Lucky Little Weasley
"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.