By Firelight

The Birth of Debt

When Draco got to Ginny's room, he took a deep breath and knocked quietly. "It's me," he called through the closed door. The door opened right away, and Ginny looked as hopeful as ever when he saw her. He knew why, and he wasn't going to let her down this time. "I'm ready if you are."

Ginny smiled and nodded. "You're finally letting me in," she said brightly. Draco sighed and nodded, but his expression remained solemn. She had no idea… but she would.

When they arrived at the office-like room where the Pensieve was kept, Ginny once again gave him her wand to use. It took Draco only a moment to decide which memories to show her first. In much the same way as he had extracted the first memory, which still lay in the basin, he took one more, and then another, and placed them in the Pensieve.

"After you."

Ginny bent down to enter the Pensieve as she had done before, and true to his word, Draco followed. The next thing he knew, they were in his bedroom at Malfoy Manor. Ginny looked briefly around the room, and her eyes fell on a young boy standing by his bed.

Young Draco's gaze was fixed on the door, his body rigid and still as though he were afraid to move a muscle. Only when the sound of approaching footsteps reached their ears did he flinch.

The door opened to reveal Lucius standing there, his wand held at his side. Ginny's pale features hardened at the sight of him.

"Father," young Draco greeted his father dutifully, his frightened eyes darting between Lucius' wand and his face.

Lucius strolled to his son's bed and sat down, motioning for Draco to sit beside him. The boy merely stared at him, confused by the friendly gesture from the man who had tortured him on several occasions. "Sit, Draco," Lucius ordered, trying again.

Young Draco obeyed, but the look of surprise remained. Still, he seemed to think it was safe to speak freely. "What are you going to do?" he asked.

"Why ask a question like that when you'll find out soon enough?" Lucius asked in return. "And don't you tell me it's because you don't want curses. Of course you don't like them, Draco. But it's for the best."

"But why?" groaned Draco. "Nobody else's father curses them."

"You're not like other children. I tried for years to convince myself you were normal, but I know better now. There's just something wrong with you that only that one curse could possibly cure."

Ginny began shaking her head as she watched the scene before her unfold. She turned back to present-day Draco and mouthed the words "Not true."

Draco only glared at her. If he was going to have to show her all these memories himself, he would not let her turn away, not even for a moment. She had asked to see this! "Watch," he mouthed back. Slowly, Ginny returned her gaze to Lucius.

"How will it cure me?" Draco asked him, looking only slightly disbelieving.

"It won't until you realize that no matter what you want your life to be like, this is the best you're ever going to have. I'm not stupid, Draco. I know what you're after. You want me to just scoop you up and tell you everything will be fine. But it's not going to happen. I'm not going to love you." He spoke the word 'love' as though it were a shameful thing to want.

Tears filled young Draco's eyes, but he bit his lip to keep them from falling. "Mother loves me," he said after a moment's pause.

Lucius stood up and turned to face Draco, wearing a malicious smirk that present-day Draco had seen many times since. "Draco," he sneered, "your mother is nothing but a dreamer. Does it matter what she has to say about this? She's worse than you are!"

Lucius exited the room without another word, leaving the door wide open. Draco grabbed the nearest pillow from his bed and buried his face in it, sobbing audibly. Ginny started walking closer to him and lifted her hand to touch his shoulder to comfort him, but her fingers just went through him as if he were made of smoke. Letting her arm return to her side, she closed her eyes and sighed.

This time, present-day Draco felt no resentment when Ginny looked away. Instead, he watched her with the same empathy she felt for him. The world was full of people like his father, as he had learned long ago. Yet people like Ginny Weasley were remarkably few. She was more than his friend, more than just an ally. She had cried for him, and she looked ready to do it again.

But before he could reach out for her hand, the sound of footsteps once again reached their ears. Ginny looked up to see Narcissa running along the corridor. "Draco?" she gasped when she had gotten to him. "Draco, what's wrong?"

Draco cried harder and shook his head, refusing to speak. Narcissa sat beside him and took him in her arms, holding him until he calmed down. "Shhhh," she whispered over and over, not to quiet him, but to soothe him.

When he was calm enough to speak, he asked her, "What's wrong with me?"

This confused Narcissa, but her voice remained calm and steady. "What do you mean, darling? There's nothing wrong with you."

Draco shook his head again. "Father told me there was. But he won't tell m—"

Narcissa broke the hug suddenly, shock written on her face. She grasped Draco's shoulders and looked into his eyes. "What did he say?"

"He just said there's something wrong with me…" Draco stammered, terrified at the look on her face. "He said that's why he's been cursing me…"

"Cursing you!" she breathed. "What curse, what…?" She trailed off, unable to say any more.

"I-I don't know what it's called. It just h-hurts…"

"Good Merlin!" she moaned.

She jumped to her feet and dashed to the door, but before she could get out to the corridor, Draco screamed, crying hysterically again, "MOTHER, PLEASE! Please, don't you hate me, too! PLEASE!"

Narcissa ran back to him, wrapping him in another embrace. "No, Draco… No, never… Draco, my darling child, nothing will ever make me stop loving you! But he's gone too far…" Once Draco let go of her, she left to find her husband.

Both Dracos went after her, young Draco staying hidden whenever he could, and Ginny followed close behind. When Narcissa found Lucius, he was downstairs in the sitting room reading the Daily Prophet. "How long have you been torturing my son?" she demanded, her voice colder than Draco had ever heard it.

Lucius lowered the Prophet just enough to get a good look at her. Chuckling lightly, he went back to looking at the newspaper. "I see you've finally opened your eyes, Narcissa," he said, appearing as calm as he had ever been.

Narcissa whipped her wand out, aiming it straight at him. "How long?" she asked again. Without waiting for an answer, she shook her wand, and instantly, the center fold of the Daily Prophet was ignited. Lucius leapt out of his chair and dropped the halves as the fire spread across the parchment pages. By the time he had retrieved his own wand to extinguish the flame, it had caught the corner of the rug, and when he did put it out, the Prophet was destroyed and the rug was singed.

"Are you mad?" he bellowed.

"Answer me!" shrieked Narcissa, her wand still aimed in his direction.

Lucius looked murderous, and before she could defend herself, he took aim and fired his spell in one quick motion. She collapsed to the floor, screaming and writhing, fighting to shake off the pain. The instant Draco realized what was happening, he sprinted across the room and stopped in between his father and his mother, shielding her from the torture curse and taking it himself.

Without thinking, Ginny tried to grab the back of a nearby armchair to steady herself, but just as before, her hand went right through it. Present-day Draco took hold of her outstretched arm to support her, and they faced each other.

"I think you've seen enough for one day," he said gently. "Let's go home."

Ginny shook her head. "I'm fine," she told him, but he knew it wasn't true. That memory had shaken her.

Draco gave her a solemn look, but his tone was still warm as ever. "Come on." He took her hand, and they left the Pensieve, landing on their backs. Draco wasted no time in standing up so that he could help Ginny to her feet.

Once some of the shock had worn off, Ginny glanced back at the Pensieve. "No!" she protested. "There were two memories. I need to know what the other one was…"

"Ginny," Draco interrupted her, "you can see it another time. I can tell you need a break – and personally, I don't blame you."

"You always did that?" she asked after a pause, dazed.

Draco looked at her questioningly. "Did what?"

Ginny swallowed hard. "Shielded her…"

Draco let out a heavy sigh. "Whenever I could get to her in time," he explained, looking downward to hide the bitterness he felt at the thought. "I remember being locked up in that prison cell of a bedroom, hearing her screaming, and I couldn't do a thing to stop him. Those were the times I was actually ready to give up." He raised his eyes again to meet hers, but the look on her face made him regret answering her with anything more than 'yes' or 'no.'

"I'm sorry, Ginny."

Ginny shook her head, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. Draco could only stare back at her; he had no clue what he should do at that point. He only knew he wanted her cheerful again.

"Sorry?" she asked. "What for?"

Draco sighed. "For doing this to you. Harry told me he's never seen you cry… and he knows you better than I do."

Ginny half-smiled, her answer ready in her mind. "Harry? Draco, just because he's never seen me crying, that doesn't mean I never have."

"Well, I don't want to be another reason for you to feel that way."

"You're not the one bothering me, Draco," she assured him. "I wish you'd believe me when I say that. It's Lucius I'm angry at, not you."

"But if I hadn't—" Draco tried, but Ginny interrupted him.

"Draco, don't do that."

Draco could feel tension rising slowly in his throat. What did she expect him to do then, stand back and pretend he hadn't dragged her through the memory? Still, he reminded himself firmly that he could not let it get out of hand again. "What am I supposed to tell you, Ginny? Why shouldn't I apologize?" he asked as calmly as he could. When she only stared at him for a few seconds in puzzled silence, he only became more agitated.

"Don't do that to me. All through my life, that word, 'why,' has been useless. All it ever gets from anyone is silence. I gave you the answers you wanted… What about answers to my questions? How long have I been waiting for an answer?"

Before the wide-eyed listener could conjure a response, Draco closed his eyes and sighed, running his hand through his hair as he turned from her. He wasn't ready yet to start scolding himself again, but he knew he would be in a few minutes if this went on. Having a true friend wasn't as easy as he'd hoped it would be.

For an instant, the image of his diary appeared in his mind, and he knew that more than ever, he wanted to be alone. But that wasn't all he wanted, and when he left the tension of the room behind this time, he didn't head straight for his room. Rather, he stopped outside another room before reaching the staircase. It was the same bedroom into which Ginny had disappeared after Draco had nearly kissed her, not too long ago.

The door was wide open. He peered in to find Hermione lying on her bed, her nose buried in a thick book. Draco knocked quietly, and Hermione looked up.

"Is it too late to accept your offer?" Draco asked from the doorway.

"My offer…?" Hermione asked him, bewildered. "What did I offer you?"

"Parchment," he replied hopefully.

She grinned slightly. "I remember now. No, it's not too late." She got up and took a roll of parchment, then handed it to him.

Draco smiled back, eager to put his quill to work. "Thanks." With that, he headed for the quiet privacy of his own room.

With no desk in the room, he had only the bedside table to use as a surface. He closed his door firmly behind him so he could have some precious time to himself. Getting his quill out from under the bed, he set it to work.

Dearest Diary,

Since the fateful evening I left Hogwarts for the last time, I've missed you desperately. Even now, as I'm surrounded by people, I know that people are nothing like your blank pages. People judge; you listen. People ask all the wrong questions; you wait until I'm ready to answer. People focus on the way I say something; you just hear what I have to say.

Miles of parchment would hardly be enough to tell you what has been happening here since Mother and I arrived, but these past two weeks have been a shaky ride. In the end, I suppose I feel safer here than I did at first. At least nobody's locked us up for a while, which is a good sign. But knowing that everything could change in the blink of an eye makes it hard to relax. Ronald is still doing everything he can to get us thrown out or killed or whatever, no matter what Ginny or anyone else tells him. Having us both live in the same house is a disaster waiting to happen. Well, at least it hasn't happened yet.

Meanwhile, Ginny's been trying to help me somehow, and I know she genuinely wants to, but so much gets in the way. She wants to see my darkest memories, but I really don't think she's ready to see what I've seen. Then again, I wasn't ready to see it, either, but that's not her fault. Why should she be dragged into that? No, I like her just fine the way she is: innocent, cheerful and free-spirited. I won't be responsible for making her anything like me.

Draco read over what he had written, and allowed himself a rare smile. As difficult as things still were, it felt good to be writing again. It was true: talking to other people was very different from writing his thoughts down for only his eyes to see. In keeping a diary, there was no one to impress or satisfy. There were no rules, only the security of knowing that his secrets, or what was left of them, were safe, invisible to everyone else.

This parchment might have to last for a while, he thought to himself, although the trace of a smile was still visible. I'd better save the rest. He signed the letter and stored it and the remaining parchment in a drawer in the bedside table.

Just as he closed it, someone knocked on his door. He looked up, hoping that whoever it was, they wouldn't ask too many questions about his door being closed or whatnot. His writings were his, and no one else, not even his mother, was allowed to see them. Still, he went to the door, pulled it part of the way open, and smiled.

Narcissa stood there, smiling back at her son. For days, she had been in forced meetings with members of the Order of the Phoenix, trying with all the will she had not to say too much, and to keep from causing more trouble than they were already in. After all that, all she wanted was to speak freely to the one person who she knew cared. "Hello, darling," she said.

Draco took her hand in greeting and opened the door the rest of the way. "I hardly see you anymore," he told her.

As Narcissa stepped inside, Draco saw her smile fade. Turning back to face him, she sighed. "I would gladly do without these meetings they've insisted that I attend," she replied sadly. "They take time I would much rather spend with you."

Draco had stopped smiling when he first noticed how worn out she looked. "What do you do in there all day, Mother?" he asked.

"Well," she sighed again, "to be honest, I try to do as little as possible. It's more tedious than anything else."

This only confused Draco. "Why would they make you sit through meetings that don't pertain to you?" he asked, not expecting her to have an answer. "That's ridiculous."

Narcissa wore a slight grimace. She knew by now Draco had already taken sides, and that his loyalties had followed him into the home and presence of the Order. Perhaps it was the right choice in the long run; she had considered that as well. But the right choice was notorious for being the most risky, and as both Malfoys were nearly empty-handed at that point, it felt as though all they had left to risk was each other. That wouldn't do. Sometimes the right choice was the most unthinkable.

Narcissa took a deep breath and spoke slowly, careful to choose her words tactfully. "Sweetheart, I know you've become attached to some of these people… but you need to… I need you to remember that our backgrounds and experiences differ from theirs. We don't know them any more clearly than they know us."

Draco was growing more worried by the second. "What are you trying to say?" As he spoke, he realized he didn't want to hear where she was leading the conversation. Was she hinting that he had trusted too easily? Or that he had chosen the wrong people to trust? He didn't want to know.

For at least a full minute, they stood watching each other, both hoping the other would be the next to speak. Finally, Narcissa broke the silence. "As happy as it makes me to see you investing your faith in someone new, I know you really should keep some more boundaries. Understand, mon fils, that they could very well be the exact reverse of any loyal Death Eater."

By now, Draco doubted there was any room left in his mind for any more confusion. "They are the opposite! What—"

"I don't mean the opposite. I mean the reverse. Just as Lucius, Bella, or any other true Death Eater would go to any lengths to serve the Dark Lord… for all we know, the Order could be willing to make the same sacrifices for their cause."

"Mother!" Draco protested, unwilling to believe his ears. "This is different! They don't even have a master to serve. How could it possibly be the same here?"

"Draco, Draco, calm down. Please, I just don't want you getting hurt."

"I'm not getting hurt," he pointed out defiantly. "For once in my life, I'm not getting hurt. Aside from Ronald's madness, it's like a dream here. Don't try to tell me I'm about to wake up!"

Narcissa stared at her son through wide eyes as realization dawned on her. There was more than loyalty at work here. And now, she was torn between breaking up what hope he'd found in this place to make room for reality, versus waiting until one of these Phoenix people broke it up instead. She knew in her heart that one of these would eventually happen. And yet, hoping her prediction was wrong, she forced down her instincts and decided to at least let him be happy for as long as fate would allow.

"What led to all this?" Draco asked suddenly, looking ashamed. "We were talking about those meetings they make you go to every day. How did that lead to an argument?"

Narcissa had to fight back a relieved laugh when she heard him say that. It often amazed her to see how resilient he was. Right after being angry enough to shout, he could cool down, step back, and reflect on what had caused the outburst, all in a matter of moments. For most people, the process would have taken hours, even days. But perhaps it was more than resilience, she thought to herself. Perhaps it was a kind of wisdom as well.

She sat down on the end of the bed, and Draco sat beside her. "Tu es la seule personne contre qui je ne peux rester fâché," he told her, seeming to sense her unasked question, and making her smile. This time, she meant it.

French Glossary:

Tu es la seule personne contre qui je ne peux rester fâché. ~ You're the one person I could never stay angry at.

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