Dear Mr Potter,
Harry read the letter for the third time, wrapping his head around it and nodding to himself.
I am writing to you from the Ministry Detention Centre where my family and I are awaiting trial. I will not insult your intelligence by giving you extraneous details that I know you will not need; suffice it to say the newspapers have been both brutal and inaccurate in their portrayal of events and we are left facing anything up to execution or life incarceration in Azkaban. A lack of evidence that we gave specific aid to – Lord Voldemort during the war is apparently no longer sufficient, and in light of the evidence presented of our home being used as his headquarters we have been requested to come up with evidence of actively fighting against him at the final trial a week on Wednesday.
To this end I have been prevailed upon to write to anyone who might give such testimony in our favour. I will not beg for myself but humbly ask that you appear at the hearing on Wednesday next in our defence. For my son's sake, I will beg if necessary. You're our only hope, Mr Potter,
Harry half runs, half walks up three flights of stairs, until he finds Hermione in the library, cursing at the books.
“What's the matter?”
“These – these bloody books won't open for me! They hiss at me you realise – actually hiss at me!”
“That – does sound like your idea of a nightmare, yeah. Hermione take a look at this for me, will you?”
He hands her the letter and she gets up off the library floor, kicking a book which spits and scuttles away from her under a shelf. She reads it over with a little frown between the eyebrows and he casts an eye around the library – it has only taken Hermione three days of Harry duty to simply trash the place – she and the Weasleys are taking it in turns not to let him be alone even though he cannot help but feel a lot of the time as thought that is exactly what he would like best. Still, he's glad she's here now, for advice, and it is a picture to imagine the look on old Walburga's face downstairs if she could see what Hermione had done to her precious library.
“You don't look very surprised,” she says finally, tapping the corner of the letter on her teeth and looking at him closely. He sits down in one of the fat green armchairs.
“I think I was expecting it, yeah,” he nods - “I mean – you've seen the papers.”
“And you want me to help you decide if you're going to – help I mean?”
“No, I already know that -”
“You're going to then?”
“Can I ask why? I mean what does she mean by assuming you even have evidence in their favour?”
“When -” he sighs, he has avoided talking about the battle these past five weeks since he's been hiding out at Number 12, ignoring the press - “When I died – I mean when everyone thought I'd died - Voldemort sent someone to go and check – only it was Narcissa who checked. She knew I was alive and she told him I was dead. If it wasn't for her I would have died.”
“You never told us.”
“It never came up. Until now.”
“Why did she do it?”
“She asked me if Draco was still alive; she did it when I said yes – I think by that stage she just wanted to save him.”
“Huh.” Hermione sits back down on the floor, rocks back on her heels - “She's actually human.”
“We're all just human, Hermione. If we only learnt one thing this whole time I think perhaps that's it.”
“But then – Draco? And Lucius?”
“Draco saved my life at the manor. He knew who I was, I could see it in his eyes, he wasn't even in doubt, but he lied for me. If I don't save him I'll never know why.”
The answer sounds just a little over – practised to him as well, and Hermione definitely ends up looking at him strangely.
“You remember he threw me his wand in the final battle? He broke away from the others just to help me – besides isn' it enough?” he silently begs her not to probe further because he knows there is something else, he just could not quite say what it was.
“From what I've heard, the Ministry are treating them as a unit, and I can't let two people who've risked that much for me die just because they're connected to a complete cunt, can I?”
“So – what are you asking my advice on?”
“The thing is – I have been following the case, she's right. Public opinion is so gross against the Malfoys right now – largely thanks to our old friend Ms Skeeter – if they do get let off I'm afraid the waiting public might just become a lynch mob -”
“So when I get them off, I want the Order to be there to apparate all three of them back here before that can happen. What do you think?
Hermione lets out a long whistling wheeeew of breath.
“You think it's that bad?”
“Yeah. I do. I think it's that bad -” he pauses just on the verge of telling her that the thought of Draco at the mercy of an angry mob makes him feel thoroughly sick but stops himself. He's been looking at their pictures in the papers for weeks now, Lucius half broken and confused – well perhaps he deserves it – Narcissa, inscrutable and proud and Draco -
Draco just looks like he's trying to avoid the paparazzi at every turn, eyes averted or dazzled, meeting nobody in the eye, half frantic, on the verge of tears all the time. Harry hates the way it makes him feel, hates that he finds himself wanting to see the old sneer back, that flash of wicked mischief in the eye that used to itch so (good) irritatingly under his skin. He couldn't save him before, he realises now he had a whole year in which he could have tried – but he'll be damned if he does not try now.
“Not all of them are going to like it, Harry.”
“I know. But you'll ask them?”
“I'd say ask them yourself, but you explained that so badly even to me - not to mention you still don't want to be seen leaving here, do you? And in summary yes – I will.”
“Thank you Hermione. You're a true friend.”
“I know. But – Harry?”
“Ginny's gonna be mad. Can you please do something for me and have a good long think about the two of you while I'm gone?”
“Think – about – Ginny?”
“-and it's exactly that frown Harry that means I'm asking you to. I'll be back later.”
Hermione apparates out and Harry flops onto his back in the sofa and thinks – about Ginny, Hermione said. What about Ginny? Why would she be mad he wanted to save somebody who saved him? Does she hate him? Does she especially hate the Malfoys? Did Draco do something he doesn't know about? Surely he always picked on Harry the most? And then Ron and Hermione. Maybe Hermione meant think about her fondly – well he does, like all the Weasleys – ah maybe that's it – he ought to be able to summon up something more for his girlfriend. Nope, it's gone again. There's only one face that swims into his mind when he tries to conjure her up, and it's pale and pointed and it's always been there, every time he started to think too much about anything. He darts away from thoughts of that face like he's a shoal of fish, all shivery and breaking up, coming back to this one thing like it's a nesting ground. Bad thought. He feels himself going red. He gets up, unable to account for the feelings of restless itchiness, and wanders the house. There's too much past here. Too many things that belonged to Sirius, Lupin, Tonks, like an In Memorium list. He lingers in the drawing room running his fingers over the gold strands of tapestry – Sirius and upwards to somebody he was told might be his own ancestor, feeling the ancient fabric, the threads without really seeing them. An hour later he hears voices in the kitchen and he looks to where his fingers have been lingering for some time, tracing them over golden threads as though through strands of golden hair, all this time lingering on one name – Draco Lucius Malfoy.
Far from all of the Order have come. On his request Hermione had made it clear that this plan was one that might mean keeping the Malfoys some number of weeks at Grimmauld place, for which he suspects he needs at least a good few of them to stay. Luna is there of course, Molly and Arthur, Bill and Fleur, Hermione, Ron, Ginny and last of all George, trailing after his family like a shadow.
“So uh -” he looks round at them all - “Hermione told you the plan right? Does uh – anyone have any questions.”
“Yeah,” says Ron - “I don't get it mate – arent't we supposed to be rounding up Death Eaters, not rescuing them?”
“They're not Death Eaters,” he says immediately, feeling his cheeks grow hot - “Hermione I thought you covered -”
“I'm still not an owl, Harry – I said there'd be questions.”
“Death eaters kill people,” Luna announces to the room as though nobody knew this - “They never killed anyone.”
“Is that really reason to save them though?”
“They saved me,” Harry wonders how many times he is going to have to say this - “Everyone who is here to help me say yes now, otherwise you're free to go. Honestly. I understand.”
The truth is he's not sure if he does – or he does, but he knows in his heart he would resent them anyway.
“I'm in,” says Luna. Harry nods at her gratefully.
“Us too,” says Bill, Fleur nodding. Molly and Arthur speak next, Hermione and then Ron -
“Yeah alright mate.”
“Us too,” George nods - “Right Fred?” he looks to his side. Everyone tries to look elsewhere. George nods to himself, remembering for the thousandth time, and his face looks as though it hits him again for the thousandth time -
“Yeah,” he says - “Right.”
“I'll come with you to the trial, Harry,” Ginny says “But I'm not going to stay and I want to talk to you.”
“Right,” Harry nods. “Good. Next Wednesday then. Thanks everyone.”
“I saw Draco rescue a spider from a leaky tap once,” Luna informs them vaguely, and slowly everyone leaves, leaving Harry awkwardly alone with Ginny, Ron and Hermione tactfully excusing themselves and hurrying into the next room.
“Wow,” Harry nods dully, knowing what's coming and struggling to take it seriously - “I feel like Mary Poppins on dismissal day at the Banks house.”
Ginny doesn't laugh. He sighs.
“Look, I know I'm dumped, Gin,” he groans. “Can we just not? I don't even know why?”
“Why are you doing this?”
“I told you all – they saved me – there's no-one else who can help them and Mrs -”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Enough people have died!”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Jesus, Gin, you're like a broken record! I just told you!”
“This is your problem Harry, you don't even know. You're right, you are dumped – I was going to anyway, but I was hoping to be able to be a bit nicer about it. You're not invested in me, you never were! You're more invested in -”
“ - in someone you hate.”
“I don't know what you're talking about. Jesus. Why don't girls ever make sense?”
“See the thing is, Harry, when you work it all out you'll get the answer to that question too, then maybe we can be friends again.”
“You don't hate me?”
“No I don't hate you, you plonker. But I am mad, and I need you to work it out – I just can't be the one to tell you what half of us already know. It's not fair. I'm sorry Harry”.
When she goes he feels lighter. It feels like a relief.
“Harry James Potter?”
“You're not in class, Mr Potter.”
The court ripples with people chuckling. Harry only notices that Draco is not one of them. There was a time when he would rather have died than not front the Laugh at Potter Brigade whole heartedly. He just looks down at his fingers on the table, still and tense, every line of him tight and as though he has been paused, just waiting, not even caring what happens to him. He has been watching them since they got into the court room. Narcissa gave him a mildest fraction of a nod when she saw him looking, Draco made eye contact like a butterfly in flight, eyes skittering away in the instant like a frightened foal. The others are stationed near the exits, ready to move in; Harry just wishes he could let the Malfoys know, the nerves coming off Lucius are enough to knock a man out and no wonder. The crowd on the way in was as ugly as he predicted, shouting for their deaths, for immediate lynching, shouts of Kill the Death Eaters! Poison the Purebloods! And other new catchy slogans, Rita Skeeter forcing her camera into their faces until Draco had looked seconds away from panic. Harry had wanted to leap in front of them and fight them all off.
“Mr Potter, it is Mrs Malfoy's claim that she lied to Lord Voldemort about your death, thereby saving your life; is this true?”
“Can you explain this to us?”
“Yes.” He manages it calmly, not looking at anyone.
“You also claim to have evidence exonerating Mr Draco Malfoy?”
“Maybe you could tell the court about that?”
“When my friends and I were taken prisoner by the snatchers and sent to Malfoy Manor, we were met by the late Bellatrix Lestrange – I was under a jinx at the time and she struggled to recognise me, but she suspected that Draco would know me and asked him to identify me -”
“For the purposes of handing you over to Voldemort?”
“To my death, yes. He didn't, even though it is my belief that he did recognise me. Even though he put himself and his family at risk of death by doing so. He saved me again -”
“Thank you Mr Potter that will do. You may be seated. Mr Malfoy, please rise.”
It takes Draco so long to react, Harry is afraid for a while that he will not. When he does, he looks around the room for someone, perhaps who will stop him having to be visible.
“Mr Malfoy can you corroborate what Mr Potter has told us?”
“I -” the whole courtroom can hear Draco's jerky breaths and something in Harry aches for him - “Yes – that – that's correct.”
“Did you recognise Mr Potter at the time in question?”
“Louder please, all responses must be fully audible to be valid.”
“And you did not identify him to Lord Voldemort at that time. Why not?”
Draco looks stricken; Harry is itching in his seat to leap up and shout at them to leave him alone -
“-didn't want to -” the rest is a mumble.
“Please speak up, Mr Malfoy.”
“I didn't want anyone else to die, I hoped -”
He flashes a desperate look to Narcissa that Harry reads as can I say – is it safe now? She nods that tiniest of nods again and squeezes his hand - “ - hoped he would defeat Voldemort.”
Draco is shaking like a leaf when he sits back down, half reeling. The court adjourns. When they reassemble it is with the words Harry had desperately expected and needed -
“In light especially of Mr Harry Potter's testimony, the Family Malfoy is found Not Guilty and cleared of all charges.”
The court goes wild, the majority of the shouting made up of objection. An angry viewer just behind Draco leans forward and hisses -
“Good luck against the lynch mob!” so spitefully that Draco almost jumps out of his skin and so loudly that even Harry hears. He nods to the others by the door and runs down to join the Malfoys -
“It's not safe for you out there,” he says - “I've got people outside waiting to apparate you out if you'll come with me.”
“I don't think -” Lucius tries to summon up a glare but his heart is not in it and Narcissa cuts across him -
“Thank you Mr Potter, we will follow your lead. Draco stay next to me.”
Draco just nods, barely even nods; he looks as though he has just been pulled back from a cliff edge and had been picturing the fall so vividly it's still happening. When they step outside the court and see the crowd crashing up towards them like a storm-lashed sea, only Harry on the one side and Narcissa on the other hear Draco make a little strangled sound of terror in his throat. Terrified he might do something stupid like bolt, Harry grabs his hand too tightly for Draco to fight it and shouts -
“NOW!” the others swinging round from all sides to form a circle around the Malfoys and Harry, wands drawn. When they apparate out, Draco clings so tightly to Harry's hand Harry thinks it will feel like splinching if he ever lets go.
It's a shock, landing in the hallway at number 12 and hearing the sudden lack of shouting and mayhem. Draco lets go of Harry's hand like it's fire and retreats behind his mother. Harry looks around to make sure everyone is safe and whilst he is reassuring himself that they are, the familiar screeching starts up -
“MUDBLOODS! FILTH! BLOOD TRAITORS AND REPROBATES IN MY HOUSE! IN MY HOUSE NO LESS, OH WOE THE DAY! SCOUNDRELS! TRAITORS - Cissy! Narcissa, my dear girl, how are you, it's been too long! And is that young Master Draco? Let me see you, my dear boy!”
Harry chokes back laughter and shock – he has never seen Walburga beam before, and thinking about it – he rather wishes he never had.
“Draco,” Narcissa sighs wearily. “Meet your Great Aunt Walburga. Can't anything be done about her?” she adds in an aside to Harry - “Auntie always was rather strident, most undignified – you couldn't take her down?”
“Irremovable sticking charm,” Harry sighs - “Sirius tried a thousand times.”
“It's been so long,” Narcissa murmurs, taking a few steps down the hall, looking about her in wonder. For a moment she looks quite shockingly young, a small girl's light coming into her eyes.
“Where – are we?” Draco frowns, staying near her.
“This is – this was the Ancient House of Black,” Narcissa half smiles - “I grew up here – with your aunts Bella and Andy – then it was left to cousin Sirius and he – oh well -” she appears to shrug off something very heavy and more than one of the others notice her do it - “I suppose things like disinheritence don't matter like they used to. There's more to life than purity.”
She stops suddenly, her face momentarily betraying how hard she has shocked herself. Lucius makes a choked sound of horror and objection, but stifles it under his wife's glare.
“Mr Potter -” she turns back to Harry - “Do I take it that my cousin left this house to you when he died?”
“Uh – yeah -” Harry feels awkward suddenly, as it occurs to him for the first time that if the house had not gone to him it probably ought to have gone to her. “- Sorry,” he adds lamely.
“But, um – of course you're welcome here for as long as you need. I don't know if you've seen the papers but those crowds – they're not pretty and they've been camped out at the Manor all this time in wait. It might be best if you – stay for a bit?”
“I quite agree.” She nods before anyone else can object.
“Do you want – anything – drinks – um – or I can just show you to some rooms but I mean – you're free to – I mean it's your choice,” Harry babbles, wishing he could sink into the floor boards with every word.
“I think, under the circumstances, that would be best, yes, and Mr Potter?”
“Mrs – Malfoy?”
“You saved our lives today, Mr Potter. Twice, I suspect. Please do not feel a need to be apologetic for anything, my family and I are eternally indebted to you.”
“Um,” Harry says, usefully, blushing and awkward.
As everyone starts to fan off in their separate directions and he leads the family to a corridor of rooms on the second floor, he notices only that Draco is glaring at him from narrowed eyes with a cutting glance like fire on a knife, and that his lip is curled like a tongue of flame. It makes him feel curiously hopeful, nostalgic even, and something else he cannot name.
Work it out Harry, he hears Ginny's voice in his head, and wonders for the hundredth time what she was talking about.
Chapters will swing between different character povs. The next one is Narcissa.