Chapter 28

Theo left Draco tied up for a few minutes after Calliope left while he explained, in detail, how lucky Draco was that Calla had come to his rescue, because he had intended to beat him to a bloody pulp. After he was finally done, he then forced Draco outside and told him to go for a walk. It was the same way that Draco had forced Theo to take laps around the Black Lake after Calla had torn open her wound in the infirmary while she was talking to her friends, so he couldn't very well complain about his treatment.

He managed to keep his head well enough during the lecture to realize that he was in no position to argue with Theo's demands. He wanted to, but Theo seemed more resigned that Draco was eventually going to be forgiven, than he was angry. And that gave Draco hope. It also made him decide to do whatever he had to do in order to stay on the other wizard's good side. Or, at least not further entrench himself on his bad side.

However, he resolved to only technically abide by his demands, which meant only making one pass through the gardens, and then going to find his betrothed. Except one pass turned into two, then three, as Draco got lost in his hours later he finally went back inside and found Calla in her- their- room.

It wasn't the room that had been his since he was a child, but the one that had been hers all the times she had been here before. He had just sort of moved in with her when they'd arrived and, with his mother's blessing, she'd allowed it. He had to admit though, that behaving in a manner that had Calla's brother trying to punch him and made her feel like she had to magically disable him, might be grounds for revoking that allowance. He took a deep breath and tried not to become upset by that possibility before he'd even spoken to her.

She was lying on the bed, stretched out on her stomach facing away from the door. He walked into the room to try and see what she was doing and possibly gauge her mood. "You're reading!" He practically shouted when he caught sight of the book she was balancing in her hands.

She didn't so much as twitch in acknowledgement.

"You're reading at a time like this?!" He clarified. He'd thought of nothing but her since she'd left his sight and yet she'd managed to get lost in a book. He knew that he had acted...badly, but this was just insulting.

"Yes," she intoned, "the cold fish went back to the only thing she really cares about," she practically spat, and as if to accentuate her statement she turned a page in her book.

Okay. Well. Maybe she wasn't as unaffected as she had seemed before.

"I don't really think that, you know," he hurried to explain, as if he said it fast enough she would understand and forgive him. "You're the most passionate person I've ever met. And not just about books, but I love that you love books too." He realized he was kicking his toe against the carpet and immediately stopped and stood up straight, hoping she hadn't noticed his fidgeting.

"Don't you see, that's worse." She still hadn't even glanced in his direction, but her voice hitched when he spoke.

"It is?" He wrinkled his nose in confusion.

"Yes!" She snapped her book closed. "Because those weren't even legitimate criticisms you have about me, apparently. You were just using something that you knew that people said about me, things you knew I was insecure about because I told you that was how I felt. I shared that with you because I thought I could trust you, and you threw it back in my face! You were being purposefully cruel. So, no, your explanation doesn't make me feel better, Draco."

Draco nearly stumbled backwards as her words sunk in, along with the fact that what she was describing sounded exactly like him. He knew how to play on a person's weaknesses to gain an advantage, or simply to put people in their place. He had blackmail material on plenty of his peers, but he rarely had there been an occasion when he'd actually needed to use it, because he knew how to manipulate and control people without resorting to such overt tactics; he did it automatically. And now he had done it to Calla.

"Calla," he gasped, horrified. "I'm sorry."

She turned her head at the sound of her name. Her eyes were glassy, though she was no longer crying, but the expression on her face nearly bowled him over.

"I'm not indifferent, Draco and I don't think I'm overly logical. I just have to compartmentalize, it's the only way I can cope. I thought you understood that."

"I guess not because I'm terrified," he whispered. "How are you not terrified? How are you so calm all the time?" He was begging, but he didn't care, he needed to understand, maybe he could channel some of her calm if he could only understand.

"I am terrified," she corrected, "but I can't spend every moment wallowing in that terror, or in the unfairness of it all. If I did, I would have burned out a long time ago. I have to be practical, it's the only way I know how to survive."

"How do you do it?" He huffed out a breath and rubbed his face. "I'm a mess."

She laughed, low and bitter. "You think I'm not? You've been here the past few weeks, what have you been seeing? Somebody who has it all together?"

"Yes," he shrugged.

"Draco," she sighed. "I don't know how you could think that. I feel like I'm just jumping from crisis to crisis. I break down and cry all over you. I forget to talk to my brother. I try to figure out how to translate all this for my parents. I hide how furious I am with our fathers from your mother. I have a thousand lists in my mind. I'm always adding to them and rearranging, trying to make sure that I have everything covered, that I don't miss anything. Because if I do miss something, it no longer means that I just fail an assignment or get detention. The stakes we're playing with, people could die."

He crept closer to the bed. "I'm here, I want to be here, but I'm afraid I'm not strong enough to be what you need."

"Is that what you're worried about?" Her voice hitched. "Is that what earlier was about?"

He shrugged and nodded miserably.

"But don't you see, you have been, Draco! How do you think I've been coping since I woke up after the Department of Mysteries? Why do you think the first thing I did was to ask to see you? And I just tell myself, in my head, when I start to dread something, that if you're next to me it'll be okay, and then as a little reward every night I get to go to bed with you."

"I- really?" Draco almost didn't recognize the sound of his own small voice.

"Yes!" She let out a surprised laugh. "I think I fell in love with you on the train when we were eleven years old, and no amount of anger or fear can overpower how goddamn grateful I am that now I get to call you mine." She reached out and grasped his tee-shirt.

He stumbled forward and she pulled until he was seated next to her on the bed, one leg curled in front of him, the other foot on the floor. She sat up.

"Has it occurred to you that you're just really good for me? That any calm I'm mustering is because I have you to lean on?"

"No, not at all."

"I'm so used to going it alone," she looked at him and smiled. "I was so tired, and I don't feel so tired anymore. But I need to be better too."

"You do?" He sensed that she was about to lose him again.

She nodded. "I can't keep trying to do things all by myself and I can't allow things to sneak up on you. That was part of what happened earlier too, wasn't it? Like you kind of got slapped in the face by reality with Bellatrix's letter, and then I didn't react the way you expected either."

"That is- yeah, that's true."

She nodded again and placed a hand over his. "I need to show you something."

"Okay," he said, uncertain that he was prepared to handle whatever else he might be about to learn, but unable to deny her.

She pulled a piece of folded parchment out from the book she was still holding and handed it to him.

"What is it?"

"It's a letter from the late Lady Black. I don't want to say more than that just yet in case I accidentally influence you before you've read it yourself."

"Okay," he agreed, feeling a spark of interest at this revelation. The parchment didn't appear to be particularly old or fragile, but he unfolded it like it was and began to read.

To Our Dearest Calliope,

Today was the day I have been awaiting for longer than I care to remember. So long in fact that I had nearly given up on it ever arriving. Today it was my honour to attend the ritual celebration of your betrothal to Draco. And in doing so, I witnessed the rebirth of the House of Black.

I had despaired that all was lost but now I know that it is not, though I am sorry the burden of its revival will fall to you. I had been longing for release from this mortal plane for a long time, but now I wish I had the strength to remain and aid you. I'm afraid this letter and it's accompanying journals are the best I can do. Read them carefully, the answers lie within.

Thankfully, I have confidence in the purity of your soul match, that you and Draco together, with your families, will be able to withstand whatever challenges this life sets in your path and by the time you read this, you will be prepared. In Draco you will, at least, have one comfort that I did not.

I could not be the wife that my husband wanted and was not allowed to be the partner in magic that he, and our House, needed. As a result I'm afraid the fruits of our once proud and robust family tree have dwindled and withered on the vine. Do not allow our legacy to slip through your fingers for another generation, for I am afraid there will not be another generation after that if you do.

Love your husband. Treasure your children.

Forget not the purity of your craft.

Toujours Pur

Melania Black

"I don't understand. How did she even know that you were going to be the next Lady Black, that the House would be ours to command?" He asked.

"Well, when she wrote this Sirius had already been in prison for a couple of years. She must have assumed what everybody else did, that it was only a matter of time before you were the only one left to inherit."

Draco nodded as he stared at it, and then flipped it over to see if he had missed something, but there was no more. "You know, for somebody who claims to want to be helpful, this is really vague."

Calliope giggled. "I know, right? But I think that might have been intentional, in case anybody besides me was able to break through her privacy charms. The journals are much more heavily enchanted, only you and I can read them. Also, what she says about her husband," she brushed one finger over that portion of the letter, "this must have been difficult to write. Especially because by writing this she was essentially admitting that her grandson was going to die in prison, her son and other grandson were already dead. It's kind of awful."

"True," he agreed, reading it had made his chest feel tight and suddenly he understood better what Calla had felt earlier when she'd read Bellatrix's letter: something very real, but something she couldn't explain. "What do you think she means? Do you know?"

"I don't know, and I don't know quite what to think. That's why I didn't tell you about this when I first found it, it's only been a couple of days but I just wanted…"

"What, love?"

"I felt like I needed to have it all figured out before I did. This letter is addressed to me. I didn't want to add to your worries by showing it to you without even having an explanation. But also my pride got in the way."

"Your pride?"

Her lip trembled. "I'm not prepared to be your wife," she practically wailed, "I'm so far behind learning all this pureblood stuff. I almost don't even know where to begin, and now I've been thrown into the deep end without knowing how to swim. I just don't want to be a disappointment to you," she slumped over as she finished.

"You could never," he shook his head vigorously. He had come in here expecting a fight but instead he was watching her crumple under the weight of her own perceived failures. A weight he'd just added to. He had told Theo just that morning that he never wanted to be the thing she had to fight to make their relationship work. He wanted to be strong for her, show her there wasn't any weight they couldn't carry together. This was his chance to get out of his own way and prove himself. "Whatever you don't know, you can learn, I will help you. None of this is your fault and I certainly don't...I don't know, what are you worried about Calla, that I'll resent you?

"Maybe."

"Do you resent me for not knowing about muggles?"

"No," she answered, and he could tell that she hadn't even needed to think about it.

"Well, if you aren't going to hold the way that I was raised against me, then I'd like for you to extend me the same courtesy."

"I didn't think of it that way."

"Of course you didn't," he let out a sardonic little laugh. "You're used to doing everything by yourself, but this is what you have me for, isn't it? Haven't we just established that?"

"Yes."

"Well then, let me help you figure out what this," he shook the parchment, "is all about, and maybe while we're at it we can figure out what the hell is going on inside my aunt Bellatrix's head, because the way you've presented this to me, you think they're connected somehow, don't you?"

She nodded. "Connected or," she waved one hand around, trying to put a thought into words, "or maybe they inform each other?"

"Okay, love, let's get going if you don't mind. Then maybe we can have an easy day tomorrow, but I don't think I can just forget about this thing with Bellatrix."

"Alright, we can hope. But, Draco?"

"Yes?"

"Next time try and talk to me instead of yelling at me when you're overwhelmed."

"That's fair. Next time tell me what's going on instead of trying to handle it yourself, okay?" He waved the parchment again demonstratively.

"That's fair too."

"Am I forgiven?"

"Yes, but- I'm still upset, Draco. What you said was really hurtful."

"I'm sorry," he bent his head and kissed her shoulder. "Very sorry. There's no excuse for hurting you. I'll do better."

She nodded, though he wasn't foolish enough to think he was off the hook, she was just putting it aside for the moment, and crawled across the bed to retrieve a pile of leather journals that were sitting on the nightstand. She handed him one. "I've been through that one already, but I think you should look through it too, I think our different perspectives would be beneficial," she paused and looked up at him. "What do you think?" She added.

That simple question made his heart well with happiness. "I think that sounds like a very good plan."

She smiled, curled against his side, and opened the journal she'd gotten for herself.

They had been reading quietly for the better part of an hour when she spoke again. "Do you really think I was mis-sorted?" She asked quietly.

He squirmed, the last thing he wanted right now was another fight. "You're the one who told us the hat wanted to put you in Slytherin," he defended.

"That wasn't the question."

"Okay then," he sighed. "Yes, but not because I don't think you're brave or bold enough for Gryffindor, I just don't think those are your defining characteristics."

"What are they, then?"

"Your heart."

She looked completely taken aback. "My heart?"

"Yes. You're brave and bold, and you're brilliant, and hardworking too. But you always want to use those traits as means to achieve a goal. You aren't a glory seeker, nor are you pedantic. You're the most ambitious person I've ever met, and I'm my father's son. So yes, I think you belong in Slytherin. I think you have the best of all the houses, but I think your heart is with us. And you always act on what your heart tells you to do."

"That's really interesting coming from somebody who, just a few hours ago, accused me of basically the complete opposite," she answered pointedly.

"Yes, well," he sighed, he definitely wasn't off the hook, "obviously even I didn't really believe what I was saying. I was just scared. Which is not an excuse," he added quickly, "that's just what happened."

She glanced at him and shrugged. "You were wrong, but you reacted like that because you have a big heart too, but nobody's ever told you to follow it."

He looked at her long and hard. "They didn't need to."