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 miniscule 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.