A/N – Well this chapter was about IMPOSSIBLE to write. Everything happens at once, but in different locations, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to show it all without skipping from PoV to PoV every few paragraphs (which bugs me beyond belief). So hopefully no one’s confused, b/c next chapter doesn’t look any easier in that respect lol. If you do have questions, feel free to ask and I’ll answer as soon as I receive them.
Thanks for reading and for all the faithful reviews!
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Chapter 31 — Rescue
Pierce sat at his desk, parchment scattered in front of him — essays he was meant to grade, though he couldn’t remember the assigned topic — and stared into space. For once, he did not want a drink. He didn’t want anything, actually, and that included food. He could tell by the looseness of his robes that he was losing weight, something that his lanky frame really couldn’t afford, but nothing would stay down.
For the first time in his life, Jonathon Pierce wondered if he had failed.
It had been days since Weasley’s disappearance, though it felt like weeks, but nothing happened. The students whispered, McGonagall fretted, and damned Parkinson bragged that Weasley had just gotten expelled quietly, all thanks to her brilliant suggestion. All of that went on, but nothing happened.
Someone knocked at his door, and he closed his eyes tiredly. He could not deal with a student right now, and he could deal with McGonagall even less.
“Is it important?” he called.
Pierce’s heart nearly stopped. He clutched the edge of the desk, knuckles turning white, and told himself he had to be mistaken. He had to have misheard that voice.
He swallowed with an effort, amazed when his voice came out calm. “Yes, come in.”
The door opened, and Pierce felt all the air rush from his lungs at once, his whole body frozen in raw disbelief. “Mr. Malfoy,” he said softly.
The boy nodded once, closing the door behind him. He looked different now, his hair a little duller, his clothes too baggy, his eyes bearing dark smudges, but it was undoubtedly him.
The door safely closed, Draco cast an Imperturbable Charm. Pierce raised his eyebrows, but before he could ask about it, Draco announced, “No one else knows I’m back.”
Pierce sat back very slowly, mind racing. He had to be careful. This was more than he ever could have hoped for — the boy had walked right into his office! — but if he mucked it up now….
“All right.” He spoke carefully, keeping his voice neutral. How on earth was he supposed to go from here? He never imagined it would happen like this, and he had no plan whatsoever. “Are you…in trouble?”
“No.” Draco moved forward and sat across the desk. His eyes never left Pierce’s face, gray as the storm cloud they resembled, churning with unreadable emotion in his blank face.
With meticulous movements, Pierce gathered up his parchments into a neat pile and pushed them aside. He laid his palms flat onto the desktop. “You’ve been missing for some time, Draco,” he said softly. “If you’re not in trouble…well, I don’t believe an explanation is too far out of the question, do you?”
“I…” he seemed to struggle with what he would say next. “I had to sort some things out for myself. Over the hols, Pansy wanted me to make amends with Fa — with Lucius…and I didn’t. But if I said no….”
And it all goes back to the Weasley girl, like it has all along. “If you said no she might consider the deal off and kidnap Miss Weasley,” Pierce voiced his guess aloud.
Draco nodded. “I didn’t want to deal with it, so I ran away.”
“To where?” He had to know.
But the boy only gave him a contemptuous look. “Does it matter? I’m back now.”
Pierce had to bite his tongue to keep it in check. “Of course. And what prompted that little turn of fate?”
Again, he seemed to choose his words carefully. Finally, he admitted, “Ginny was the one sending me food. And we owled each other.”
Pierce prayed that his disbelief didn’t show. That little bitch! She knew where he was all along! She had purposefully hidden it. Pierce couldn’t believe how thoroughly she had fooled him, and he knew that it meant she didn’t trust him. But for how long, he wondered, and why not? Where had he slipped up? Suddenly he remembered all the strange looks, all the odd hostility and her panic when he first saw Potter returned. Damn it, why didn’t he pick up on that?! Why hadn’t he suspected her?
It took every second of his long years of practice to keep his face and voice only mildly surprised when he asked, “Just owled?”
“I was too far away to see her in person. It wouldn’t have been practical.”
“Ah.” So the little brat hadn’t been near the castle, then. He couldn’t imagine Weasley staying away if he’d been anywhere in the vicinity. Pierce massaged his temples, trying to calm himself down, forcing his thoughts to line up. “But now you’ve noticed a sudden lack of food and letters, I’m assuming?”
“And no one else knows you’re back?”
Again, Draco nodded.
Pierce leaned forward. “Why come to me?”
Draco’s eyes roiled like a thick fog in the breeze — with what emotion Pierce couldn’t say — but his answer came simply. “You’re the only one in the castle I can trust.”
Pierce swallowed his triumphant grin, which would have been entirely inappropriate just then, but the elation still filled him. He had succeeded in that much, at least: he had the boy’s trust. Carefully, he asked, “And what is it you think I can do?”
Draco rubbed his hand at the back of his head, agitated. “Can you at least tell me where she is? What happened to her?”
Why, thank you for the perfect opening, Draco my boy. He made his features into a mask of pity and regret, but his insides grinned like the Cheshire cat. “I…it’s not my place….”
Draco narrowed his eyes. “You know, then?”
Pierce nodded once, sadly. “I’m…I’m afraid so.”
The boy crossed his arms. “And?”
“As I said, I probably shouldn’t — ”
“You probably shouldn’t, but you’re a Slytherin, and since when do we care about should and shouldn’t?”
Pierce allowed a wry smile at that. Perfect. Just keep playing into my hands. Aloud, he said, “I suppose you have a point.” He paused, just to build up a little suspense, then lowered his voice and leaned forward. “A lot’s happened while you’ve been away. With the war, I mean.”
Draco just nodded slowly, waiting.
Pierce leaned a little closer. “Miss Weasley…well, you know her as well as anyone. She’s a curious sort. She doesn’t like to be left out.”
Pierce sat back heavily, as if tired. “Well, there was a meeting one day, one she’d been specifically excluded from, but she eavesdropped anyway. Found out…something she shouldn’t have. Something vital. And she was caught. Of course, normally they would have let it slide, but since you’ve been gone, our good Slytherins have been after her a bit…”
Draco was watching him without blinking, the strangest look in his eyes, but Pierce couldn’t decipher it, and his face was as stony as ever. “What are you saying?”
Pierce sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Understand I think it was wrong, what they did. I do not condone it in any way. I’m only the messenger, only explaining their logic.”
“That’s not what I asked.” He sounded oddly unaffected, not quite concerned enough. Pierce figured it for shock, or maybe fear.
“If someone — a Slytherin — captured her like Parkinson planned, and she was taken to the Death Eaters with what she knew…it would have been disaster, Draco. It might have cost them the war.”
Still Draco’s face never flinched. “So what did they do?”
“It…” Pierce made a show of running his hands through his hair, closing his eyes, “it is my understanding — and this may not be definite, understand — but, well, it seems quite clear that they…the Order, that is…they…disposed of her, Draco. They removed the threat. I’m so sorry.”
Something flashed over Draco’s face, but before Pierce could get a good look at it Draco scraped the chair away and stood, turning his back to Pierce. He ran his hands through his hair, leaving his fingers twisted in the fine strands.
It was a long time before he spoke, but he managed to get his voice under control by then. “They killed her, is what you’re trying to say. The noble Order of the Phoenix murdered one if its own for self-preservation?”
“I know it is difficult to believe,” Pierce soothed, “but…it’s war. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the ‘good’ side always behaves honorably. In the end — in every war that’s ever been or will be fought — it comes down to one principle: the end justifies the means. You just never hear about the winner’s sins because they write the history afterwards.”
Draco said nothing, just stared at the wall.
Pierce decided now was the time to act. “But it’s not right,” he continued softly. “It was wrong of them, and I can understand you must be furious right now. Wanting revenge, even.”
Draco turned slowly, face controlled once again, but eyes intent. “Revenge?”
Pierce nodded. “Get them back for what they did to you. She was your life. They took that from you. The Order took your life, Draco.”
The boy folded his arms, considering. “You sound almost like you’re trying to convince me, Professor.”
Pierce smiled grimly. “Perhaps I’m trying to offer my help.”
It’s time. Time to show my hand and hope for the best. Unhurried, Pierce reached to the sleeve of his left arm and rolled it up. The Mark stood out starkly even in the dimness of the room, seeming to possess a blackness all its own, one that rivaled anything in nature.
Draco just stared for a long time, and Pierce found himself honestly impressed by the level of control the boy had mastered. His face portrayed no surprise at all, as disciplined as Lucius himself.
“So all along. All along you’ve been one of them.”
“You made me think you weren’t.”
And here was going to be the challenge, keeping the boy’s trust in the face of earlier deception. “Yes. But, Draco, you have to understand, I’m on your side. You never would have let me help you if I’d told you. But now you must know better. You must realize I can help you, especially now.”
Draco turned around, walked towards the wall and leaned forward against it. “Oh? You can bring her back, can you?”
Pierce was surprised the boy was staying so calm. He honestly expected hysterics when Draco found out that Ginny had “died.” Instead he seemed to be in some kind of shock. “No. But I can help you avenge her.”
Draco turned around, watching him warily. “How?”
Pierce took one small step forward. “Take the Mark, Draco. Use the Dark Lord’s power to crush the Order.”
The boy seemed to be considering, weighing the idea in his head. “No one uses the Dark Lord or his power,” Draco said finally. “He uses them.”
“Perhaps.” Pierce sat on the edge of his desk, forcing himself to keep up a relaxed front. “But what do you think the Dark Lord wants? Your goals are one and the same, so it doesn’t really matter who is using whom, does it?”
Draco’s lips quirked a little at that. “Suppose not.”
Pierce felt his heart spike just a little. Softly, he said, “It’s your decision. I may be a Death Eater, but I’m not the gung-ho, my life for the Dark Lord’s type either. I would understand your hesitance. But tell me something: how will you live with yourself knowing you just rolled over and took it when they murdered the girl you loved?”
Draco turned his face away again, so Pierce couldn’t judge how effective his words had been, but then the boy muttered, “Fine.”
Pierce felt a thrill of triumph through his body. He forced himself to temper it. Not yet, he cautioned himself, don’t celebrate just yet. “Fine?”
Draco’s eyes turned back to Pierce, flat but determined. “I’ll take it. I’ll take the Mark.”
Pierce nodded solemnly, rising slowly from his desk, but inside he was dancing. He did it! He brought the brat back, despite everything, despite all the obstacles, he, Jonathon Pierce, had yet again succeeded where everyone else had failed! He’d brought the little bastard back to the Dark Lord, and now all Pierce had to do was wait for the rewards to fall into his lap.
It took everything he had to keep his voice calm and serious. “Very well. I can make the arrangements for as soon as this weekend. Your father should have plenty of time to prepare the Manor for the ceremony, and — ”
“No.” Draco gave a sharp shake of his head. “Not at the Manor. I won’t do it there.”
Pierce blinked. “…All right. May I ask why not?”
“I’m doing this for Ginny. Not for my Father.” Draco’s eyes flashed with the hate of old grudges. “He’ll already think he’s winning now that I’m taking the Mark. I won’t give him the satisfaction of being branded in that house too.”
Pierce wanted to roll his eyes, but forced himself to nod in understanding instead. “I can see that. Well…there are other places, certainly. Maybe — ”
“Snape Estate.” Draco crossed his arms. “I want to do it at Snape’s.”
Pierce raised his eyebrows. “Snape?”
“He’s my godfather.” Draco walked along the bookshelf, skimming his fingertips across the book spines. “And anyway, he was more of a real father to me than Lucius ever was. I want to do it under his roof.”
Pierce hated that idea. He wanted Draco nowhere near the Weasley girl, just to be safe, but he was at too crucial a point now to risk arguing the point. “Very well. I’ll have to check with Severus, of course, but I don’t foresee it being a problem. We can still have the ceremony this weekend, I’ll just tell McGonagall I need to be away on personal business. And as far as she’s concerned, you’re still missing.”
Draco shrugged his indifference. “Fine, but I don’t have a way out of the castle. Without risking someone seeing me, I mean.”
Pierce frowned. “How did you get in?”
He apparently didn’t feel the need to explain where he got his hands on such rare potion. His whole demeanor was eerily zombie-like. Shock. He has to be in shock over Weasley’s supposed death. At least, that’s the only way Pierce could rationalize it.
“You’ll just have to stay in my rooms for the next few days, then. The office isn’t smart, but even McGonagall doesn’t go in my living quarters without knocking. Is that acceptable?” Draco shrugged again, which Pierce took for affirmation. “Right. Well, I’d best go speak with Severus and the Dark Lord, get things under way. You can…make yourself comfortable, I suppose. Help yourself to a book or something.”
Draco didn’t respond, but as long as he wasn’t objecting, Pierce was still thrilled. As he took up a handful of Floo powder and tossed it into the flames, he could no longer contain his grin. Finally things were going his way again.
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Snape Estate did not quite compare with Malfoy Manor. It boasted fewer rooms, and the ones it did have seemed far less grandiose. Still, it dwarfed most museums, and its entertaining hall was nothing short of spectacular with its polished, cherry wood floors, vaulted ceiling, and sparkling crystal chandeliers.
Draco, marveling at how slow yet incredibly fast one week could pass, stood at the front of that room as men in black robes and silver masks began filing in.
He felt a little naked. As practice demanded, he was the only one without a mask — the Dark Lord felt an inductee should feel honored to take the Mark and proudly show his face during the process to prove it. Only afterwards was identity protected, which, in Draco’s opinion, was bloody pointless. But when did Voldemort ever make sense?
Even Pierce, who stood at his elbow for “moral support,” wore the robe and mask. The outfit still seemed out of place on the man. Draco glanced at him and, remembering the conversation that got him here, had to fight not to roll his eyes. The Order killed Ginny, my arse.
Draco had actually respected the man’s cunning right up until he tried that stupid lie. How thick did he think Draco was to believe that the righteous Order of the Phoenix would ever murder one of its own? Even if Draco never saw Ginny in the candle or overheard Potter and McGonagall’s argument about finding her, he would have known better.
But he wasn’t complaining. It would have looked suspicious if Draco had suddenly decided to commit himself to Voldemort out of the blue. So let Pierce believe that his manipulating persuaded Draco to change his mind. It didn’t bother him, and actually worked to his benefit.
The last of the Death Eaters walked into the room, finding their seats among rows of ornately carved chairs all facing the platform where Draco and Pierce stood elevated above them. A raised dais commanded the center of the platform, but for now, it remained empty. Draco dreaded seeing that spot filled.
As the murmurs from below floated up to him on a cloud of indistinguishable voices, Draco felt his knees go weak, his stomach churning. He kept his hands clasped behind his back so no one would see them shake, but there was no helping the beads of sweat on his forehead. At least the dimmed lighting might hide those. Draco closed his eyes and took a deep breath. This idea was mad. It would never work.
Suddenly, the murmurs all died at once, and Draco’s heart skipped a beat. He opened his eyes to look towards the entrance, and for the first time since last summer, he saw Lord Voldemort. The man seemed unearthly, so pale he gave off a vague luminescence in the shadowed hall. And the red eyes glowed.
That blood-red gaze threw him back into last summer, when he stood in his own hall at Malfoy Manor, all the same people assembled around him. He remembered the way those eyes flashed fire when Draco reached the final part of the ceremony and denied him. They were the last thing he saw before apparating from the hall. The Manor had powerful spells allowing only Malfoy’s to apparate in or out, so no one followed but Lucius, and Draco soon escaped even him.
Now those eyes settled on him, turned a deep crimson in the low lighting, disturbing and impossible to read. Draco’s face went dead of emotion purely by instinct. If not for that innate reaction to stress, he was positive his face would have betrayed the raw dread seeping into every nerve, turning his muscles to water.
What the hell am I doing here? He suddenly found it very difficult to remember.
“Don’t be afraid,” he heard Pierce mutter, barely audible. “He doesn’t hold any grudges. You’re safe.”
Draco ignored the empty assurance. Right…safe. “Safe” was the last thing he would describe himself as at the moment.
Voldemort moved slowly up the center of the room, long black robes trailing behind him. His eyes never left Draco’s face until he ascended the platform and took his seat on the dais. Then his gaze turned outwards to address his followers.
“Faithful servants.” Voldemort’s voice sounded exactly as Draco remembered — soft and wintry, smooth but sharp like ice — and he felt a cold finger touch the base of his spine. “You have gathered here as witnesses to Draco Malfoy’s commitment to me, and to the Dark. Do you all agree to attest to this event?”
A collective “Aye” rose from below.
Voldemort nodded. “Very well.” He turned to Draco. “Draco Malfoy, son and heir to Lucius Malfoy, by agreeing to take this Mark…”
Draco stopped listening after that, letting Voldemort’s frosty voice blend into the buzzing that already filled his mind. The words were tradition, and Draco knew everything Voldemort would say by heart anyway. He had other things to worry about just then. Losing his freedom, for instance.
It took all of Draco’s willpower to keep his eyes locked with the Dark Lord’s and to avoid glancing down into the audience of masked men and women. He should have counted how many sat down there earlier. It would have made him feel better if he knew that one was missing and everything was going according to plan.
His throat felt oddly swollen, and he couldn’t swallow. The scarlet of Voldemort’s eyes reminded him of a brighter red, more cheerful and vivid, one that framed a freckled face and soft brown eyes. He grabbed onto that mental image, taking whatever strength he could from it. Ginny. I’m doing this for Ginny. The thought became his mantra.
A pause in Voldemort’s speech snapped Draco back to the present. Then the Dark Lord asked that pivotal question. “Draco Malfoy, now that you understand the gravity of this moment…do you accept my Mark?”
For a second Draco couldn’t breathe. All he could remember was last summer, when Voldemort asked the exact same question…when he’d said no and fled. Pierce coughed softly behind him, and Draco blinked.
Panic set in. What was taking so long? He could feel his insides clenching in fear, everything spinning a little in front of his eyes. He tried unsuccessfully to swallow, then said the only thing he could. He’d come too far now to turn back. “Yes…my Lord. I do.”
Voldemort nodded. “Hold out your arm.”
Draco hesitated, eyes flicking over to the door.
Voldemort’s already narrowed eyes turned to slits. “Draco.” His voice was chilly. “Your arm.”
Draco felt a trickle of sweat creep down the small of his back. Damn it all! What the hell went wrong? But there was no stalling. Draco clenched his jaw. For Ginny. He rolled up his sleeve, slowly bearing his forearm to be branded. Voldemort drew his wand and touched the point to Draco’s flawless skin, red eyes glowing in anticipation as he opened his mouth to speak the spell.
Then the doors flew open.
Voldemort’s gaze fell heavily on the masked Death Eater who entered, missing the obvious relief that fell over Draco’s face as he snatched back his arm. Finally. It seemed his only coherent thought at the moment.
“This had better be important,” Voldemort hissed to the intruding man.
The Death Eater bowed low. “Forgive me, my Lord. It’s just that there’s a bit of a commotion. I thought I should inform you.”
The Dark Lord’s face portrayed no emotion, but his voice promised pain. “A bit of a commotion? You disturbed a crucial ceremony for a bit of a commotion? What sort of commotion is it? Surely nothing you and the guards I posted for this express purpose could not handle.”
Draco spoke then. “This sort, probably.” Then he reached into his robes for the feather-light cloth, tossed it over his body, and when he heard the burst of chatter below, he knew Potter’s invisibility cloak had worked.
A furious Voldemort ignored the disruption below and fired a stunning spell in the place Draco had been standing. But anticipating that, Draco had already dove off the platform and was running towards the doors. When he passed under the massive chandelier in the room’s center, he paused long enough to turn and zap it down, watching with satisfaction as it shattered to the ground. It wouldn’t block off his escape completely, but at the very least it would be an obstacle to go around. A couple of seconds might mean all the difference between life and death.
“FIND HIM!” Voldemort roared from his dais, rage crackling almost palpably around him. “I WANT HIM ALIVE!”
Draco finally reached the Death Eater who had interrupted the ceremony and grabbed him on the way out the door. They shut and barred the exit together. “About bloody time!” Draco snapped, yanking off the cloak. “Do you have any idea how close I was to getting the damned Mark?!”
Nott sighed as he ripped off his mask. “Sorry. One of the guards gave me some trouble. The fat cow was too big for the potion to work on him. I had to knock him out myself, but turns out the git was rather handy with a wand.”
“Bloody hell,” Draco muttered, leaning back against the door. He ran a shaky hand through his hair, glancing at his pale, smooth forearm. Too damn close. He forced his mind back on the task at hand. “So she’s out, then?”
Nott gave a weary nod. “She said she remembered the maps you drew in the shack. Enough to get out, anyhow.”
Draco closed his eyes. “Thank God.” He’d been gambling that she would. “And you’re sure none of the guards Voldemort posted around the perimeter will give her any trouble?”
“As sure as I can be. I only did the ones on the north side, you know that. Our favorite Trio and their mates from the Order had the rest.”
“Right,” Draco muttered. He hated that they were involved, and had Nott to thank for that little detail. His Housemate had guessed where Draco was hiding and had snuck into Pierce’s quarters during class hours. It took two days of planning — or arguing, really — before Nott finally convinced Draco that it would be mad to try anything like this alone. Draco relented under the condition that Nott handle all the negotiations, which, surprisingly, the other boy had agreed to do.
The door suddenly heaved against Draco’s back.
“They’ll break through any second,” Nott pointed out needlessly.
Draco cursed. “Ginny’s hardly had any time to run!”
“It’ll have to be enough.” Nott pulled down his mask again, sprinting off down the hall. He would melt back in with the other Death Eaters, Draco knew, slipping back into place as if he never left. After all, Draco might be able to openly rebel, but if the Dark Lord ever found out Nott had been involved in this….
Draco swore as the door groaned again, and he tossed Potter’s loaned cloak over his head before running in the other direction. He didn’t get very far before a monstrous crack rent through the air, the sound of the door finally giving in. He just ignored it and kept on running. Hall after hall flew by him in a blur of cherry wood and old, peeling paintings of men Snape probably didn’t even know. He was just beginning to believe he might actually make it out of the massive house when someone stepped into his path, and he had to skid to a halt so quickly he lost his footing. He flailed his arms to regain balance but only succeeded in knocking off the invisibility cloak as he went down hard on his tailbone.
Pierce stood over him, wand trained on his chest. For once, he wasn’t smiling. “I’ll give you one chance to explain.”
Draco stared hard at him, then slowly got back to his feet, keeping his hands raised by his head. Pierce’s wand followed him every inch of the way. Draco opened his mouth to speak…and instead bulled right into his former professor, knocking the lanky man aside and sprinting past, Pierce’s curse ringing in his ears.
Instinct made him duck his head just as a beam of red light shot after him, and another exploded against the wall when he darted into a side passage. His mind whirled, trying to remember where he was in the house. He’d been here dozens of times, but now he couldn’t think. He was on the first floor, but where on the first floor?
He followed the side passage as it curved around, but swore all the oaths he knew when he only found steps leading up at its end. He glanced over his shoulder, and though he couldn’t see Pierce yet, he could hear the man pounding after him. Inventing a few new curses of his own, he started running up the steps three at a time.
His breath came in heavy gasps by the time he reached the top, a long hall stretching out to his right and another set of stairs directly in front of him. He took a minute to catch his breath, then yelled in frustration when he realized where he was. The hall only led to bedrooms and a dead end, he remembered. He would have to keep going up, or go back down. And going down was not an option. He started up the next flight.
Pierce was shouting after him, but Draco didn’t pay attention. All he could hear was the sound of his breathing, the thump, thump of his heart. Ginny said she reveled in moments like these, at the height of the run with all her adrenaline pumping. Draco never could quite understand it, and he was no closer to comprehending it now.
This time only a narrow stretch of corridor met him at the top of the stairs, so he just kept running. When he passed a peculiar granite statue of Merlin’s head, however, he dug his heels into the floor. He suddenly knew exactly where he was. Grabbing on to Merlin’s pointed hat, he tugged down with all his might.
For a second nothing happened, and he feared he’d made a mistake, but just as beads of sweat broke out on his forehead, the stone groaned and grated against itself, and Merlin’s head fell forward. A great portrait on the wall swung inwards, revealing a hidden entrance to the outside. Draco saw blue sky, felt the breeze, and releasing his breath in a rush of relief, he ran through the gap in the wall onto a ledge wide enough for maybe two men to stand side-by-side.
He heard the explosion of another spell behind him as the wind flattened his hair back from his face and grabbed at his robes so badly he almost lost his balance. He grabbed onto the wall for support and glanced down, a move he immediately regretted. Had he really run up so many steps? Everything on the ground looked like it belonged in a doll house, toy-like and fragile.
He swallowed and tore his gaze away, jogging further down the ledge until he spotted an alcove carved into the wall. He jumped inside not a second too soon: Pierce stumbled out onto the ledge moments later, shaggy hair whipped around in the wind. Draco held his breath, pressing his back into the stone behind him until he felt the uneven grooves digging into his spine.
“Draco!” he heard Pierce shout over the rush of the wind. “I’m not going to hurt you! We don’t even have to go back to the Dark Lord if you don’t want! I just want to talk! I’m here to help you, remember? Just come out!”
Draco drew his wand, slippery in his sweaty palms, and leaned out as far as he dared. Pierce was squinting down the length of the ledge, his own wand held before him as his baggy robes flapped in the breeze. Then he started advancing, and Draco flattened himself against the wall again.
“I know you’re out here,” Pierce called again. “I’m on your side, Draco! Just trust me!”
Draco’s fingers tightened around his wand.
“Don’t you want revenge for Miss Weasley?” Pierce shouted, voice very close now. “They murdered her. We can repay them for that, Draco, but you have to trust me!”
Then Pierce walked in front of the alcove, and feeling his stomach drop to his feet, Draco yelled, “Oy, Pierce!” The man whirled, but before he could get his wand up Draco shouted, “Expelliarmus!,” and it flew from his grasp. Draco caught it one-handed, never lowering his own.
“Draco — ”
“Pierce,” Draco cut him off. “You’re a liar.”
Then he took aim at Pierce’s chest and shot a jet of red light. The beam connected and jolted the man back several feet, to the very lip of the ledge. He had to windmill his arms wildly to avoid pitching over into empty air, but somehow, he managed. He shot Draco a look of triumph…and then the wind blasted full into his face, throwing the weight of his robes out behind him. For one, heart-pounding second Jonathon Pierce’s hazel eyes met Draco’s, wide with disbelief…and then he was gone.
Draco stared at the empty space that Pierce had occupied only moments before. The thudding of his heart deafened him as an oddly detached feeling spread through his mind. He’d just killed his first man without even meaning to. The thought ran through his head, over and over and over again, but he couldn’t quite grasp what it meant, only that it was very, very important.
The fingers still holding Pierce’s wand went numb, and he dropped the thing to the ground where it rolled across the ledge. It caught in a groove right at the edge, quivering in place for a moment, then another breeze swept up, and it tumbled over with a quiet clack, clack of wood on stone.
I never heard him hit, Draco suddenly realized. A crazy image of Pierce hovering just out of sight rose behind his eyes, and dropping to hands and knees, he crawled forward to peer over the edge. He felt sick when he saw a black stain on the ground far below, barely distinguishable as a robed body…but Draco knew. He jerked back and retched. After, he lifted a trembling hand to wipe his mouth, then standing shakily, he pressed his back tight to the wall and sidled back inside the house.
It took him much longer to wind back down all those steps, but he barely remembered a single second of it. He moved through the house in a daze, mind replaying over and over again the moment Pierce fell. I meant to stun him, Draco told himself. That’s all. I was just going to stun the bastard, not kill him.
He almost tripped over Potter’s invisibility cloak when he finally finished all the stairs, and he had to stare at it for a couple of seconds to remember its purpose. Then he bent and tossed it over his head before continuing on his way. As he entered the main part of the house again, several Death Eaters rushed right past him, oblivious in their search, calling out orders and insults to each other. Other than making sure to stay very quiet and never to let one bump into him, Draco ignored them.
Apparently no one had thought to post new guards by the doors yet, because Draco walked out of Snape Estate unchallenged. The former guard was sprawled off to the side, half-propped against the wall and snoring softly from the potion they had drugged him with. Draco reached up and slipped off the invisibility cloak, feeling stifled beneath it, and thought that the unfortunate guard must be baking under that mask. Not that he could feel it.
The call felt like a splash of cold water, and immediately alert, he whirled around just in time to glimpse a stream of bright red hair before Ginny threw herself at him. His arms automatically wrapped tight around her waist, and he could feel her own arms wrapping around his neck, fingers twining in his hair. He lifted her off the ground to hold her closer.
She buried her face in his shoulder so that her words came out muffled when she demanded, “Where were you? I’ve been waiting forever!”
He lowered his face into her hair, inhaling deeply as the most profound sense of peace came over him. This was where she belonged, tight in his arms, pressed against him until not even a whisper of air could come between them. It wasn’t complicated or confused, there was no second-guessing or questions of right and wrong — it was just them, and it was right.
“Pierce followed me,” he finally answered her. “I had to…to lose him.” Then, “You were supposed to find Potter and get away.”
She pulled back, eyes glassy as they looked up at his face; her fingers softly stroked through his hair. “I couldn’t leave. Not until I knew you were okay.” She shook her head. “I can’t believe you did this! You could’ve — ”
“I know.” He studied her face and smiled at the freckles spattered across her nose and cheeks. He thought of Pierce, remembered everything the man put this girl through, and though he couldn’t just forget what he’d done, in that moment he did understand that it had been the right thing.
“You shouldn’t have risked it,” she murmured.
“It was the only way. Snape has wards over every inch of property, but with a ceremony this big, he had to lower most of them. Else alarms would be going off left and right.” Draco glanced back towards the Estate and cursed under his breath. “We better move,” he said grudgingly. “If we keep standing out here like idiots we’re sure to get caught.”
He loosened his arms, but Ginny didn’t seem to hear and wouldn’t let go; she only clung tighter. “I was so scared.” A tear slithered down her cheek. “I’ve been so wrong. All along I’ve been so wrong.”
He had no clue what was going on about, but he did know that now wasn’t the time. “Ginny — ”
But whatever he meant to say was lost forever as she yanked his mouth down to hers. She kissed him recklessly, as if she feared she would never get the chance again, and when she opened her lips to urge the kiss deeper, Draco tasted the salt from her tears. For a second he let himself get lost in her, blood pounding with long-suppressed desire, wanting nothing more than to make this moment last forever. It took all his strength to pull away.
Ginny still didn’t let go even then, and they stared at each for several seconds. Then Draco slowly lifted his hand and traced her lips with his thumb. “Ginny,” he said quietly, “you know I love you.” He dropped his hand. “But tell me, what’s going to happen when Potter shows up again?”
Those dark, beautiful eyes grew misty as she gazed up at him. She opened her mouth to talk, but before she could say anything, another voice full of poorly concealed irritation called, “Ginny.”
She snapped her mouth shut and turned. Draco looked over her head and narrowed his eyes. Speak of the bloody devil. Harry Potter stood there with his other two halves and McGonagall at his back. Ginny let her arms drift away from Draco’s neck, but he didn’t release her waist, and she didn’t squirm away.
Potter spoke to Ginny, but his eyes never left Draco’s face. “Come on, Ginny. We should have left already as it is. You belong with me.” That last comment seemed directed at Draco, not the redhead in his arms.
Ginny glanced up at Draco, then quickly away. “I’m still not going to just leave him here, Harry.”
McGonagall stepped forward. “Don’t worry, Miss Weasley. No one is leaving Mr. Malfoy anywhere.” Then faster than Draco would have believed her old age would allow, her wand flashed out, and she calmly enunciated, “Expelliarmus.”
Draco’s wand flew from his pocket and right into her waiting grasp. She nodded, and two men Draco never even noticed before came up from behind and grabbed either wrist, yanking his arms up behind his back as Potter pulled Ginny to his side.
“Draco Malfoy,” McGonagall snapped his wand into a case and locked it, “you are under arrest for express involvement with Lord Voldemort, for aiding the Death Eater invasion of Hogwarts last year, and for conspiring in the murder of Albus Dumbledore.”
Draco stared, still off balance from Ginny’s kiss and too stunned to fully comprehend what was happening. “Are you mad? I’m the only reason Ginny’s not in that dungeon right now!”
McGonagall inclined her head. “That will be taken into consideration…come your trial.”
Draco struggled uselessly against his captors. “I’m protected! The Minister of bloody Magic himself absolved me!”
“As it happens, he retracted that ruling not three weeks ago. Apparently, when word of your disappearance spread, Lucius Malfoy decided you were no longer worth your weight in galleons and withdrew his bribe. Or so my informants tell me.” She shrugged. “Either way, you are no longer under any protection whatsoever.”
“Professor!” Ginny wrenched violently out of Harry’s grip. “How can you do this?! He denied You-Know-Who, then risked getting Marked anyway just to save me! You were supposed to help, not betray him after you were done using him!”
McGonagall leveled a stony gaze on Draco. She kept her voice even as ever, but it was thick with emotion as she replied, “A few good deeds will not bring Albus back to life.” She visibly collected herself. “Take him to Headquarters. I want him in chains.”
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A/N – Just so you know, that was crazy hard to write. And not just with the “everything happening at once issue.” Too many major events in one chapter makes my head hurt haha. Oh, and I did a lot of last minute editing, so please forgive any typos.
And since I’m sure a good handful of people are going to complain that McGonagall was OOC again, let me just explain myself now: romantically or no, McGonagall clearly loved Dumbledore and was fiercely loyal to him. No one’s going to forgive a loved one’s murderer that easily, and McGonagall is still looking for closure. Sorry if you disagree, but that’s honestly how I imagine her reacting to the situation.
And to field another question sure to pop up – next chapter I’ll explain what happened to Naomi in all of this fun. I figured this one was hectic enough without tossing her in.
Oh, and as a parting note: FINALS ARE FINISHED BABY!!! Woo hoo! (Hence the quick update) A big thanks to everyone who wished me well! They went great – straight A’s across the board.
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