Hello, sweet friends! I am back with a new long fic, and it is Dramione.

I hope everybody reading this is safe and healthy. Sending love and hopefully a few minutes' distraction.





"I can help you, Draco," said Dumbledore.

"No, you can't," said Malfoy, his wand hand shaking very badly indeed. "Nobody can. He told me to do it or he'll kill me. I've got no choice."

"He cannot kill you if you are already dead. Come over to the right side, Draco, and we can hide you more completely than you can possibly imagine. What is more, I can send members of the Order to your mother tonight to hide her likewise. Nobody would be surprised that you had died in your attempt to kill me—forgive me, but Lord Voldemort probably expects it. Nor would the Death Eaters be surprised that we had captured and killed your mother—it is what they would do themselves, after all. Your father is safe at the moment in Azkaban. … When the time comes we can protect him too. Come over to the right side, Draco … you are not a killer …"

Malfoy stared at Dumbledore.

"But I got this far, didn't I?" he said slowly. "They thought I'd die in the attempt, but I'm here … and you're in my power … I'm the one with the wand … you're at my mercy …"

"No, Draco," said Dumbledore quietly. "It is my mercy, and not yours, that matters now."

Malfoy did not speak. His mouth was open, his wand hand still trembling …


With every passing second, the wand in Draco's hand seemed to grow heavier.

Do it, hissed Bella's voice in his mind. Kill him, Draco … the filthy Muggle-lover … look at his ruined hand, look at how he stands, how he breathes. He is as good as dead already! Kill him now!

Draco had been hearing Bellatrix's voice all year. In the days after his assignment, her fanatical energy had felt like a gift. She knew as well as he did that the Dark Lord had given him this mission to punish his father—and yet, she'd said, think, think of what you might achieve, Draco! It is a chance that any faithful servant of the Dark Lord would die for, to serve him beyond all others!

Draco had repeated the idea to himself so many times that it had become a liturgy. This wasn't a death sentence at all. It was an invitation to the Dark Lord's right hand, and if he could only kill Dumbledore, he would cross the finish line, ensure his family's status forever, and win power and glory beyond imagining. Kill Dumbledore, and end the dark year at last.

But now, as the night wind stung his eyes, as he stood shivering upon the cusp of victory, Draco allowed himself to imagine it fully. He saw himself sitting beside the Dark Lord as his most honored deputy. And he saw the truth, glowing steadily and ominously like a faint red light behind everything else. He thought he might have known it for months already.

This was not a finish line. It was the starting gate. Kill once, and he would need to kill again and again to survive. And even then, even if he gave the Dark Lord decades of loyal, absolute service, he wouldn't be safe. He could be brutally punished at any time for a single error, as his father had been.

He thought wildly of his parents, then of Crabbe and Goyle, Pansy and Blaise. They would suffer for his failures the way he'd suffered for his father's. His life would be the dark year drawn out forever into the future, a lifetime spent beneath a knife that hung by a thread.

Draco clutched harder to the wand, telling himself to act—to say the incantation—to make the choice—but the world seemed to be dissolving around him. Everything was coming apart into incomprehensible patches of texture and sensation. There was this: the pale green light that shimmered down from the Dark Mark overhead, undulating over stone and flesh and rampart, like standing in an underwater place. And this: the tacky stick and reek of cloth in the damp pit of his right arm, where his robes had bunched; he hadn't showered in three days, sleepless with preparation. And this: the hiss and whip of the wind at the top of the world.

This. The depth of the lines in the old man's face. Draco was standing close enough to see where the silver hair joined to the ancient skin, like a thousand silk threads coming out of old, soft fabric.

Bella's voice seemed to fade, replaced by an echo of Dumbledore's gentle words. It is my mercy, not yours, that matters now.

The old man was right. There was no mercy anywhere else.

His hand trembling more violently than ever, Draco lowered the wand.

A resounding bang came from the stairwell behind him, followed by the distant crash of stone hitting stone. The voices below that had been growing louder were suddenly shut away, leaving the ramparts silent, as if they were miles away from the rest of the castle.

Draco didn't even react. He was swaying, lightheaded.

"We must move at once," said Dumbledore. Seeming to draw strength from a place it caused him great pain to access, he grasped the ramparts and pulled himself slowly, excruciatingly upright. "Time is very short. Your wand, Draco … as quickly as you can, please."

Draco handed the wand to Dumbledore, but his eyes were fixed on the flagstones. He couldn't watch his own body act, couldn't fully understand it even as he did it.

Dumbledore aimed the wand over the ramparts and whispered, "Accio!"

A moment's silence. Then Dumbledore's own wand flew up out of the darkness, cut through the night winds with a thwip, and landed in his waiting hand. Dumbledore aimed both wands at the door to the stairwell—Draco flinched backward at the motion—and the door flew shut, sealing away new sounds of shifting rock. Draco heard the lock snap into place.

Dumbledore returned Draco's wand and indicated the brooms that still leaned against the ramparts. "Take the faster of the two," he rasped. "Fly to Hagrid's hut and wait there. We will speak soon enough."

Draco was jarred back to his senses. Hagrid's hut? Was that supposed to be the security Dumbledore had promised? "But—I—you said—"

"You will know the full plan soon, Draco," Dumbledore insisted, his brilliantly blue eyes meeting Draco's over the rims of his half-moon spectacles. "For now, there is no time. I must ask you to fly to Hagrid … to trust, if not my judgment, my rather prodigious skill." Dumbledore managed a feeble smile.

Draco hesitated. Dumbledore was visibly weakened, and the Death Eaters were on their way, and Snape had made the Vow to his mother. If someone else finished Dumbledore … if no one knew Dumbledore had promised to protect him …

Then a muffled shout issued from the stairwell. Draco flinched, swallowed, and jerked his head in a reluctant nod.

"Good," Dumbledore said. "The final touch, then …" He rapped Draco on the head with his wand. Draco felt something cold trickle down his back as the Disillusionment charm erased him.

"Go, now," Dumbledore whispered.

As Draco seized one broom, Dumbledore summoned the other. Draco glanced back as he mounted and couldn't help but pause at the sight. Under Dumbledore's wand, the second broom's long handle was swelling like an arthritic finger, bulging outward first at random, then to mimic what were unmistakably hips, ribs, and shoulders. The wood softened, seeming to melt until it looked like pale skin, and the handle split into two legs, draped with the soft black cloth of a fallen robe. The bristles shortened and shone until they had become white-blond hair, framing a sphere of wood that elongated into a human face—Draco's own face.

Within seconds, another Draco Malfoy lay before them, motionless, quite convincingly dead. Dumbledore pulled up its left sleeve to reveal the skull and the snake intertwined there.

Draco stared into the face that had stared back at him in the mirror all year, the body he had wished he could escape. Even he couldn't discern a difference between his own self and the thing he was about to leave behind, the corpse with the mark written upon its pale forearm.

Dumbledore looked up. "Go," he said.

Draco kicked off, hard, into darkness and wind.


He didn't know how much time had passed. The shock of what he'd done was still beating slowly through him, distorting his perspective. It might have been ten minutes or an hour since he'd lowered the wand.

He sat in silence at Hagrid's rough wooden table and watched the fire crackle. He refused to look at Hagrid, who seemed to loom in the corner of his eye no matter which direction Draco turned.

To say the gamekeeper had been surprised to see him was an understatement. Thankfully, the oaf hadn't asked for information. He'd just grunted, his obvious dislike mingled with suspicion, and yanked out an empty chair for Draco to take.

Vaguely, it occurred to Draco how ridiculous it was that someone of Hagrid's size lived in a place like this. It was the kind of thought he might have shaped into a joke last year to make Crabbe and Goyle laugh, before things like making his friends laugh had become unimportant.

He tried not to think where Crabbe and Goyle might be now. An unwanted memory resurfaced: the moment that Fenrir Greyback had muscled his way out of the Vanishing Cabinet into the Room of Requirement. Draco hadn't expected him, hadn't wanted him. It was only supposed to be Yaxley, Gibbon, Rowle, and the Carrows, all dangerous, but all at least reliable. The sudden appearance of Greyback—the way he towered over them, the size and the rancid smell of him, everything about him an invasion—had made Draco's mouth go dry.

Crabbe, miraculously, had stood his ground as Greyback bore down on them, but Draco and Goyle had shied back a few steps, which had made the werewolf roar with laughter. Draco had collected himself almost at once, his cheeks hot. "I didn't ask you here, werewolf," he'd said through gritted teeth. "Go back. Are you listening to me? Go back in!"

But Greyback and the others were already stalking toward the exit, speaking in low, excited voices, ignoring Draco.

Crabbe and Goyle looked to Draco, expecting instructions. For an instant he could only look back at them, wondering with a rush of panic where Blaise and Pansy were. Draco knew Greyback would attack them as he would attack anyone in the castle, indiscriminately.

"You two stay here," he ordered Crabbe and Goyle. "Keep the Room open so we don't waste time getting back in after I—a-after it's done."

Then Draco strode through the towering aisles of forgotten objects to meet the others. He would not run. Running was a mark of desperation and would make him look like a child, and he wasn't a child. He'd planned this entire attack, hadn't he? At its end, he would be not just a man but one of the most feared men in the country—and when he had the Dark Lord's favor, he would make Greyback pay for ever dismissing him.

The thought had heartened him. It had made him feel powerful.

Now Draco stared into the fire, his palms sweating. He felt ill. In a matter of hours, Crabbe, Goyle, Pansy, and Blaise would all think he was dead. Tomorrow Dumbledore would make some grave speech about it to the school, probably about how his death had been the Dark Lord's fault, and just one more reason to stand together and fight him.

Draco gritted his teeth. He didn't want to be used like that. His advice to the other Slytherins wouldn't be to take up arms against the Dark Lord—it would be sit down and stay silent. If someone in power tells you what to do, do it, whether that's You-Know-Who or Dumbledore. Don't be a hero. Don't try to figure out what you believe. Survive. Disappear.

He told himself again that he had made the right decision. Dumbledore was a fool when it came to things like his trust of Snape and his worship of Potter, but the headmaster had defied the Dark Lord for decades. He could hide them, surely. Draco and his parents could flee the country, change their names and keep their heritage boxed away. They would be safe and obscure, no one.

Draco closed his eyes. The flames danced dully in abstract shapes behind his eyelids. If someone had told him two years ago that he, the heir to the House of Malfoy, would ever hope to fade into insignificance, he would have laughed in their face. Of course, a lot of things had seemed funny before.

Hagrid broke the silence after what must have been hours. "Tha's Professor McGonagall comin' now," he rumbled from across the table, his eyes fixed on the window.

Draco looked up as the door opened and McGonagall strode into the hut. Her face was smudged with rock dust, her temple bruised, and a thin red scrape was drawn across her jaw. She closed the door and checked that all the curtains were drawn before turning to face him. McGonagall's gaze was always unforgiving, but Draco thought it felt even more penetrating than usual tonight. He avoided it.

"Wha's happened?" said Hagrid, staring at McGonagall. "Yeh've been hurt!"

"Death Eaters, Hagrid." Her eyes were still boring into Draco. "They gained entry to the castle. You didn't see the Dark Mark, then?"

"I was sleepin' until Malfoy turned up! Ruddy hell, are they still here? Do yeh need me ter fight?"

"No need, no. Professor Dumbledore returned to the castle in time to turn the tide, very fortunately."

"An'—an' everyone's all right?"

She managed a thin smile. "We have all our limbs, Hagrid, yes."

"Oh." Hagrid huffed out a long breath. "Good. Well, then. Yeh … yeh want a cuppa, Minerva?"

"No time, I'm afraid," she said, turning to Draco fully now. "Mr. Malfoy. Professor Dumbledore has explained the circumstances."

Draco still didn't look up, but he could feel Hagrid's curious stare joining McGonagall's accusing one.

"I'm sure you will be relieved to hear," she went on, "that none of your classmates were injured by the Death Eaters tonight. As for the Vanishing Cabinet, it has been dismantled, and the passage between them closed."

Malfoy didn't answer. If McGonagall was waiting for him to weep with joy for the Death Eaters' failure and repent upon his knees, she would be waiting a long time. He could hear the judgment in her voice, the poorly disguised anger, even disbelief of what he'd done. She hadn't really understood the circumstances at all, then.

He found himself thinking, begrudgingly, of how Dumbledore had listened to him. Dumbledore, at least, had acknowledged the danger he faced.

Still … his friends were unhurt. A knot eased inside his stomach.

"What about my mother?" he said, more belligerently than he'd intended.

McGonagall's lips thinned, but she answered in a level voice. "Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks have already been sent to retrieve her from your home."

He looked up at that. "They think they're just going to walk in, do they? My cousin, who's been an Auror for about seven seconds, and a patched-up werewolf who—"

"That will do," McGonagall barked. "I assure you, Mr. Malfoy, our Order members are quite capable of doing the task assigned to them. And, as you yourself are meant to have attacked Albus Dumbledore tonight, signs of a struggle at your home will only send a clearer response to the Death Eaters."

"Signs of a—you're not—" Draco struggled for words. "They won't—?"

McGonagall paused. For the first time, she seemed to soften slightly. "Your mother will not be harmed, of course. Lupin has taken along a vial containing Dumbledore's memory of tonight's events. Narcissa will be shown that you are safe and well, and urged to come and meet you." She paused. "As for a struggle, I mean that Remus and Tonks will break any protective enchantments at your home and lay evidence of a fight to match our story."

Draco looked away. "All right, then," he muttered. "And the Death Eaters? Have you killed them yet?"

A moment's ringing silence. When he glanced back, both teachers looked shocked by the question. Or maybe they were shocked by the way he'd said it, dully, as if it cost him nothing.

Draco couldn't keep the contempt from his expression now. Did they really think he felt any affection for the other Death Eaters, who had stood back and laughed while Draco was threatened, his father slandered, his mother mistreated? Kill them all, he thought savagely, what does it matter.

"No, Mr. Malfoy," said McGonagall with a deep, concerned frown. "One Death Eater was killed in the crossfire, but the others are being transferred to Ministry custody within the hour. We intend to allow one of the Carrows to make a narrow escape, so that You-Know-Who will learn the details of your death tonight. Otherwise he might be inclined to investigate your mother's disappearance too closely." She pursed her lips. "It goes without saying that we would rather not allow any Death Eater to go free. But it is certainly better for Alecto or Amycus to escape than Greyback."

"I didn't let him in here," Draco said under his breath. His face felt hot and full, as if his blood had turned to boiling water. "Greyback wasn't supposed to come."

If McGonagall heard him, she made no sign. She was rummaging in a bag.

He raised his voice. "Where are you taking me? What's this safe place Dumbledore says you've got?"

"You will be sheltered at Order headquarters. We'll go up to the castle now; you're to use the Floo Network. You come too, Hagrid. Albus would like to fill you in. Ah, yes—here." Something soft and silvery spilled out of McGonagall's bag. Draco recognized it as an Invisibility Cloak. "Up, now, Malfoy. Put this on."

He rose automatically on legs that still felt unsteady and took the Cloak. As they slipped out onto the dark grounds, McGonagall went on. "Professor Snape is attending to Professor Dumbledore in the Hospi—"

Draco stopped dead, half-under the Cloak. "Snape?" he said. "He—he doesn't know about this, does he?"

"Of course he does."

Draco stared back at her aghast. He could hardly believe that they could have been so stupid. "Then you're going to get us killed!"

"Merlin's beard," Hagrid said, "keep yer voice down."

"I'm telling you," Draco hissed, looking frantically between the two teachers, "you have to listen to me. Snape works for the Dark Lord. He's been trying to help me get to Dumbledore all year. If you've told Snape the plan, I'm as good as dead already."

"Mr. Malfoy, please," said McGonagall sharply. "Severus will be no more involved in your concealment than any other member of the Order. Professor Dumbledore has sworn to see to you and your parents' wellbeing personally. I assure you he is up to the task."

Draco hardly heard her. The only thing that mattered was that she wasn't listening, she didn't believe him. His heart was pounding in his ears, and new fear was rushing through him, making his whole body cold. He'd trusted Dumbledore to think up something advanced, something unbeatable—and instead the old fool had had gone right to Snape. The moment Snape was unattended, he would tell the Dark Lord the truth. Draco could see it all playing out in his mind: the Death Eaters would beat the Aurors to his mother. They would torture and kill her, and then his father. Draco would be responsible.

His thoughts raced madly into the past, back to his own idiotic choice. He'd had Dumbledore powerless in front of him! He should have killed the old man, yes, he saw that now … should have killed him and found some way to fake his own death, to make his own escape … but it was too late now. He'd succeeded where nobody had thought him capable of success, and in the end, he and his parents would die in pain and disgrace anyway.

Unless …

A glimmer of hope appeared. He tried to swallow and couldn't. The lump in his throat was as large and sharp as a clump of broken glass.


Could Snape choose to lie for them?

Draco knew he was Snape's favorite student. He'd always been best in the class at Potions, besides the Granger Mudblood, anyway. And hadn't Snape tried to help him all year? Hadn't Snape, unknown even to the Dark Lord, sworn an Unbreakable Vow to help Draco?

Maybe there was a chance.

If he or his parents had posed a threat to the Dark Lord, it would have been Snape's sworn duty to reveal them, or just kill them himself. But surely they had no information that the Order didn't already have. Draco had been entrusted with nothing, his father had been locked in Azkaban for a year, and his mother was not a Death Eater. It wasn't as if they were helping the Order of the Phoenix—they were trying to disappear, nothing more.

Was it so impossible that Snape would show mercy, simply allow the Malfoys to evaporate?

Besides, he realized with a fresh surge of hope, Snape can't do anything right away. Double agents had to think tactically. As long as Dumbledore lived, Snape had to keep the secret, or his loyalties would be revealed.

Draco loosed a slow breath. Yes. That was good, solid reasoning. He had some time, then. Snape would surely seek to kill Dumbledore soon, to fulfill the Vow, but Dumbledore didn't need to survive forever, only long enough to hide Draco and his parents somewhere not even Snape knew.

Until that time, as long as Dumbledore lived, he was safe.

"Fine," he said. "Let's go." He let the Invisibility Cloak fall over him and followed McGonagall up the long, sweeping lawn.


Draco hadn't seen the castle so empty all year. Sneaking up to and down from the Room of Requirement, he'd had dozens of near misses with inconveniently placed Order members on patrol, or teachers out of their beds, looking sleepless and harried, their wands held loosely in their hands as if they were always expecting attack.

Now they didn't pass so much as a ghost. Most of the portraits were sleeping in their frames, although occasionally a figure would stir and watch McGonagall and Hagrid, seemingly alone, pass down the corridors.

The torchlight shone through Draco's invisible body as he followed the teachers up a long staircase. He felt a kind of exhaustion beyond physical tiredness. The morning seemed as if it had happened a year ago, when he'd jerked awake in the Slytherin dormitory with the same fear that had been closing in on him for months now, the feeling that his time was running out. He felt mostly numb, now, and yet as he gazed blankly around at the halls of Hogwarts, knowing he could never come back, his insides seemed to coil and twist like a nest of serpents.

"Ah, Minerva. Lock the door, please," said Dumbledore's voice as they entered the Hospital Wing. It was so late that he was entirely alone. Even Madam Pomfrey had gone to sleep.

"Professor Dumbledore!" Hagrid's eyes widened at the sight of the headmaster lying in the infirmary bed. In his haste to get to Dumbledore's side, he accidentally clipped an empty bed with one of his enormous knees, sending it flying aside with a resounding clang as if it were made of straw.

Draco hardly noticed. He had stopped in his tracks.

A second person lay motionless in a nearby bed, a figure with Weasley-red hair. Draco couldn't tell if he knew him, because the face had been mangled and torn so violently that his features resembled a red blur.

Draco felt as if he'd been kicked in the stomach. He wanted to look away, but he couldn't. Hadn't McGonagall said that none of the students had been hurt?—but of course, most of the Weasleys had left Hogwarts … Draco remembered how the twins had left last year, flying out of the Entrance Hall, Umbridge raging after them. He remembered feeling a reluctant sense of amusement, even admiration. He'd had to wipe the tiny smirk off his face when Umbridge had rounded, seething, on the Inquisitorial Squad, her face so shiny and purple that she'd looked like a peeled onion.

Draco's mouth was slightly open. He realized his vision was blackening slightly at the edges with the speed of his breathing. He finally managed to tear his eyes from the deep gashes, from the skin that had been arranged delicately back into place like a hideous puzzle, but his thoughts felt disorganized. The Hospital Wing seemed too bright. He knew without needing to ask that the wounds were from Greyback. Had Dumbledore asked him here so he would be forced to see this, the consequences of what had happened tonight? So was he meant to feel guilty, even responsible?

No, Draco thought with a kind of furious panic. No, he refused to feel responsible. What good was it for him to feel that, or even to see the destroyed face? He'd turned his back on the Death Eaters. What more could he do? Anyway, he'd told Greyback to go. He seized on that fact and held it tight. Go back, he'd said. Go back …

"Draco," said Dumbledore. "Please, show yourself."

Still breathing hard, Draco realized he didn't want to take off the Cloak. He didn't want Dumbledore to see him again, not standing feet from the mauled body, where the line could be drawn so obviously between them. What if Dumbledore changed his mind and decided he didn't want to help him anymore? He knew he couldn't last on his own.

"Now, Mr. Malfoy," said McGonagall impatiently, holding out her hand. "The headmaster needs rest, and you need to leave as soon as you can."

Draco swallowed, took off the Cloak, and dropped it into McGonagall's waiting hand.

Dumbledore looked slightly concerned at the sight of his face. "Are you all right, dear boy?" he asked.

Draco stared at the old man. All right? Was that a test? Was he supposed to compare himself to the horrible injuries of the figure in the bed, and to realize that he was all right, but only at the expense of whichever Order member it was? Was that the psychological game Dumbledore was playing?

Draco realized his face had twisted up. "Never been better," he forced out.

McGonagall and Hagrid looked irritated, but Dumbledore was as serene as ever, twinkling away in his bed. Draco didn't want to look at them—all Gryffindors, he realized, standing unified against him. Instead he glared at Dumbledore's blackened hand lying against the white sheets.

"Well?" he said. "When are you going to get my father out of Azkaban?"

Hagrid let out a furious, strangled noise. "Get—get 'is—what?" Even McGonagall couldn't restrain an odd little sound that sounded a bit like a cat choking on a hairball.

Dumbledore did not look at either of them. He met Draco's eyes, and almost at once, Draco felt an inexplicable sense of safety settle over him. He hated himself for the feeling—so far, hadn't Dumbledore done little more than hurl him back into danger with his idiotic trust of Snape?—and yet there was something in the ancient face that still radiated power, and therefore reassurance.

"As I said earlier," Dumbledore said calmly, "Lucius is safe enough in Azkaban for the time being. There is no need to fear for his life, especially now that Lord Voldemort will consider him, after the apparent death of his son and wife, more than sufficiently punished. In fact," he added mildly, as if commenting on the weather, "if we act out his death immediately after your mother's, it will make both deaths rather less convincing, I think."

"But you know how you're going to do it? You have a plan?"

Dumbledore inclined his head.

"Well?" Draco said impatiently. "What is it?"

"Malfoy," barked McGonagall, who clearly thought he was being too demanding with a convalescent man over a century old. But Dumbledore silenced her by lifting his healthy hand, which, Draco noticed, was not trembling nearly so badly now as it had on top of the tower.

"Sometime in the coming weeks," said Dumbledore calmly, "members of the Order will visit Lucius in Azkaban under the guise of informing him of your death. They will, of course, tell him the truth instead. They will also provide him with a dose of Draught of Living Death to drink soon thereafter." One corner of Dumbledore's mouth lifted. "After his burial in the family plot, I daresay we might find him under slightly less surveillance. Then he can be fetched back to headquarters, too."

Hagrid couldn't seem to contain himself. "But Professor Dumbledore, sir," he burst out, "how are we ter know Lucius Malfoy won't run righ' back to You-Know-Who after gettin' out of Azkaban?"

Draco snapped. Part of him had been waiting for something like this, waiting to vent some tiny fraction of his fear and anger. "Because," he snarled, "my father's smart enough not to waltz back to the Dark Lord while your lot have my mother and me all but captive at your headquarters. Thank God I'm not relying on your brains to keep us alive."

The expected maroon color flooded Hagrid's cheeks. Draco wanted him to retort, wanted an excuse to fight, but before Hagrid could respond, Dumbledore broke in.

"To your question, Hagrid," he said, voice slightly raised, "I do not believe that Lucius would risk his wife and son for anything, especially for a loyalty to Lord Voldemort that wavered so soon after his master first lost his body."

Now he looked toward Draco, stern-faced for the first time since Draco had said the word "Mudblood" on top of the Astronomy Tower. "Draco," he said with a touch of steel. "Not just here, but while you are at headquarters, I must ask you never to speak to a member of the Order that way again. To protect you puts them all at risk. You owe them, if not your gratitude, your respect."

Draco clenched his jaw. All sorts of thoughts flew through his head, namely that he hadn't asked for the oaf's help, that he wouldn't trust Hagrid as far as he could throw the great lump, that—far from protecting him—if Hagrid didn't wind up compromising his family's safety by sheer carelessness it would be an absolute miracle.

But he knew insulting Hagrid would do nothing. It was Dumbledore he needed to keep happy, so he twitched his head in the smallest nod he could manage.

Dumbledore didn't look wholly convinced. "You will promise to treat everyone who enters Order headquarters with respect?"

Draco closed his eyes. He could only imagine what would come pouring into that place come summer. Harry bloody Potter, he supposed, and the Weasel King, and the Mudblood Encyclopedia. Not to mention werewolves and blood traitors and Aurors and generally no one he wanted to see under any circumstances ever.

"What does it matter?" Draco ground out.

"Oh, it matters greatly, Draco." Dumbledore sighed and lifted a goblet from the bedside. He sipped the potion inside, grimaced, and then straightened slightly against his cushions. "To respect each other," he said, with more strength, "no matter our differences, is the most fundamental distinction between what the Order practices and what the Dark Lord espouses among his followers. We will have much to accomplish this summer, and—"

"I'm not working for you." The words were out of Draco's mouth before he'd planned them.

Dumbledore looked at him with polite interest. "Oh?"

Draco felt both Hagrid's and McGonagall's disapproving looks hot on the side of his face, but he lifted his chin defiantly. "You heard me," he said coldly. "I said I'm not working for you. Snape might keep quiet if he thinks my parents and I are just hiding, but if he thinks we're working against the Death Eaters, there's no chance he won't tell the Dark Lord."

"Professor Snape has been instructed not to reveal your survival to—"

"He isn't working for you! What do I have to do to get that through your—"

"That is enough, Malfoy!" Professor McGonagall snapped. "Really!"

Draco rounded on her, but before he could snap back, Dumbledore intervened again.

"Please, Minerva. Have patience. Draco has suffered a dreadful ordeal, and Severus does, after all, play his part convincingly enough to fool even Lord Voldemort. It is perfectly natural for Draco to be concerned for his and his family's wellbeing."

Draco just stared at Dumbledore. He had no idea what he was supposed to feel at this collection of sentences. Were they condescending? Yes. Mollifying? Also yes, somehow.

Draco couldn't understand the old man at all. He seemed so understanding of everyone and everything that it was like he wasn't a person at all, just a ghostlike entity who drifted between a thousand points of view, acknowledging them all to be perfectly natural without ever really feeling anything of his own. He even spoke about the Dark Lord with a bizarre kind of understanding.

Draco wanted to decide it was pathetic, but he couldn't get beyond the fact that it was completely incomprehensible. What, did Dumbledore never judge anyone? Did he never prefer anyone or dislike anyone? How could he even be on his own side and say that Draco had "suffered a dreadful ordeal"? Draco would almost have preferred Dumbledore to look at him with loathing; at least that would have made sense.

Anyway, he'd shut McGonagall up, so there was that small blessing.

"I do not expect you to assist the Order of the Phoenix, Draco," said Dumbledore lightly, as if nothing had interrupted his original speech. "It is enough of a victory, in terms of our aims, for three people close to the Dark Lord to cease working against us. And it will be difficult enough for you to leave behind everything you know, to be thought dead."

Draco had no response to that, either. Dumbledore's expression was a bit too knowing, as if he'd guessed what Draco was imagining. His friends' faces when they learned what had supposedly happened to him. The silence in their compartment on the Hogwarts Express back home.

"What are you going to tell them?" he muttered, looking at the floor.

"I will announce to the school that you had been sworn into Lord Voldemort's service and ordered to kill me, or be murdered yourself. I will tell them, too, that you admitted to the attacks that hurt Katie Bell and Ron Weasley. Yes, Draco," he added more quietly, "I'm afraid the school deserves to know the truth about that. The more of your behavior this year they understand, the more they will be able to understand the kind of future that awaits them under Voldemort's rule."

"So, you're going to use me as a warning, are you?" Still looking at the Hospital Wing's scrubbed floors, Draco couldn't quite keep the sneer out of his voice. "Be careful or you'll wind up like Draco Malfoy. Join up now, and resist the Dark Lord, so we don't have any more Draco Malfoys in the world. Except you're still getting them killed that way, aren't you?"

Dumbledore did not reply for a moment. When Draco looked up, he felt an uncertain lurch at the expression on Dumbledore's face. The old man's eyes were bright and full of pain.

"Yes," Dumbledore said quietly. "For those like you, Draco, who come of age in times like these, I'm afraid that is the only choice left to make: whether to stand against evil, at risk of being cut down by its many terrible weapons—or to come quietly, and be led, voiceless, into its center."

Draco couldn't answer. His throat had constricted.

"Is there anything else you wish to ask me before you go?" Dumbledore asked.

"Who … who's that," said Draco, unable to look at the other bed.

"Bill Weasley. He was Head Boy here in his time, and a Prefect like yourself. I believe you know his youngest brother, Ron, and his sister Ginny. He will recover, though his life will, of course, be different." Dumbledore paused. "If that is all, then please read this."

He handed Draco a slip of parchment. It read: The Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix is located at Number 12, Grimmauld Place.

Hardly had Draco read the words when the parchment burst into a heatless flame. In seconds it had gone.

"Goodnight, Draco," Dumbledore said, taking off his spectacles. His face looked strangely and soft and naked without them. "Thank you for what you did tonight."

Mad, Draco thought.

"Night," he muttered, and then he let McGonagall steer him away, through the halls one last time, and into her office, where he cast a pinch of glittering green powder upon an empty grate, spoke the address, and left his life behind.




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