The First Morning
But when he entered the kitchen, he was greeted by expressions of all sorts, for now Harry, Ron, Ginny, Arthur and Molly were all present, and each evidently had his or her own opinion of Draco. Still, though no one looked happy to see him, no one seemed to want to duel him, either. So far, so good.
He looked around cautiously, wondering if those already sitting would want his company, or at least be willing to tolerate it. Ron scoffed and stared at his breakfast, Harry shrugged indifferently, and Ginny sat watching him with an air of mild curiosity. Meanwhile, Molly, having stopped abruptly at the sight of him, continued sliding pancakes onto everyone else's plates, as if the door had opened to reveal a completely empty doorway.
But Arthur, as Draco should have guessed, reacted differently. He gave a small nod in the direction of an empty seat at the opposite corner of the table, which Draco gladly took. Molly sighed, but grudgingly slipped the last pancake of the batch onto his plate. Remembering what Arthur had said to him the night before, he was careful not to step on any toes if he could help it. "Thanks," he muttered. Ron glared at him, but luckily kept quiet.
Draco, too, kept his thoughts to himself while he ate. When the second batch of pancakes was ready, he was once again given the last, smallest pancake. This wasn't saying much, for Molly Weasley was indeed a good cook, and Draco wouldn't have found anything to complain about even if he had wanted to, but he still found it thoroughly unappetizing to sit down to breakfast with people who hated him.
Once everyone had finished eating, Draco looked at the door by which he had entered. He'd expected his mother to be awake by now. She had always been an early riser, and if that had changed, Draco was not aware of it. He got up to look for her, but didn't need to look far, because she was heading down the steps just as he left the kitchen. "Mother!" he exclaimed, relieved and smiling. She turned abruptly and smiled back.
"Oh, Draco!" cried Narcissa, doubling her pace to reach him. No more words were necessary. They simply saw one another, and everything uncomfortable was cast off as leaves to the wind.
They embraced, although Narcissa seemed more tense than usual. He knew why; he felt the same way here already. The house was too small for all of them, and though it wasn't quite crowded, it had been hard enough for Draco to find a quiet spot to write the night before. And as they let go of each other, Draco found himself relieved that Ronald the Resentful had not yet come in to berate them.
"Don't you worry, darling," his mother whispered. "We'll be out of here before you know it."
Draco grinned outwardly and nodded, but he couldn't help hoping it would take a little longer than she thought. Twice in less than twenty-four hours, the head of the Weasley household had treated him as a human being, going calmly against the obvious wishes of his wife and youngest son to do so. Only one other person had treated him quite like that, as a person, and an adult, and someone capable of making his own decisions in spite of everything. And that was Albus Dumbledore.
With this in mind, Draco took a seat by the fireplace again. It was cool that morning, and empty of flame, and for whatever reason, this unsettled him somewhat. It had been comforting somehow, seeing the bright warmth dance around its safe, cozy fireplace, and with its help, he had been able to let his mind wander wherever it led him. There was just something about the way the red, blue and gold of that benign fire blended into each other that soothed the soul. But now, staring at the fresh wood that sat silent and lifeless in its place, he could find no such distraction to lead his thoughts.
It wasn't long before Ron, Ginny and Harry appeared in the living room. Keeping an eye on Draco, who in turn kept an eye on the three of them, Ron addressed Draco with a grimace. "It's bad enough Mum and Dad are letting you and your mum stay here. Do you honestly have to sleep in the living room?"
Draco rolled his eyes at the remark, still seated on the couch. "I was under the impression you wanted me as uncomfortable as possible while I'm here. Why are you complaining now? Do I look like I'm enjoying this any more than you are?"
Ron's eyes narrowed, but Ginny spoke up before her brother could think of a suitable retort. "You're talking like you haven't done everything in your power over the past six years to make all of us as uncomfortable as possible!" she reminded him. Draco frowned, but didn't answer.
"All of us, Malfoy," Harry agreed firmly. "You have a lot to be sorry for."
"I had my reasons…" Draco muttered, bitterness clear in every syllable.
"Like what?" shouted Ron. "None of us provoked you – it was always the other way around!"
"That's a lie!" Draco snarled, suddenly on his feet. He whirled around to face Ron, an intense fire in his storm-gray eyes. He spoke directly at Ron: "You're not as innocent as you let yourself believe! You've never stopped provoking me!"
Ron wore an expression of mixed bewilderment and dread at Draco's outburst. He clearly thought it was only the beginning of something even more unexpected, but already, Draco knew he had said too much. He knew none of them would be likely to let him go without interrogation now, for he had been trying to conceal for six years what he'd just let slip. Yes, there was more to it than what he had actually said, but he had still inadvertently set out the bait, and the curious nature of these Gryffindors was sure to do the rest; it always had in the past.
He sat back down, wondering what had caused him to slip, while Harry, Ron and Ginny continued to watch him in silence. But the hush was short-lived; Narcissa, having heard their shouting from the next room, appeared in the doorway only a second later. "What's this?" she asked the other three warningly, hurrying to Draco's side.
"Malf— That is, Draco, was just about to explain what any Weasley has ever done against the Malfoy family," Ginny answered abruptly. She and her brother looked back at him expectantly, but Draco said nothing and went back to staring at the cooled fireplace as though his three classmates had already left the room.
Narcissa, however, only darkened her glare, partly in the hope of making them all too uncomfortable around her to stay put. Then she turned to her son and sat beside him. "Are you alright, darling?" she whispered kindly in French. Draco nodded, but did not look at her. She understood. Turning back to the three onlookers, her voice turned ice-cold to address them as she rose again from the couch. "Are you finished badgering my son? I don't care in the least that this tiny, ridiculous house is yours, you have no right taking your petty little frustrations out on someone you've never even given a second thought to! How dare you!"
"What are you talking about?" scoffed Ron. "We're badgering him? He's the bullying git. Not to mention, he tried his best to kill the headmaster all last year!"
"You… Never…!" Narcissa seethed, out of breath in her rage. "You have no right, no right to judge him, knowing nothing! You insolent—!"
"Mother, please don't…" Draco pleaded with her, knowing that Molly and Arthur were only a room away. He glanced fearfully in the direction of the kitchen door just in time to see Arthur appear there, his wife close by. Draco's eyes widened; his heartbeat doubled – he knew he and his mother were on thin ice, and the look on her face was frightening, given the situation at hand. "Oh, no…" he whispered.
Arthur moved quickly to stand between his children and Narcissa, holding up an index finger in warning. "You asked us protect you, and here you're acting as though we owe you something, shouting at my children and looking at us as if you'd rather step on us than live here. Well, if you want to leave, Narcissa, you're more than welcome to do so. But bear in mind that until you do, you and your son are guests in my house, and regardless of what you may think of it, you are required to treat my family with the same respect you'd want us to give you. Do I make myself clear?"
Narcissa stepped back, aghast at Arthur's words. Draco could tell she wanted nothing more than to argue, but he knew he couldn't let that happen. "Mother," he began, "it's fine. Don't…" They had both been through a lot of pain, but if anything, it had brought them closer together, and he knew she would listen to him, if no one else.
A storm of thoughts raced through Narcissa's mind, but she knew when she saw the look in her son's eyes that she had to let it go. She nodded, still looking at him. "Pour votre bien, mon fils," she whispered solemnly. For your sake…
Draco sighed deeply, and smiled. He didn't like being here much more than she did, but they would be safer here than anywhere else they could imagine going.
An hour or so after this confrontation, the two of them were sitting together when they heard Arthur and Molly talking upstairs.
"You mustn't let too much of the distant past make your mind up for you. He's not a second Lucius, I can tell that much." Arthur reassured his wife gently.
"How can you be so sure, Arthur?" asked Molly, who sounded as though she were trying not to start sobbing. "Look what he's been up to for the past year! From what I've heard and seen, I'd say he's shaping up to be exactly like his father."
Molly's words cut Draco to the bone. How could anyone think that of him? Or, more dangerously, was she right? He tried with every bit of self-control he had to keep his face blank, to make it seem like the accusation had had no effect on him, but after seven years of being all he had to cling to, Narcissa knew better. "Don't you listen, darling," she told him quickly. "That old madwoman never knew you to begin with. Rumors, that's all she knows. Rumors and lies! Don't you listen to her."
Draco hoped his mother was right, but self-doubt kept nagging in at him. Meanwhile, the argument on the second floor landing continued, its speakers quite unaware that they were being overheard.
"...hasn't tried anything yet," Arthur said. "And I told you what happened last night when I spoke with him. It's his mum I'm concerned about."
Draco took a deep breath and held it for a moment. You can't blame her, he thought. She was only trying to help me!
"Y-yes, exactly," Molly stammered angrily. "I trust her even less. She's taken far too many liberties in this house already."
"I understand, dear, but there's more to it than that. We'll get used to all of us living in the same house, but until then, think about what I've been telling you. I know it's hard to imagine, but he was literally begging me to let Narcissa stay. He was prepared to leave, under that condition. What could I have said? He was in tears, Molly. Would you honestly have sent them packing if it were up to you?" There was a pause, in which Draco could hear his own quickening heartbeat. Then, Arthur continued on. "Molly, dear, please keep an open mind about this. Do we really know that much about these two? Not enough to sentence them to Azkaban, or death if You-Know-Who finds them first."
Draco shuddered at the thought, but suddenly, he felt oddly compelled to join the conversation upstairs. He stood, but his mother grabbed his hand, and he turned to face her. "I know what I'm doing, Mother," he said, pulling away. But it wasn't true; he honestly had no idea what he would say to Molly Weasley. All he knew was that something had to be said.
He took the steps slowly, trying to make as little noise as possible. When he reached the bedroom door behind which the husband and wife continued to discuss his fate, and that of his mother, he paused, gathering whatever courage he could find to make his unwanted presence known. He had spoken to Arthur already, and he knew he had to try to talk to Molly, to tell her – even show her – that he wasn't like his father, and that he hoped he never would be.
He knocked quietly, full of self-doubt, but when Molly opened the door, took one look at him and frowned, he knew there was no turning back. "I – I couldn't help overhearing..." he began anxiously.
"What is it?" Molly asked curtly.
Taking a sharp breath inward, Draco said as steadily as he could, "I'm not an evil person. But I am a person. I'm a person you can talk to directly if you have something against me. And I know you do." Molly continued to stare at him coldly, delivering a considerable blow to Draco's hope of success. But he wasn't ready to give up. "I need to speak with you," he added simply.
Molly looked back at him warily. "Alone?" she said incredulously, as though daring him to make such a ridiculous request.
"No," he replied without hesitation. "I just want you to hear me out. I don't care who else is around, but... but Mr. Weasley's right. You don't know the first thing there is to know about me."
"I know your family..." Molly began.
"You know my father," Draco interrupted, his eyes downcast. "You know what he's done to your family. What you don't know... What you don't know is what he's done to mine." He looked back up at her intensely and waited for her to react.