"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 under 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.