near-silence.

Draco sat on his bed, staring idly out his bedroom window at the street, on which the pounding rainfall still sounded. His mind soared through the window into the darkness, back to the Wiltshire home that, for so many years, he had been forced to call his own. His father had done his best to ensure that it was the only home he would ever have. Perhaps Lucius thought it amusing to see all of Draco's hopes and dreams crushed before the boy could even write them down. But the joke was on Lucius.

He knew many of his classmates thought of Hogwarts as their home, but for him, those days had ended long ago. Getting the Dark Mark changed so much about his life. For that matter, how could he call the school "home" now? He would never be allowed back in.

But Malfoy Manor had stopped being his "home" the minute he and Narcissa had Disapparated from its grounds well over a month ago. He had found a new home now, and the best thing about this place was that Lucius would never be able to find it.

A precious calm washed over him as he lay back against his pillow, and after a few more seconds of watching the rain, he let himself sink into sleep.

Ironically, his dreams were anything but peaceful. Yet it wasn't Draco's past that haunted him that night; it was the future. Visions of what could very well happen before long made him toss and turn restlessly in his sleep. Emerging from his room one day to find the Order's once-safest location under siege… seeing Ron successfully convince Ginny that Draco had led the Death Eaters here, just as he had led them into Hogwarts less than two months before… hearing Lucius' reaction to finding Draco with the Order… watching as the life vanished from Narcissa's eyes, while Lucius turned his wand on his son one final time…

"Draco! Draco!" a voice shouted from behind him and, opening his eyes, he finally awoke. He lay on his side in bed, facing the window. His eyes darted around frantically until a gentle hand touched his arm. "Draco, it's okay," his mother's voice whispered sweetly. "It was just a dream."

Chapter Text

Draco sat up to look at his mother, and a moment later, he breathed a sigh of relief. "Mother," he greeted her with a grateful smile.

"Do you want to tell me about it, chéri?" Narcissa offered, a look of mild concern written across her pale features.

Draco shook his head. "No, I'd rather just forget it. Thanks, though."

Narcissa donned a sad smile in return, the kind of smile that she had worn several times throughout his life, intended to cheer him up even when she was secretly crying inside. Draco hoped it was only his reluctance to describe his nightmare that had saddened her, for that could easily be reversed. All he had to do was think of a different dream to tell her about. He couldn't bring himself to tell her about the real one...

Still, lying to her when she was only trying to help just seemed worse. "I'm just glad you're alright," he said finally.

Narcissa reached over to touch his hair. "I'm fine," she replied. Then she placed her hands on his shoulders and added, "Now go back to sleep, darling." With that, she went back to her own bed.

Draco nodded, but he didn't feel like giving sleep another try just yet, tired though he was. He wondered silently whether dreams could be placed in a Pensieve. Eventually, with the understanding that he still needed to borrow Ginny's wand to use the Pensieve at all, he decided it would be a waste of their time to find out. She wanted to see real memories, not imaginary ones.

He sighed as he thought of her. The radiant hair, the warm gaze, the way she reached out to him that held his heart captive... It was a different kind of magic that drew him to her. It wasn't only knowing that she cared about him, although that was most of it. But she had this comfortable presence about her that he wanted to be around. It was like a glowing aura surrounding her that could not be seen, only felt.

Slowly, he fell asleep again, the image of Ginny still in the front of his mind.

The next day, Ron went to find his sister, hoping to find her far away from Malfoy. He wasn't in the mood for another argument with the prat. It was too early in the morning for a fight, and he knew if they saw one another, he would be unlikely to stop after just one punch this time around.

Everyone thought Ron had changed. They told him every day how he had never "acted like this" before, and it was beginning to feel like torture. He wanted to scream at the lot of them. He wasn't the one who was acting strange!

Since the day Malfoy and his mum had come to the Burrow, it was as if Ron was trapped in a nightmare. With all five of his brothers away, he was the only one left to defend what he could. Even his parents were caught up in the stories Malfoy wove for them. And as for Ginny, well... she was smitten with him, wasn't she? She had changed more than anyone... and it tore Ron apart.

But he knew he wasn't the only one suffering from the Malfoys' presence. Harry was grieving, as he had done too many times already. How could he heal from the broken relationship with his ex-girlfriend and her Harry-replacement flirting, and for all he knew, snogging just a few rooms away? It wasn't that hard to hear them talking from further down the corridor.

Of course, Hermione, being the thoughtful person she was, had also believed whatever Malfoy had told her. That was what hurt Ron the most. Even though he would never be the first to admit it, he cared a great deal for her. He had spent many nights – not to mention, countless History of Magic lessons – fantasizing over what she would say and do if she knew how he felt, but the risk of rejection outside of those daydreams had always been too high... Yet, now she believed what the rest of the Order believed, that the Malfoys meant no harm, and that he, Ron, was going crazy.

While he stormed down the corridor toward Ginny's bedroom, he wondered what on Earth was keeping him from doing just that. The answer came to him gradually: the same ancient magic that had kept Harry alive all this time was keeping Ron sane and focused. His love for his parents, his brothers and sister, and his closest friends, would not let him give up the fight.

He slowed his pace, relaxing a little. No matter who thought otherwise, his mission was not to get rid of two hated foes, but to regain his family's trust and ensure their safety. This wasn't about the Malfoys, and it never would be! This was about what they had tried so hard to take from him over the past few months. He had nearly died at Hogwarts, but because of Harry's quick thinking, he'd survived the incident. It was time he returned the favor.

He arrived at Ginny's bedroom door and found it ajar, so he opened it the rest of the way. Disappointment crept up on him; she wasn't there. She's probably with him... Ron guessed bitterly, thinking of how she and Malfoy had become more or less inseparable in recent days. With a scowl, he went downstairs to continue his search for his youngest sibling.

He found her in the dining room, sitting down to breakfast. Fortunately, Malfoy was absent from the scene. Ron took a seat next to Ginny and said hopefully, "Morning, Gin." To his dismay, she didn't respond to his greeting at all.

"Good morning, Ron," was Molly's greeting. Ron feigned a smile. Then, she set breakfast plates in front of him and Ginny, but he, for one, wasn't feeling particularly hungry just then.

"I'm pretty sure I know why you came looking for me, Ron," Ginny said, still not looking at him, "but it's not going to work. I'm not going to stop talking to Draco, no matter what you say."

Ron glared at her. "He's turning you into someone I don't even know!" he blurted. "You're my sister, remember? We're supposed to be able to trust each other." He was pleading with her now.

Ginny let out an exasperated sigh and finally looked back at him. "I don't see any trust coming from you. Why don't you take your own advice, if you're so wise?"


"I love him, Ron, and no one, not even you, is going to change that. And he loves me, so leave him alone!" Ginny shouted. With that, she went back to her breakfast, but not before moving her plate – and her chair – a few inches further from Ron, leaving him steaming again.

He stood quickly, wondering what on Earth would get her to listen to reason. She didn't look up to see his darkened glare before he stomped out of the room, which angered him even more.

On the way back toward the staircase, he was tempted to go scream at Malfoy, but he still wasn't in the mood to even look at him. It was no surprise that knowing his wand was still safe in his pocket comforted him somewhat. Alone or not, he still had a great advantage over the slimy git, should a duel prove necessary in the future.

Once she had finished eating, Ginny grabbed some extra toast, wrapped it in a napkin, and took off toward Draco's bedroom. She was beginning to worry since he hadn't shown up for breakfast. As much as Ron aggravated them both, Ginny knew he was all the more likely to go after Draco after the hard time Ginny had just given him.

Draco's door was closed when she got there, so she knocked quietly, hoping he was already awake. A moment later, the slightly muffled sound of footsteps told her he was. When he opened the door, she saw his smile and smiled herself, handing him the toast before stepping inside.

"Good morning, Ginny," he greeted her, leaving the door mostly open.

"Good morning, Draco. You can close it if you want," she added, motioning toward the door.

Draco's smile faltered at the expression she wore, but he closed the door the rest of the way as she'd asked. Turning back to her, he said, "Is something wrong?"

Ginny shook her head without hesitation, forcing a smile, but Draco studied her face, his eyes serious and compassionate, as if to say: I love you too much to pretend I believe that. Finally, she let her gaze fall to the old grey carpet on which she stood. "It's Ron. He just won't give up," she said with her voice barely above a whisper.

Draco sighed and shook his head slowly. "I know. He's putting himself in a worse position than he's probably ever been in. For the first time, no one's listening to him. I almost feel sorry for the idiot."

"I don't," Ginny declared. "He's turning into a hypocrite, and if no one believes a word he says, he's got no one to blame but himself." She grimaced. "I'm not sure what's gotten into him, Draco, but it's driving me insane. I get so furious when he's even in the same room as me! What's happening to us?"

Draco gestured for her to sit on the end of the bed, and sat down next to her when she had, putting his arm around her shoulders. While he thought over what to say, he felt her head rest lightly on his shoulder. With a melancholy smile, he said the only thing he could think of. "I don't know about him... but I'm not going to let anything happen to you." He kissed her hair. "That's a promise."

Ginny wrapped her arms around him and pulled him closer. "If only I'd known you like this all through school! I never would have let them send you back home. The Burrow would have been your home!"

Draco frowned uncomfortably. There they were again, facing the subject of his father. "Not then, Ginny," he said. "I had to go back to the manor."

Ginny looked up. "Why?" she asked. "I can't imagine you wanted to..."

"I didn't want to," he told her. "I had to. I couldn't have just left. I realized that the first time... the first time I tried."

"Then you did try..."

"...but I didn't get very far. And worse than being caught was realizing what I would have left behind."

"The Cruciatus Curse?" Ginny suggested, startled at the thought that he would have missed anything from that place.

Draco had to swallow back a chuckle at her guess. "No," he told her. "My mother."

Ginny went silent. Her gaze fell to her lap, but soon after, Draco lifted her chin so that they were making eye contact again.

"It's okay, Ginny," he whispered. "It's fine now."

She tried to smile at him, but he could see right through her gesture to the tears hidden in her heart. How many times had he played the confident, hopeful schoolboy whom he knew would give his mother hope? It was touching that Ginny would do the same thing for him, and this wasn't even the first time. Slowly, he reached out with his free hand and ran his fingers tenderly through her hair. She leaned into his touch, and he smiled.

"Draco," Ginny sighed, "it's not okay. I don't get how what you went through for years can be called okay."

"That's not the okay part," Draco said, still smiling.

Ginny took his hands in hers. She couldn't bear to make eye contact with him, but she wouldn't pretend she had nothing to say now. "Are you saying that having been forced into hiding makes it okay?"

"When I was 'forced into hiding,' I found the best friend I'd ever dreamed of, let alone had."

A tiny hint of a smile made Ginny's eyes sparkle... at least, until another thought occurred to her. "But Ron—" she tried.

" a prat," finished Draco, grinning more widely now. "It's a start, Ginny. Besides, there's this part of me that's actually starting to believe I deserve to be trusted..."

"You do!"

Draco shook his head, no longer smiling. "You're saying that blindly, Ginny. I'm not innocent."

"When will you stop saying that?" Ginny asked in exasperation. She stood up suddenly and turned to face him, looking hurt.

Draco stared at her, but answered quickly. "But it's true. I'm not."

"So what if you're not a saint?" she exclaimed. Then, even more unexpectedly, she sighed resignedly and sat back down. "Neither am I..."

At these words, Draco curled his fingers into fists by his sides. "Who told you that rubbish? Ron?"

Ginny shook her head slowly. "Nobody told me. I don't have to be told. We've both done things we don't like to think about."

"No, Ginny! You're perfect!"

"No, I'm not! I'm no better than anyone else, including you."

"What have you ever done to be ashamed of?"

Ginny fell silent again, but this time, Draco waited for her to answer him. "When I first started at Hogwarts, the first friend I made there was the one person I regret meeting the most."

Draco remembered that year, the year Harry rescued Ginny from the Chamber of Secrets. He had heard shortly afterward that Ginny had been the one opening the Chamber, but no one suspected she had done it of her own free will. Who had forced her, or how, was any Slytherin's guess, however, and Draco was no better at guessing the culprit than any of his housemates. "Who was it?"

"Tom Riddle," she murmured, looking like she never wanted to have to say that name again. Draco watched her with a sympathetic expression on his face. After a few seconds of silence, Ginny looked up at him, astonished. "You don't recognize that name, do you?"

Draco stared back, startled by the question. "Er, I don't think so..." he replied, suddenly feeling incredibly stupid.

"He was the boy who grew up to become... You-Know-Who."

Draco's eyes went wide. "Do you mean to say that he's the one who forced you t-to—"

" endanger the lives of the entire student body? Yes. To unleash the deadliest of creatures and set it on my own friends? Yes. But forced or not, I still have to live with it," she sighed. Then, looking at him with troubled eyes, she asked, "Do you still think you're the only one with a lifetime sentence of guilt? Do you think you're the only one who cries in your sleep?"

Draco was overwhelmed. For a minute or two, all he could do was stare at the floor in front of him, wide-eyed. Ginny was going through something painful of her own, and all the while, the subject of their conversations had been his past. "I'm so sorry..." He almost didn't hear himself say it, but it was true.

Ginny's expression softened at his tone. "Draco," she sighed, "I'm not trying to make you sorry. I'm trying to make a point. I'm no better of a person than you, or anyone. And it... hurts me... when you attribute what you were forced to do with being a bad person. We both know that if it were up to you, none of those things would have happened."

Draco nodded. "You're perfect to me, Ginny," he told her, his voice wavering slightly. "You saw this tiny light in the dark... You saw that in me when everyone else chose to blind themselves... That's all I'll ever see."

Ginny smiled and looked down shyly. "Then you can't blame me for seeing you the same way."

Draco took her in his arms before he could think twice, and she hugged him back. He felt as though a heavy burden had slid off his shoulders, landing somewhere deep in oblivion. He hated the thought that she was suffering any of the same hurt was feeling, but it was comforting to know he wasn't the only one who understood what it felt like, being under that kind of strain.

"We're not alone anymore," he told her.

"I know," she replied, a glowing smile making her features even more radiant than they already were.

Later that day, Ginny was walking down the main corridor on the second floor when she heard Hermione talking a few doors away. It sounded as if she were trying to keep her voice down, but was unsuccessful.

"...about Hufflepuff's cup, but no one had any idea where it could be."

"It could still be at Hogwarts, couldn't it?" Ron asked, just as Ginny reached the closed door. "I mean, it's the first place I'd look for anything that used to belong to the founders."

Ginny took a step closer, intrigued by the muffled conversation. What are they planning this time? Ginny wondered to herself.

Suddenly, one of them shushed the other two sharply, and there was silence for a few seconds until the door swung open, revealing Harry standing in the doorway, and Hermione and Ron sitting in front of an assortment of darkly-bound books and parchment.

Ginny froze. "Hi, Harry..." was all she could manage.

Harry looked halfway between relief and wariness. "Ginny? What are you doing here?"

Though she found the question a bit strange, she tried to look as nonchalant as possible. "I was just walking. What were you doing?" she asked back casually.

Harry hesitated, but came into the corridor, shutting the door behind him. "Come on," he said. "I want to talk to you."

With a backward glance at the closed door, Ginny nodded and walked with him further down the corridor. "What did you want to talk about?" she asked, although she was sure she already knew.

Harry sighed, but kept walking for a moment longer before he stopped and turned to her, a solemn look on his face. "I've been thinking a lot about what you told me. You might be upset with me for trying to change your mind, but the truth is, Ginny, you're a lot to lose. I really do care deeply about you..."

Ginny felt conquered by remorse. She had tried not to hurt him when she had spoken with him the day before, but he'd been hurt even so. Her mind raced for some way to apologize, but Harry continued before Ginny could think of anything sufficient.

"...but I want you to be happy, and if that means letting you go... I'll do that."

Ginny's eyes went wide as she listened. "Harry..." she said, "I don't know what to say." She looked down, thinking hard over what to tell him to let him know she still cared about him, too, but before she could continue, her eyes fell on a thin, silver chain looping from his pocket. Harry noticed the curious expression Ginny now wore and quickly stuffed the visible part of the chain all the way into his pocket. When Ginny looked back up at him, he gave her a nervous look that pleaded for her not to say anything about what she'd seen.

As much as Ginny longed to know why Harry was suddenly hiding all this from her, she was sure the answer had something to do with her choosing to be with Draco. Whatever these secrets were, he obviously had to trust her more than he did now to let her in on the mystery. She nodded her understanding, trying to snap herself out of that train of thought. "I understand," she sighed, still feeling left out, despite knowing his reasons. "Thank you, Harry." She nodded again before turning to head back towards her room.

"Ginny, wait!" Harry called. Ginny stopped and turned back to face him. She watched as he seemed to debate over what to say next. "Listen," he began, "there are a lot of things you don't know about... one of them being why I can't go back to Hogwarts in September." Ginny stared at him, wondering if he was about to tell her a different, real reason for his planning to leave.

"I know why, Harry," she said suddenly, realizing as she did so that it was true. He had to be planning some kind of attack against Lord Voldemort. It had been that way for as long as she'd known him. Of course he wasn't going to head back to the safety of Hogwarts at a time like this, in the middle of a war; that just wasn't like him! He had only stayed at Grimmauld Place for this long because he was still underage.

"You do?" asked Harry.

Ginny took a deep breath and nodded. "I know it has to do with the war... and I know that you're the only one who can vanquish You-Know-Who. But I want to know that you won't go out there without a foolproof plan for defeating him. I still care about you, too, Harry, and no one's going to change that. I just need to know you're going to be okay."

Harry watched her speak, and when she had said all she had wanted to say, she saw a sadness in his eyes that frightened her. She felt no shame in admitting to herself that she was scared for him. The look on his face told her everything: that no plan was foolproof, and that no one, not even the Chosen One, was safe. No one knew their fate in this war, and he was no exception. Amidst all the discoveries she had made about Draco, Ginny had forgotten that Harry's past hadn't been much easier, nor did his future look any brighter from where they stood. She had forgotten...

"Ginny," he said softly, "I would be lying if I told you I could ever be safe while this war is going on. Even here, I'm not completely safe. No one is. But I'm not the only one I have to take care of. I'm just one person, and every day I spend here, a dozen more innocent lives could be lost. Of course I don't want to be next, but I promised Dumbledore I'd fight this fight through to the end. If I put myself first, the war won't end until Voldemort wins, and everything is destroyed. I'm not going to let that happen. I won't stand by and watch the world disintegrate." He took her hands carefully in his, and told her, "I'm sorry, Ginny. I can't tell you what you want to hear."

The lump in Ginny's throat grew thicker as she listened, but she forbade herself to show any sign of tears. Harry shouldn't have to go it alone, she thought to herself. But then, she thought of Ron and Hermione, who had also announced that they wouldn't be returning to Hogwarts for the upcoming term. She knew they would be going with him wherever he was headed, and thus he wouldn't be alone, but it still felt horrible to let him go while she was under the protection of the many concealment charms placed on Grimmauld Place.

"I want to go with you," she told him, looking him in the eye.

"No," was his determined reply. "You'll stay here..." (he grimaced slightly) "...with Draco. You're underage, Ginny."

"I don't care! I want to help."

Harry frowned and shook his head. "There's no way I'm taking you with me. Listen to me. Sirius is gone forever, and now, so is Dumbledore. I told you at school why I don't want Voldemort to see you close to me. I don't want anything like that to happen to you."

Ginny sighed and began her reply calmly. "I'm not a child anymore. In two weeks, I'll be sixteen, and... Oh, Harry, there's got to be something I can do!"

"I know you want to help us, but with the Ministry in the Death Eaters' hands, and with you still underage, having you along would only make it more dangerous. Maybe they can't trace us while we're here, but nothing's going to stop them from finding us out there if you cast even one simple spell."

Feeling more disappointed by the minute, Ginny stared at Harry for a few more seconds, as though hoping he would reconsider, and when he didn't, she turned on her heels and left without uttering another word.

Without even thinking about it, she walked back in the direction from which she had come, her destination the only one imaginable. She felt horrible, as though her life would never be the same again, and she knew of only one person who would understand, and who would allow her to cry in his presence without asking a myriad of uncomfortable questions.

"Draco..." she called softly just as she arrived at his bedroom door, her voice breaking. "Please be in there..." She knocked, but there was only silence behind that closed door. "Draco?"

Just then, she felt a gentle hand rest on her shoulder, and she felt a spark of happiness warm her heart, but it was extinguished as soon as she turned around.

It was her father. "Ginny, what's wrong?" Arthur asked.

"Nothing, Dad," she lied, quickly changing her expression to something more optimistic than she felt. She even managed a small smile, but he could still see the tears in her eyes.

"I heard you just now," he told her kindly. "That didn't sound like 'nothing' to me, dear." He gave her shoulder a light squeeze. "You can always tell me what's bothering you. You've always been able to."

Ginny swallowed back her tears and shook her head, the gesture barely visible. "Have you seen Draco?" she asked after a short pause. "I need to... ask him something." It wasn't that she didn't trust her dad; he was right, she had always been able to talk to him over just about anything. Even still, she had a hard time believing that he would be able to relate to her on this particular subject.

Arthur sighed sadly, but answered her: "I saw him in the dining room a few minutes ago. Perhaps he's still there now."

Ginny nodded. "Thanks, Dad." With that, she set off towards the dining room. As she'd hoped, Draco was still sitting at the table, a length of parchment and a half of a sandwich in front of him, and his quill in his hand.

When he looked up and saw her in the doorway, he immediately noticed her expression and stood in surprise. "Ginny? Are you okay?"

She took a few steps into the room. "Draco... you know what it feels like to be left out of things..." As she spoke, she walked closer to him, and let the first tear fall. "You know what it's like to feel helpless... powerless..." All the while, Draco's gaze was steady and full of compassion, giving Ginny the strength to continue nearer, until the two of them were right in front of each other.

Finally, Draco took her hands and stared down at them. Taking a deep breath inward, he answered her in a whisper. "I hoped you'd never know those things." Then, he looked her in the eyes again. "What happened?"

Ginny sighed shakily, and a couple more tears slid down her freckled cheeks. "I just want to help... I told Harry I wanted to help him fight when the time comes, but he wouldn't listen! I can't just do nothing!"

Draco slowly guided her to a chair and sat down with her. "I never thought he was much of a listener, to be honest," he thought aloud. "But on the other hand, I wouldn't want you putting yourself in the line of fire that way, either. I mean, yes, you've fought those people before, but do you really want to go and do that again?"

"I want to do my part," Ginny said plainly.

Draco sighed heavily. "I understand, and if there were any other way, I'd be fine with it. I'd gladly join you! But you and me, we don't belong out on the battlefield. I don't want to see you hurt, or... or worse..."

"I can fend for myself, Draco. That's what I tried to tell Harry."

"No, Ginny. You're underestimating the very concept of the Dark Arts. You haven't seen what the Dark L— what You-Know-Who does to people he wants to destroy! He doesn't just take lives; what he does before he kills is a lot worse. Dodging curses and Stunning or Petrifying your enemies will only get you so far."

Ginny's eyes went wide. "You know what to do, though, don't you?" she asked excitedly. "Both of us could—"

Draco suddenly let go of Ginny's hands and looked at her incredulously. "Now wait a minute. Are you trying to say that I should go fight with Harry? Ginny, that's... I don't even have a wand!" he exclaimed, becoming frantic at the idea.

The reminder of Draco's destroyed wand seemed to bring Ginny back to reality. Her gaze fell to her lap while Draco tried to calm himself. The mere thought of facing his father again, of feeling the wrath he had fought so hard to escape from, made him shake terribly.

"Please don't get carried away..." he begged her.

Ginny glanced up at him and did a double-take. He wasn't looking at her, or even at anything in particular, and the last time she'd seen him trembling like this was when he had told her parents that his father had been cursing him. But this time, she knew, it was no one's fault but hers. "Draco... I'm sorry... I-I didn't realize..."

Hearing these words, Draco once again felt indignation rising steadily in his throat. He could keep any hint of it off of his face, but he couldn't – and almost didn't want to – keep it out of his voice as he asked, "Why not?"

Ginny blinked, caught off-guard by the quiet anger in his tone. "Wh-what do you mean?" she mumbled anxiously.

He stared at her for a moment before responding. "Why didn't you realize that asking me to go back there would be a bad idea? Did you forget why I'm here in the first place?"

"I'm sorry!" she repeated.

At first, Draco wanted to say more in anger, but he hesitated, thinking it over. After another silent moment, his expression grew melancholy, his eyes averted. "So am I." His mind spun furiously in a search for the words he needed, and he spoke them earnestly as they came to him. "It's just... there's just so much of it..." he stammered.

"So much of what?"

"That," he said, biting his lip. "What I just did." Ginny resumed her sympathetic gaze, having already wiped away her tears. "You're the last one I want to take it out on! But sometimes, I-I just..."

Ginny gave him a small, comforting smile and took his hand. "I'm fine, Draco. It's okay."

Draco gave her hand a gentle squeeze and tried to smile back, but it felt more like wincing. Guilt at the way he had been acting off-and-on toward her still had its claws deep in his heart. He could only hope he would learn in time.

Chapter Text

It was almost seven o’clock that evening when Draco next remembered what he’d seen years ago of his father's hiding place back at the manor. He wondered remorsefully if Harry was angry with him about Ginny’s sudden decision to make their breakup permanent, but he hoped that what he had to offer might be even more important to him than hard feelings.

He found Harry upstairs a few minutes later, fidgeting with a small, wrinkled piece of old-looking parchment, though his eyes were unfocused and aimless, as if he were daydreaming. Draco had never known the Boy-Who-Lived to daydream, however, and was a little unsettled at the sight of it.

Not wanting to further anger Harry, Draco knocked quietly at his bedroom door.

Harry appeared startled at first, but when he looked up to see who was waiting in the doorway, Draco didn’t see the aura of resentment he’d expected to find surrounding him. “Draco?” Harry asked, surprised.

Draco pointed awkwardly to the parchment Harry was holding. “What’s that?” he asked before he could stop himself.

Harry looked down at it briefly, but then put the parchment away in a drawer in his bedside table. “Nothing you’d be too interested in,” he said dismissively.

Draco could tell there was more to it, but he decided to restrain his curiosity for the time being. Remembering once again why he had come, he eased his way into the change of subject. “Ginny tells me you’re planning on leaving soon.”

“Tonight, at midnight,” Harry replied, looking away. “It’s not a secret.”

“Well, I think I know something that might help you…”

Harry stared at him incredulously. “You, Draco?” he asked, his tone as skeptical as his gaze.

His surprised tone, and his choice of words, cut Draco like a blade, but he was determined not to get distracted again. “Yeah,” he said, making an effort to appear as confident as he could, despite the poorly-hidden claim that he was, or at least had been, useless. He knew he hadn’t done much of anything to help… yet. But he genuinely wanted to change that, and sooner rather than later. “I know you’re looking for something, Harry. And… I’m not going to say I know what it is… but I might know where it is.”

Harry looked Draco in the eye. “What do you know?” he asked solemnly.

“I can show you a lot more than I could tell you,” Draco replied hopefully. “In the Pensieve,” he added.

Harry looked confused. “Dumbledore’s…?” he began, trailing off.

“Yeah. Well, he left it to me a couple days after we got here,” Draco explained awkwardly, guessing that Harry mustn’t have heard that part yet. “In any case, can I show you?”

Harry nodded halfheartedly, and Draco led the way to the room in which his Pensieve stood.

“I haven’t got a wand, Harry.” Draco reminded him after a moment. “You can trust me.”

Harry looked uncertain, but a trusting glance at Dumbledore’s portrait seemed to reassure him.

“Indeed, Harry,” said the portrait.

Harry sighed grudgingly but took his wand out of his pocket and handed it to Draco. “I hope you’re planning on giving it back…”

The very idea that Draco might decide to keep Harry’s wand after he’d gotten the memory he needed into the Pensieve made him laugh. “What do you take me for, Harry? I’m not going to steal your wand.” As he took the wand in his hand, he felt a cool tingling in his fingertips, and he hoped in vain that his spell would still work, in spite of the resistance the borrowed wand was already showing him.

“What’s wrong?” Harry asked after a few disappointing tries.

Draco scoffed, frustrated and embarrassed. “Your wand trusts me even less than you do. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that we’re in love with the same girl?” Even before Harry had had a chance to react, Draco began to regret what he’d just said. “Harry… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up like th—” He stopped short, however, when Harry put out his hand, quiet anger as clear on his face as his lightning-bolt scar had ever been.

At first, Draco was confused, but before he could ask, Harry spoke, sounding as though he were feigning politeness when he wanted nothing more than to hit him, and hard. “My wand, please, Draco…”

Draco wasted no time in placing that stubborn wand back in Harry’s outstretched hand, and Harry stormed out.

“I’m sorry…!” Draco called after him while his footsteps were still audible in the corridor.

“Undoubtedly, Draco, it will take time,” Dumbledore said, “but he’ll come to see that young Miss Weasley’s heart is safe with you. Perhaps, in the meantime, you’ll give yourself a chance to untangle a few knots in your own heart.” Draco looked up cautiously at the elderly wizard, who sat calmly in his painted chair, looking back at him with all the patience in the world. “Oh, everyone has them at one time or another. They are those regrets and bitter assumptions we’ve grown so accustomed to over the course of our lives.”

Draco began pacing the length of the room, shame filling him to the brim once again. “I should have just told him. I shouldn’t have bothered with the Pensieve this time. Everything would have been fine if I’d just told him what I saw.”

Dumbledore shifted pensively in his armchair. “What memory would you have shown him?” he asked.

“Back at the manor, there’s a little room under the floorboards in our drawing room where Father keeps his most… incriminating belongings. I found it during the summer before I started school. I’m almost sure I’m one of the people he was hiding those things from; he was furious when he found out I’d seen it.”

“Were you able to see anything he’d hidden in there?” asked Dumbledore.

Draco tried hard not to shudder at the unconcealed interest in the late headmaster’s tone, but he answered with as little hesitation as possible. “Not really. I just remember seeing something shining gold through the darkness. I… didn’t have much chance to get a better look…” He flinched slightly, remembering how badly his father had cursed him when he’d caught him standing there.

“The cup…?” Dumbledore gasped in a sudden hush. “Thank you, Draco,” he added, inclining his head to the young man in an extra show of gratitude. Then, he asked in a somewhat urgent tone, “Would you do an old man another favor and ask Harry to return to me? I daresay you may be right, and this information - however minute it may seem on the surface, could prove most useful to him.” He wore a strange mix of apology and enthusiasm on his face as he added, “I’m afraid there is no time just now explanations or apologies. You’ve been more helpful than you know.”

“Er, th-thank you…” Draco stammered uneasily, but hurried out of the room at once to search for Harry without the slightest idea why he’d been told to do so. What “useful information” had Dumbledore been able to glean from the memory Draco had described? Or, he surmised with a start, had he unwittingly allowed Dumbledore to examine that memory for himself with Legilimency, recognizing something within it that he himself had not noticed at the time? Mysterious… Very mysterious, indeed…

Luckily, he was able to locate Harry downstairs and, gathering up whatever courage he could find within him, he spoke up before Harry had even realized he was there. “Dumbledore wants to talk to you.” Harry turned around, his expression unreadable. “It sounded urgent.”

“Did he say why?”

“No, but he said there was no time to waste. Something about a… a cup. I don’t know, he wouldn’t expl—”

At the mention of the mysterious cup, all traces of wariness vanished instantly from Harry, replaced with a half-excited, half-worried expression that caught Draco off guard, cutting off his speech. He jumped up from his seat and rushed out of the room without another word, leaving Draco even more confused than before.

Late that night, Draco couldn’t stop tossing and turning in bed, wondering what had been so urgent about a shiny object in an otherwise dark room. Finally, unable to relax, he got noiselessly out of bed and left his room. Without putting too much thought into where he was going, he climbed the stairs to the third floor, his footsteps slow and silent on the wooden staircase.

Looking around in mild curiosity, he saw many doors left wide open, and a few that were tightly shut. It was a door left ajar, however, that invited his curiosity, enticing him to look inside. Slowly, he neared the door, which creaked softly as he nudged it open. The sight that greeted him from across the room was… his own face.

A full-length mirror stood along the opposite wall, leaning back against it so that only his face was visible from the doorway. The odd part of all this was that the Draco in the mirror was smiling, for the Draco who had just entered the room was not. Strange, old-looking words were carved into the gold frame, arching around the top edge and down the sides of the ornate mirror, barely visible in the dim moonlight from a solitary lamp. The carvings read: “Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi”

He took a tiny step forward, wondering if the words were of an ancient language, or perhaps the incantation of a long-forgotten spell. Although smiling in a way the real Draco had never seen himself smile before, as if he were the happiest person alive, mirror-Draco moved along with him, as though he were a normal reflection in a normal mirror, and thus, had no choice. Draco looked over his shoulder on instinct, but when he turned back to the mirror a few steps later, he stopped, frozen in his tracks. The reflection stopped walking, too, but nodded, smiling more softly than before.

The Draco in the mirror was wearing Hogwarts-style robes with bright blue lining, embroidered with the Ravenclaw emblem and complete with a blue-and-bronze striped tie.

The real Draco nodded back and tried to smile, but he could not foresee the vision ever becoming real. He had understood for six years that he would only ever be a Ravenclaw in the privacy of his own heart, where no one could ever go to steal his most precious dream away.

Slowly, he walked back downstairs to his bedroom and climbed back into bed. The mystery of the cup under the floorboards was far from his mind now. By morning, he was sure that his finding the mirror had been nothing more than a strange dream. And indeed, as far as he could tell, the idea of his being a Ravenclaw had never been much more than that – a dream from which he would eventually awaken, his face tellingly cold and shimmering with tears.

When Draco awoke the following morning, it was to the sound of someone knocking crisply at his bedroom door. The dazzling sunlight coming in through the window landed on the back of his head and neck, warming him. He opened his eyes a little, letting them adjust.

Another knock came from the door. Draco sighed softly, wishing he could have stayed in bed longer, and opened the door. He was startled, however, to find that it was not his mother, nor Ginny, but Harry who stood there, waiting to speak with him. “Harry?” Draco greeted him quizzically.

“I need to ask you something important. Come with me.” Harry gestured for Draco to follow, and he did, quite curious.

Draco watched Harry’s face as best he could while they ascended the stairs to the second floor. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hermione and Ron, walking hand in hand to their meeting place: Hermione’s bedroom. Hermione nodded wordlessly towards the door, and the four of them entered.

“Don’t tell me he’s coming, too!” Ron groaned straightaway, glaring at Draco.

“Coming where? On your treasure hunt?” Draco shot back. “Are you serious? I’m not going anywhere!”

“Why not?” Harry asked seriously, shocking the other two boys. Hermione, however, looked unfazed by the question, as if, perhaps, he had already consulted her on the subject.

“You’re joking…?” Draco gasped. “Harry! I’m wandless, remember?”

“Not anymore,” Hermione said, smiling a little. Draco and Ron both gaped at her as she took a small, narrow box out of her charmed handbag she was carrying and handed the box to Draco. The box bore gold writing on the top.

Makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC

“I thought Ollivanders closed last year…” Draco said, staring, bewildered, at the box in his hands. He opened it and scooped his new wand out of the velvet cloth lining its box. A small slip of parchment was tucked under the velvet and folded neatly in half, and he assumed it would tell him the materials of which his wand consisted. He would read it later, he decided. For now, any combination of wood and core was sufficient. Now, he had a wand again.

It felt warm and comfortable in his hand, a sign that it already trusted him well, but he was careful not to seem too eager to start using it; Ron was watching his every move through narrowed, suspicious eyes, and he’d already gotten his own wand out of his pocket.

Draco donned a reproachful sneer at this. “Ronald Weasley,” he said lightly, “if I’d wanted to harm any of you, don’t you think I would have tried something by now, with or without a wand?”

Ron mumbled something under his breath that Draco couldn’t quite distinguish, but Draco didn’t mind much that he’d missed the message.

Harry shook his head at him. “Draco, don’t go provoking an argument now. We don’t have a lot of time left to talk about all this.”

Draco put his wand back in its box and put the cover on. “Right,” he said. “Sorry, Harry.” For some reason, Ron seemed even angrier after the apology. Noticing this, Harry sent him a warning look that said: That goes for you, too.

“So, will you come with us now that you have your own wand?” asked Harry.

“You sure you want me?” Draco asked back uncertainly.

“Yeah, I’ve got a feeling we’re going to need you with us at some point,” Harry answered, nonchalantly avoiding his gaze. Draco had a hard time believing that Harry didn’t already know at what time and place that point awaited them, but he decided not to bring up his suspicions just yet.

Draco hesitated, feeling their eyes burning into him while he searched his mind for a way out of the mess that would surely ensue, should he agree. It didn’t take any real effort to recall the fear that had literally controlled his life for seven years. Now, Harry was trying to convince him to face all that terror head on, all over again... On one hand, Harry had just bought him a new wand, and to decline would surely be seen as a show of ingratitude. On the other, the thought that Lucius was looking for any sign of him, ready to cast that one final curse at him, made him shudder as though the room had suddenly gone ice-cold around him.

Hermione’s voice broke him out of his reverie. “Draco, I hope this isn’t about Ron.”

“No,” Draco answered quietly, his eyes on the floor, “of course not. If I go to with you to fight in the war, trust me, he’ll be the least of my problems.”

“Like I said, there isn’t a lot of time for you to make your decision. We’re leaving tonight,” Harry reminded him pointedly.

“I-I just…” stammered Draco. “Can I, er, just have a couple hours? I mean, it’s a pretty big decision to have to make on the spot like this…”

Harry sighed impatiently. “Fine, but don’t take too long. We won’t be leaving empty-handed; we have to be sure to pack enough supplies for all of us.”

Draco swallowed hard but nodded. “Thanks,” he said quickly before hurrying back downstairs, the box with his wand held tightly in his right hand.

Before he was out of earshot, however, he could hear Ron’s voice ask wryly, “Think we’ll ever see him again?”

Harry’s voice followed, thankfully solemn: “That’s enough, Ron.”