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 là?"
"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!