"You may only be one person to the world, but you may be the world to one person.”
“So,” said Draco wryly, surveying the house they had just moved into. It was nothing shabby, really, just much smaller compared to the Malfoy’s old mansion. Two bedrooms instead of five, the kitchen and dining room were connected, and he and his mother had to share a bathroom. If things didn’t get better soon, he thought to himself, they’d be mistaken for Weasleys.
Then he scowled to himself. Bloody hell. Hating the Weasleys was a habit he’d picked up from his father.
Behind him, Narcissa looked up from where she was unpacking a box of books and smiled. “Don’t take it too hard, Draco. This is a lovely house. You’ll get used to it.”
“I know,” said Draco. And he did. There were worse things in life than being poor. As he had found out.
In the period after Voldemort’s downfall, Lucius Malfoy had spent a fortune trying to bribe Ministry officials and buy his innocence. But that proved futile against Harry Potter’s eyewitness testimony, for not even the Minister of Magic would go against the wizard who had defeated Voldemort at that point. By then, Lucius was rarely home, and Narcissa and Draco locked themselves in a room when he was. The net was closing around Lucius Malfoy. One by one, the Death Eaters were going to Azkaban.
When Lucius spent another fortune on a convoluted escape plan — he planned to change his identity and hide out in the American wizarding community for awhile, waiting for things to cool down in England — it was Draco who told the authorities, anonymously, of his plans. Aurors descended on him as he tried to flee, and he went to Azkaban.
Lucius blamed Draco, of course. Not that he had any proof. Even Ministry authorities suspected Draco. But only Narcissa knew for a fact that it was her son who had ratted out his father.
In Azkaban, Lucius withdrew into himself. Occasionally, it was reported that he ranted about Draco and Harry, seeming to focus on those two as the reason for his imprisonment. But that was it. Narcissa visited him only once, to tell him that she was leaving him, and that she had taken steps to ensure that he could never change his will, which left everything to Draco. Lucius only stared at her until she left.
She sold Malfoy Manor to pay her husband’s debts, refusing to touch a knut of the sizeable chunk of money still in the bank. “That’s your money, and you’re not touching it until after you graduate,” she would tell Draco. She bought a smaller house, and the two of them moved in. No house-elves. No servants. Just the two of them.
“Will you be all right here while I’m at Hogwarts?” Draco asked with concern.
“Certainly. I know I didn’t work while I was married to Lucius, but I actually got higher grades than he did back in Hogwarts, you know. I’m quite qualified for a lot of jobs. I think I’ll work at St. Mungo’s. Oh, and Draco…”
“Yes?” Draco asked, settling into a couch.
Narcissa continued unpacking boxes. “I can take care of the house by myself while I’m the only one here, but you better learn to help when you’re here with me.”
Draco nodded. “All right.”
Narcissa waited for a moment. When Draco just sat there, she stood, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at her son. “Get up! Help me unpack!”
Draco blinked and jumped up, finally getting the point. “Yes, mother.”
His eyes keen and troubled, his wand held ready at his side, Kingsley Shacklebolt strode into the Transfiguration classroom, ignoring the students. His eyes were on Professor McGonagall, who had ceased her lecture to watch Kingsley’s entrance with astonishment, and, perhaps, a hint of anxiety.
“Something’s wrong,” said Shacklebolt quietly as soon as he reached the teacher’s table. He lowered his voice, but Hermione, seated in front with Parvati and Lavender — Ron had dragged Harry to the back of the class — heard him.
“I’m in the middle of a lesson,” Professor McGonagall told him, but she couldn’t quite conceal her uneasiness. The only time Ministry officials barged into classrooms without notice was when they had to inform a teacher of some Voldemort-induced catastrophe. Of course Voldemort was gone now, but still… the fission of fear remained.
“This can’t wait,” said Shacklebolt.
“All right,” said Professor McGonagall. She turned to the students. “Class dismissed. I will continue the lecture next meeting.”
When everyone just stared at her, she sharpened her tone. “Get out! I’ll see you on Thursday!”
The students scrambled up and stuffed their things into their bags, talking in hushed whispers to each other as they filed out of the class. Hermione, Harry, and Ron lingered for as long as possible, trying to catch some of McGonagall’s and Shacklebolt’s conversation. They only heard “I think Death Eaters are…” before McGonagall sent them hurrying out of the class with one smoldering glare.
“What could that be all about?” Hermione wondered aloud.
“Well, at least it’s not Voldemort this time,” said Harry. Next to him, Ron forgot to flinch. “Although Death Eaters don’t seem much better.” Next to him, and within three feet of each other for the first time in a while, Ron and Hermione nodded. In fact, the three of them were so distracted that Hermione and Ron didn’t even notice that they were nodding in unison.
“I hope everything’s all right,” said Ron.
Hermione stopped walking. “Let’s listen in.”
“Are you crazy?” Ron hissed, less out of anger at Hermione than from genuine trepidation. “Did you see the way McGonagall glared at us? Clearly her conversation with Shacklebolt is meant to be private!”
“If we don’t eavesdrop now, we’ll never know,” said Hermione matter-of-factly. “Right, Harry?” She blinked. “Harry?”
Harry was already tugging his invisibility cloak out of his bag, headed back towards the Transfiguration classroom.
Automatically, Ron and Hermione traded bemused looks, then flushed and turned away from each other. It was their first civil interaction since their break-up. Hermione hesitated, then went after Harry; Ron followed her. They caught up to him just as he dropped the invisibility cloak over himself.
“Make room, Ron,” muttered Harry as the three of them squeezed under the cloak.
“It’s Hermione taking up space,” said Ron.
“Are you saying I’m fat?” snapped Hermione, taking immediate offense.
“No, I’m saying your bulky bag of books is taking up space,” said Ron under his breath. Indeed, Hermione’s bag, bulging with schoolbooks, was taking up too much room. Ron’s and Harry’s ankles could be seen. “Leave it.”
Hermione rolled her eyes, but she darted out into the hall to hide her bag behind a statue of a goblin, one of those who had opposed the goblin rebellion and campaigned for peace with wizards. Then she slipped back under the cloak with Ron and Harry. “Prudencio the Peacemaker would turn over in his grave,” she murmured. “His statue used as an instrument of deceit? He opposed spying, you know. Ratted out both goblin and wizard spies to each other during the rebellion. It nearly got him killed.”
“You’re going to get us killed if you don’t stop talking,” said Ron, looking nervously around.
To her own surprise, Hermione said, “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m babbling. I’m just really worried.”
Ron opened his mouth, then closed it. McGonagall and Shacklebolt’s voices could be heard.
“Are you saying that Death Eaters attempted to kill you? Shacklebolt, almost every Death Eater has been rounded up—”
“The key word there is ‘almost.’ I’m telling you, no one else could have done it.”
“Start at the beginning, then.”
The three of them neared the door, their footsteps soundless, listening intently to the heated conversation between McGonagall and Shacklebolt. Silently, they slipped into the Transfiguration classroom, standing in the back, near the door.
“Look, there’s no time to explain everything now,” said Shacklebolt, sounding harassed. “I just stopped by to warn you. I have no proof except my own experience, but my theory sounds right to me. It explains the attack on me, the attack on Tonks, the death of Pettigrew in custody, the attack on that civilian wizard who blew the whistle on Bellatrix Lestrange — if I’m right, then some of your students may be in danger.”
McGonagall inhaled. Shacklebolt went on.
“In particular, Harry Potter and his friends – the Weasley kids, Ron and Ginny, and Hermione Granger. Along with the members of that club they formed. The Creeveys, Neville Longbottom, the Lovegood girl… And with Draco Malfoy and Cho Chang. After all, they all had a hand in bringing down Voldemort, didn’t they? They say it was Malfoy who betrayed his father, the Chang girl was only too eager to help the Diggorys in their crusade against Death Eaters. I know she’s already graduated, but you’d do well to contact her, tell her to be careful —” He cut himself off. “There’s no time to explain everything now,” he repeated. “But keep a close watch on those students I mentioned. I’m deadly serious. They may be in danger.”
Under the cloak, Hermione trembled. Harry put an arm around her, but kept his eyes on Kingsley Shacklebolt. The tall Auror, who had shown himself to be quick of mind and a very powerful wizard on numerous occasions, looked incredibly weary.
“Tell me everything, then!” cried McGonagall. “What am I supposed to protect our students against?”
But Shacklebolt was already hurrying out of the classroom. McGonagall chased after him. “Shacklebolt!”
“I’ve got to leave, I need to speak to Remus—”
“Don’t waste time leaving school grounds so you can Apparate. Use my fireplace, for Merlin’s sake. But you better tell me what’s going on!”
“All right, but I’m in a real hurry, and if I don’t finish—”
“Just start talking!”
“Very well, very well! In my office yesterday, I received a note…”
Their voices trailed off down the corridor. In the classroom, the three Gryffindors stood frozen in place.
“Well,” said Harry finally.
“We have to tell Ginny,” said Ron, looking worried. He scrambled out from under the cloak and practically ran down the corridor. Harry and Hermione wasted a moment looking startled, then went after him.
“Why are you in such a hurry?” Hermione panted.
“Because I don’t want Ginny to end up like Tonks! I know I sound paranoid, but you know my sister. She just always gets into trouble.”
In the Great Hall, Ginny watched the group of Gryffindors entering with some surprise. As far as she knew, the seventh year Gryffindors were dismissed later than the sixth years, and by her estimate they were supposed to have shown up twenty minutes later. What were they doing here so early?
She quickly scanned the faces entering. Neither Harry, Ron, nor Hermione was there.
She had just finished dinner, and she had been about to go to the Gryffindor dormitory, but she sat back down. As long as he was here…
“Neville!” she called out. It was now or never. She had been putting it off long enough.
“What is it?” Neville eyed Ginny warily. She blushed. She had been making excuses to talk to him alone since they visited Tonks a couple of days ago, and each time she chickened out, and they ended up discussing inconsequential matters. Neville probably thought she had a crush on him.
She sighed. Well, she thought wryly, time to disabuse him of that notion.
“Can I talk to you alone?” For the ten-millionth time, she added silently to herself. This time I’ll tell you about Demetria Kilrathi. I really will.
“Well, I was going to eat,” said Neville hesitantly.
“Oh, right.” Ginny slapped her hand against her forehead. “Right. Well, I’ll wait for you, then.”
“Um, okay,” said Neville. He sat down.
“So why were you dismissed so early?” Ginny asked.
“Kingsley Shacklebolt came,” said Lavender before Neville could answer. She sat down next to Ginny. “He was really worked up. He wanted to talk to McGonagall. She sent us out so they could talk in private.”
“Hey, where are Ron and Harry?” Dean asked, looking around.
“Hermione’s not here, either,” said Parvati.
“They’re probably involved in whatever Kingsley’s so worried about,” said Seamus, shaking his head. “They always are.”
All around the table, heads nodded sagely. Ginny stole a sideways glance at Neville, oblivious to her, as he chewed a mouthful of food. What could be wrong? Was it something to do with Demetria Kilrathi? Hurry up, Neville, she urged him silently. I need to talk to you.
Ron, Harry, and Hermione chose that moment to burst into the Great Hall, panting. “Ginny!” Ron bellowed.
“What?” she asked, and she stood, truly alarmed now. “What is it?”
Her brother beckoned her from the doorway. “Come here. I need to talk to you.”
All over the Great Hall, heads were turned towards the three Gryffindors in the doorway. Ron’s shout had drawn attention to them.
Ginny bent and murmured to Neville, “I’ll talk to you later, all right?”
She made her way over to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. They watched her approach with mixed expressions, but worry was dominant. She frowned.
What was going on?
“This is all your fault!” Bitter Wand snarled.
Shadow buried his face in his hands. His voice was muffled as he replied, “Shut up, okay? Just shut up. You’re not blameless.”
Bitter Wand gritted his teeth, but he couldn’t contest that. He closed his eyes, imagining Dark Moon’s face when they told him they had made a mistake.
“At least we won’t get tortured.” There was the barest hint of humor in Shadow’s tone, and Bitter Wand whirled on him. “This isn’t funny!”
Bitter Wand glared at him. “Now what?”
“Now, we think of another plan. And we better do it soon, before Kingsley Shacklebolt figures everything out.”
Bitter Wand clenched his fists so tightly, crescents of blood appeared on his palms. Their power lay in their secrecy; once people knew there was a renegade band of Death Eaters loose, seeking revenge, they would be on their guard, and things would be that much more difficult for them.
“We better think fast,” he said coldly, working to conceal his fury. He had never hated Shadow more than he did at that moment. “Otherwise, it’s all over.”
“Say that again,” said Ginny, stiffening.
Ron looked upset. “I said, it sounds like a lot of people are in danger, including you! What part of that do you not understand?”
“No, you listed the people in danger. Say the names again.”
“Well, Harry, obviously! And me, and Hermione, and you, and the Creeveys, and Neville, and Luna, since we helped Harry, and Cho Chang, for helping the Diggorys in their crusade against Death Eaters, and even Malfoy for ratting out his father or something like that. But— wait, where are you going?”
At the mention of ‘Malfoy,’ Ginny had bolted out of her chair, and she was halfway out of the common room before Ron had finished talking. “Out,” she shouted to her bemused brother. The portrait of the Fat Lady closed behind her.
A/N: Read and review!
Leave a Review