Title: Veritas Amo

Author: Rosa di Corte

Category: Romance/Mystery

Pairing: Draco/Ginny, Ginny/Draco

Summary: Amidst the Second War, in a changing world, two people – Ginevra Weasley and Draco Malfoy – find themselves; and each other… D/G; AU after Book 5

Spoilers: Books 1-5; Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Quidditch Through the Ages

Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all related characters and concepts are the property of J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury Publishing, Scholastic, and Warner Bros., among others. Only the plot and any unfamiliar characters are mine.

Author's Note: I know this update is about a year and a half late, and for that I apologize. I have not abandoned this story, and I fully intend to finish it, hopefully in the next few months. This effort would be made monumentally easier if I had a beta. If there is anyone interested in the position, please email me. Thanks for your patience and loyalty, and enjoy Chapter 7.


"Ginny," came an unwelcome voice, coupled with an insistent rap on the closed door, intruding upon the silence in which the small red head had cacooned herself. Ginny shifted slightly on her bed in the Burrow, burying the note she had been writing to Blaise under her pillow, and steeled herself to face the person behind the door.

"Come in," she called out, quite certain that even if she had decided to ignore the knock at the door and had refused to grant access, her private domain would still be invaded.

"Ginny, dear," Molly Weasley began even before she had fully stepped into the younger girl's room, "I'm heading out now to run a few errands, and I need you to keep an eye on little Sabine for me." Once fully through the threshold, the Weasley matriarch looked critically around the bedroom. Ginny's privacy was precious to her, and Molly Weasley had been permitted inside this room only a handful of times since the beginning of the summer holidays, much to her – loudly vocalized – displeasure. Without waiting for Ginny's – assumedly affirmative – response, she continued on. "What is it that you do, shut up in this room all day, anyway? You should get out more, dear… and the garden needs a good degnoming, anyway."

Ginny simply pursed her lips and nodded slightly, quite tired of arguing with the woman in front of her. The weeks since she had returned home from her fifth year at Hogwarts had been filled with loud arguments, disappointed faces, and angry glares. Her family, it turned out, had not decided to graciously accept her relationship with a certain dark-haired Slytherin, and for the past few weeks had been certain to make their objections known. Molly absolutely loathed the idea that Ginny was friends – friends! – with the older boy, and Arthur seemed to mostly agree with his wife. Bill was away on a mission for the Order, so she had not seen him since her return to gage his possible reactions. Charlie had actually tried to be understanding, though not wholly supportive: while he did not condemn her choice in friends, neither did he defend her against the attacks the other members of their family threw her way. Percy – ever the Ministry lackey – was fully against her association with 'that Zabini boy;' Ginny simply ignored the newly-returned prodigal son. Fred and George's reactions were much like Ron's had been months ago, except for the fact that undoubtedly more plots for intervention were being hatched by the dynamic – or as Ginny liked to think of them, demented – duo. Ron's anger actually seemed to have mellowed a bit: Like Charlie, Ron neither attacked nor defended her friendship with Blaise. Ginny considered this a blessing, as she had enough people voicing their displeasure with the situation. And though they had their differences, she never really did like fighting with her closest brother.

The constant tension in the Burrow, in conjunction with the fact that every person in the house – with the exception of Ginny and Bill's six-month-old daughter, Sabine – had their own tasks, their own purpose to fulfill for the Order, had left the sixteen-year-old constantly seeking solace in the isolation of her room. She had hoped that once she returned this summer, she would have been asked to help aid the fight against Voldemort; after all, she was the same age as the Golden Trio had been last year – when they had been inducted into the Order – and Ginny knew that the days were growing darker, and the Light side would need all of the help it could be offered. Her help, however, was apparently not wanted; though she would bet it was needed.

"Well, then," Molly continued, "I'll be back in a few hours." The plump woman bustled quickly back out the door, and Ginny stood to follow her, as was expected. "I've put Sabine down for her nap already, but she'll most likely be up in an hour or so," she continued, as Ginny followed her down through the hallway and down the stairs. "She'll be a bit fussy when she wakes, and you may just have to rock her for awhile –"

"Mum," Ginny cut in, holding in the visible signs of her irritation, "I've taken care of her before, I know what to do."

"Oh, of course, dear," Molly said a bit absently, and Ginny knew her mind had already wandered off to whatever errands she would be running – undoubtedly for the Order – that afternoon. "Well," she continued, shaking her head a bit to clear it, and focusing on the smaller girl, "I'll most likely be back before Arthur and the boys return, so don't worry about dinner. I'll make it when I come back." Ginny only nodded, more than a little certain that even if she had attempted to make dinner, it most likely would not have been edible. So why try? "Be careful, dear," Molly called out, before throwing some floo powder into the flames in the fireplace and calling out, "Diagon Alley." Ginny had not bothered to hide the rolling of her eyes at her mother's request for her safety.

Like anything could happen to me here at the Burrow, anyway, with all of the extra wards, Ginny thought cynically. I couldn't be any safer if I were locked in a vault in Gringotts, which I may as well be for all the good I'm doing here!

After the massacre last December, a whole new set of wards had been placed around the Burrow. Number 12 Grimmauld Place had become a hive of activity, and Dumbledore foresaw that it would likely be detrimental to have the Weasleys living there full time again in the summer. Therefore, the great Headmaster of Hogwarts had put up the new protection wards himself, going as far as to make the lopsided home unplottable.

Ginny sighed and shook away her irritated thoughts – dwelling on the circumstances didn't change anything. She had had enough. She was suffocating under all of the negative emotions her forced exclusion had wrought. Well, in truth, the exclusion only compounded on the pain she felt in her heart whenever she thought of Draco. She had given up trying to think of him as Malfoy again, but – whatever label used – she tried to avoid thinking of him altogether. Shoulders squared, Ginny headed back upstairs to her bedroom. Sabine would likely be up in less than the hour Molly Weasley predicted, as the baby never could stay asleep very long for her naps. Molly would not know this as well as Ginny, however, as it was Ginny who was trapped in the Burrow most often with the responsibility of caring for the child. Everyone else was quite busy aiding the war effort.

'Everyone' did not include Fleur Delacour Weasley, however. No one was quite sure where the part-veela had run off. It seemed that the responsibilities of wife and mother were not something the young woman was quite ready for – especially while her husband was away on work for the Order for months on end. When Bill had left on his mission for Dumbledore, Fleur had come to stay with the Weasley family at the Burrow. This had been at Bill's insistence, as he wanted his wife and daughter safe, and thought the wards on the Burrow would offer better protection than those at the Delacour estate.

Ginny had spent her first weeks back from Hogwarts helping Fleur with Sabine. The red head had discovered early on that focusing on the baby helped keep her mind away from less appealing subjects – such as blonde ferrets – so she threw herself into caring for her niece. And really, when those little cerulean eyes turned on her, how could she possibly hold onto any depressing thoughts?

Apparently, Sabine did not have the same uplifting affect on her own mother.

Fleur had always been a bit self-centered, in Ginny's opinion. One of Ginny's earliest memories of the girl was during her third year, when the beautiful blonde had laughed at Ron's invitation to the Yule Ball. Ginny understood that Ron was not one of the most hansome or suave boys around, but Fleur's reaction had been unnecessarily cruel. Of course, she was much nicer after Harry had saved her sister Gabrielle from the lake. The years since the Tri-Wizard Tournament had not seemed to mature the girl much. Ginny was old enough to realize that Fleur and Bill's relationship would only have lasted until the passion fizzled – it was all physical attraction for them. And that was precisely what landed them in the situation resulting in their marriage.

When Ginny had first arrived back form her fifth year at Hogwarts, Fleur had seemed grateful for her help with Sabine. However, within the first week, Fleur had begun handing more and more of the care-taking responsibilities over to Ginny – or Molly when she was home – while the young mother herself would escape the confines of the Burrow. It was from one such excursion that Fleur never returned. The Weasleys would have been concerned of foul play had the blond had not taken a good portion of her wardrobe and all of her jewelry with her. There had been no note; no explanations or farewells for her husband and child. Molly Weasley had been quick to take charge, as always, and decided the Burrow would be Sabine's home until Bill was ready to care for her. Still, Ginny's heart had gone out to the abandoned child, and she increased her efforts in looking after the young innocent.

In an effort to make the Burrow more of a home for Sabine, Ginny had even braved the ghoul in the attic to retrieve some old baby things. She had spent hours digging through the various trunks scattered around the top level of the Burrow: She had sifted through old family photographs – pictures of Weasley birthdays and Christmases; of Aunt Clara and Uncle Stefan on her father's side; of cousin Jareth who lived in Wales; of Bill and cousin Andy, who had died before Ginny was born. She had carefully foraged through trunks of cutesy knick-knacks, and a plethora of useless muggle contraptions. She had dug through piles of out-dated adult clothing and truly hideous draperies. Finally, somewhere in the middle of the large collection, Ginny had found the baby clothes, blankets, and toys she had originally come up to the attic for. Needless to say, when she had returned downstairs, covered in the dust that had once coated the trunks, she had headed straight for a nice, long shower.

Now, once more ensconced in her bedroom, Ginny finished the short – and admittedly boring – message to her Slytherin friend, and found Pigwidgeon to deliver it to Zabini Manor. A scant forty minutes later, her prediction regarding Sabine's sleeping habits proved true, and Ginny went to comfort the crying baby, in the makeshift nursery that had once been Bill's room. Once Sabine lay cradled in her arms, Ginny went to the kitchen to retrieve a prepared bottle for the baby. Returning to the nursery with a feeding Sabine, Ginny relaxed her body in the rocking chair next to the crib, and decided to enjoy the rare peaceful moment. For, surely, such tranquil quiet would not exist in the Burrow once Molly, Arthur, and the boys returned for dinner.

Draco Malfoy was certain this was the worst summer of his life.

Although he had returned to the manor knowing that things would not be as they had been the summer before, when Lucius had been in Azkaban, the gloom surrounding his childhood home seemed to be even darker than he could previously recall. Narcissa Malfoy once more filled the role of distant matriarch, though Draco was certain at times he caught glimpses of the woman he had come to know the summer before. And Lucius Malfoy… well, his time in Azkaban had certainly not made him more genial.

Draco's summer days had been filled with lessons with his tutors, whose presence at least drove Lucius into hiding in the East Wing most mornings after breakfast. He was not saved from the preachings of his father the rest of the day, however, and Draco longed for the days when Lucius had been too busy with work, and scheming to bring back the Dark Lord, to pay too much attention to his son. Oh, Lucius still schemed, but now on plans to aid Voldemort in destroying the Light side. And, much to Draco's displeasure, many of these new schemes all called for the involvement of the young Malfoy heir. Draco had felt twinges of hope when, twice, aurors had come to search the manor for the Malfoy Lord. But Lucius was well hidden by the magic of Malfoy Manor, and the empty-handed aurors had left behind a disappointed Draco each time.

The small respite Draco had found during the warm days had been his visits with Blaise and Pansy. The three friends could not meet often, but under the pretense of discussing the success of the Dark Lord with the two dark-haired Slytherins, Draco had managed to escape his father a handful of times. Even these meetings, however, were not the more carefree gatherings of their youth. As children, Draco, Blaise, and Pansy had spent much time together. They had been an oddity among the children of Slytherins, as their loyalty to each other had been apparent early on. In the innocence that came with youth, they had even formed a pact – using the thorns of roses found in the gardens of Malfoy Manor to shed and mingle their blood – to always be there for each other. Oh, the sentiment may now be more likely to come from a Gryffindor or a Hufflepuff, but at the age of eight, the three soon-to-be Slytherins had seen the value of their bonds with each other. And though, as many children, they had thought themselves invincible, even they could acknowledge they were stronger united, rather than divided.

These days, meeting with Blaise and Pansy always brought a bitter undercurrent for Draco. The obvious reasons for this were the implications and complications brought on by the ongoing war: Blaise had been quietly brooding since he had revealed to Draco his father's decision to join the Death Eaters. Damien Zabini had not yet taken the mark, but Draco knew it would be only a matter of time before the Dark Lord called for this sacrifice from the man. Pansy was not quite so obvious as Blaise with her reactions to the situation, but Draco could easily discern the despondency hidden in her movements and mannerisms.

The other damper on such gatherings for Draco was that, in his mind, Blaise was now associated with Ginny Weasley. Bad enough the red headed nymph would not leave his dreams. Blaise's presence seemed to thrust thoughts of the small girl from deep within the back of Draco's mind, where he had resolutely tried to bury her, to the forefront of his thoughts. Even the short snog with Veronica Dolohov before he had taken the Hogwarts Express back home from his sixth year at the school had in no way dulled the churning emotions that Ginny brought about in the blonde. He knew Veronica had expected a shag, but Draco had found it difficult enough to kiss the girl without constant thoughts of Ginny Weasley bombarding him. As it was, he had found the entire experience not wholly unpleasant – he was a seventeen-year-old boy, after all – but kissing Veronica had been nothing like the sheer ecstasy of snogging Ginny.

There were times when Draco had been tempted to pick up a quill and send the Gryffindor girl a note, asking – Malfoys do not beg – for another chance. These 'times' occurred most often after he had woken from another vivid dream starring the young red head. However, once the haze of sleep had fully lifted, Draco would quickly recall exactly why he could not be with the girl. After all, Lucius Malfoy was sleeping in the next wing over.

While, unknown to Draco, the red head that plagued his mind was sitting down to a dinner cooked by Molly Weasley with her family, the blonde Slytherin was given a message by an obviously cowed house-elf that his father wished to speak with him. Voiding the visible traces of emotion from his face, Draco made his way down to Lucius' study, where his father was waiting for him. After Lucius had granted the younger Malfoy entrance at his knock, the Malfoy Lord continued to look over some papers, ignoring his son. Draco understood this snub as a silent message, clarifying exactly who was in charge, should there be any question on the matter.

While waiting for Lucius to end his silent lesson, Draco took in his surroundings. He had not entered his father's study in almost two years. He found, however, that the room had not changed at all during his absence. The large mahogany desk, which Lucius sat behind, was centered at the far wall. To the left of the desk, shelves of books lined the wall; to the right, a nicely-stocked bar was set, should the study's occupant care for a nice brandy or some Ogden's Fire-Whiskey. Draco sorely wished that he could pour himself a glass of the bitter liquid, and would have done so had he not known the importance of being fully in control of his faculties when facing down Lucius Malfoy.

"Draco," Lucius sneered slightly, as the younger man returned his attention to his father, who had apparently set aside the papers he had previously been looking over and leaned back in his chair behind the desk. "How are your lessons with your tutors progressing?"

Though slightly startled, as this was not what the young Slytherin had thought Lucius would want to discuss, Draco quickly recovered and answered carefully. "Quite well, Father. Potions especially has been challenging, but I have found it manageable."

"Then perhaps this year you will actually succeed in surpassing the grades of Potter's mudblood," Lucius returned in a dangerously silky drawl.

Draco hid the cringe that barb produced. "Of course, Father."

Lucius nodded once, before shifting forward in his seat. "Very well. Your school work is not why I summoned you." Draco stilled; he knew what was coming, and this was what he had been dreading. "As you know, the Dark Lord is rising in power. Less than a year from now, upon your graduation from Hogwarts, I expect that you will kneel before our Lord to take the Dark Mark." Draco forcefully withheld the shudder that was creeping down his back, as Lucius continued. "Although you cannot return to Dumbledore's school with the mark, I do not believe that precludes your usefulness to the Dark Lord." Draco held his breath at this pronouncement. "That being so, it is time that you learned the ways of the Death Eaters. Be prepared to accompany me to the gathering tonight." With this order, Lucius returned his attention to the papers he had been perusing before Draco's arrival, effectively dismissing the younger Malfoy.

Though later Draco would never know how he had made the trip from Lucius' study up to his bedroom, he did indeed return to his sanctuary. The hours before Lucius came to retrieve Draco for the Death Eater meeting passed uneventfully, almost surreally. As expected, Draco was prepared – having dressed all in black, with an equally black cloak and hood thrown over the dark ensemble – when Lucius came for him. His father had looked Draco over once, before nodding curtly in approval and grabbing the younger blonde's arm.

Once he had recovered from the effects of side-by-side apparition, Draco tried to discern where he might be. The effort proved fruitless, however, as all the young Malfoy saw were trees surrounding the clearing where his father and other Death Eaters were gathered. Lucius, decked fully in his Death Eater garb as was apparently the norm for these meetings, led his son over to the loose circle that was being formed by the Dark Lord's followers. Draco, for his part, followed obediently and tried not to fidget much with the hood of his cloak, which hid his distinctive hair and much of his face from view.

Draco tried not to shiver in revulsion as he was forced by Lucius to kneel with all of the Death Eaters when the next pop of apparition heralded the arrival of the Dark Lord himself. Draco had never before been in Voldemort's presence, and once he had gazed upon the monster himself, he wished to never be in its presence again. He had heard, of course, that Voldemort had traded in much of his humanity for the power he craved. But the result of such a barter was more gruesome that Draco had imagined. The red eyes, the slits that served as a nose, and the waxy, stretched skin all combined to create an almost-snake-man.

"My followers," came the silky hiss from nearly-non-existent lips. "The day is approaching when those unworthy will taint our world no more!" A cheer of assent by the Death Eaters went up at this declaration. Draco stayed silent. "Our efforts in cleansing our society of mudbloods and blood traitors have been vastly successful, but there is still much more to be done before this civilization is pure once more." Murmurs of agreement rose from the crowd, before silence settled once more among the followers as the Dark Lord continued. "It has come to my attention, however, that some of those deemed unworthy have managed to escape into hiding, no doubt with the aid of that fool Dumbledore. This is unacceptable." Draco felt a dread rise up within him as Voldemort's voice grew even colder. "Failure is not tolerated." And though the words were stated quietly, the degree of malice in the Dark Lord's tone had the same affect as would have resulted had he shouted the mandate.

Draco could sense the fear rising in the Death Eaters surrounding him, including the formidable Lucius Malfoy. He himself was working to keep his panic under tight control. "Young Montague," Voldemort called out. Draco swallowed the gasp that threatened to leave his lips as his former fellow Slytherin and quidditch teammate tremblingly rose to his feet and stepped forward. "You were charged with the task of eliminating Clive Zuckerman, and the spawn he and his muggle whore of a wife created to taint this world. Have you completed it?"

"N-no, my Lord," Montague managed to stutter out. Draco felt a bit of pity for the older boy, but that was tempered by his disgust at the task Montague had been appointed. "But it wasn't my fault, my Lord. Dumbledore –"

"I see," the Dark Lord cut in with a deceptively serene voice. "So you have failed me?"

"No, my Lord," Montague practically shouted. "Please, give me another task and I will prove myself worthy to serve you." He was begging now.

"Perhaps," Voldemort intoned, as though he were considering the request. "But I think not. Avada Kedavra." Draco watched, appalled, as the boy who was only a few years his senior dropped dead to the ground. "Let this be a lesson to you all," the snake-like creature hissed as he nonchalantly put his wand away. A shudder went through the crowd of Death Eaters. "Do not fail me." With this command, Voldemort apparated away.

Draco was still frozen in horrified shock when Lucius forcefully pulled him to his feet, and returned them both to the manor. Without a word to his son, the Death Eater promptly apparated out of the manor once more.

Draco knew better than to ask where he was going.

Dinner had been a surprisingly lively affair, in Ginny's opinion. Molly Weasley had cooked a delicious meal – as always – and Molly, Arthur, Ginny and all of the Weasley boys save Bill had sat down for the hot meal. As per usual in Ginny's presence, the family had spoken of only trivial matters, avoiding the topic of the war. Normally, this would only irritate Ginny, but the small girl had worked to repress this feeling and focus on just chatting with her brothers. After the meal, the family had continued their idle talk over tea and cake, while Molly rocked a fussy Sabine. All in all, the evening had been quite nice.

Ginny should have realized that it would not last.

In the predawn hours of the morning, Ginny was shaken awake by a disheveled Molly Weasley.

"Mum?" she questioned sleepily. "What's going on?" she managed to force out through a large yawn, as she struggled to sit up.

"Get your things together, Ginny," Molly commanded as she briskly went about Ginny's room, opening cupboards and drawers. "The portkey is set for us to leave in ten minutes. Quickly pack all of your things in your trunk, everything you will need for the school year as well, dear." Upon seeing that Ginny was still sitting on her bed, staring confusedly, she continued, "Quickly, quickly, we have to hurry," while pulling the young girl up and out of bed.

Ginny pulled her trunk out from under her bed, her confusion fading and alarm setting in, giving her the adrenaline to move hurriedly. As she frantically emptied out the shelves and drawers in her bedroom into her trunk, her mind worked to determine what may have happened. Was the Burrow under attack? Were Arthur, Ron, and the other boys alright? Had Voldemort gotten to Harry?

Ginny packed in record time, and was ready when Arthur came to shrink her trunk for easier travel, at least easing her mind of some worry. Once downstairs, Ginny saw that everyone was accounted for: Molly had packed up Sabine and her baby things, and the boys (minus Bill) were all present as well, though looking as rumpled and confused as she. Molly shushed Ron when he opened his mouth – undoubtedly to ask what in Hades was going on – and indicated that everyone move closer. The Weasleys all gathered around the old newspaper that would be serving as portkey, and Ginny felt the familiar tug almost immediately.

Once she had picked herself up from the floor after her less than graceful landing, Ginny looked around to find herself in one of the sitting rooms of 12 Grimmauld Place.

"Mum, what's going on?" Ron never was very patient.

Molly Weasley ignored the question as she bustled quickly out of the room, motioning for the younger Weasleys to follow. As she trailed behind the Weasley matriarch, Ginny noticed that Arthur seemed to have already left. Up two dark stairwells, and down a few halls, Ginny recognized the door to the room she had occupied last year with Hermione.

"Ginny, this will be your room again," Molly informed her. "Come, boys. Let's get you settled as well." Ginny waited to enter the bedroom until the other Weasleys had rounded the hall and disappeared from her line of sight, though she could still hear Ron's disgruntled grumbling.

Closing the bedroom door behind her, Ginny leaned against it and sighed. She would have to wait for answers, but her mind was still busily crafting various possibilities of what had happened. A part of her was numb, for she knew the wards on the Burrow were quite strong, and the move to Order headquarters indicated that something very big had gone very wrong.

Shaking her head slightly to dispel the ominous thoughts, the small red head went over to lay on her old bed. Sleep would not come, she knew. But dawn was only an hour or so away, and soon after, Molly Weasley would likely be making breakfast.

She could wait.

Ginny awoke to the sound of the bedroom door closing.

She sat up with a start, somewhat disoriented, before the events of the early hours of the morning came back to her. Surprised that she had actually fallen asleep, Ginny looked up to find a distracted Hermione Granger, opening her trunk to unpack. Ginny saw her own trunk was once again its normal size and sitting by the doorway.

"Hermione?" Ginny questioned a bit groggily. The older girl quickly turned to face the red head, a startled look on her face.

"Oh, Ginny," she responded, "I thought you were asleep."

Ginny refrained from saying "I was," and just shrugged instead. She was quite desperate to ask the girl what had happened the night before, but was unsure how to begin a conversation. Her relationship with Hermione had not recovered since Ginny's biting words last December, and Hermione's new relationship with Harry certainly did not help matters.

"Have you heard what happened?" Hermione asked tentatively, wringing her hands.

Ginny was surprised by the question, and even more so by the other girl's apparent nervousness. "No, no one has told me anything." The words were not meant to be as cutting as they were delivered, and Ginny hid a wince as Hermione visibly flinched.

Then, surprisingly, the older girl straightened and came over to Ginny. Setting herself carefully on the edge of the red head's bed, her eyes darting everywhere but to the other girl, she spoke quietly. "The Quibbler was attacked last night." Ginny could not hold in her gasp, and she struggled to get up out of the suffocating blankets. She knew that Luna and her father lived in a loft on the top floor of the building where the paper was published. "Ginny, wait." The red head stilled as Hermione placed a gentle hand on her arm. "Luna is safe," she continued, and Ginny breathed a quiet prayer of thanks. When Hermione's grasp was not removed immediately, Ginny knew her gratitude had been too quickly delivered.

"What is it, Hermione?" she asked, almost fearfully.

"It's Mr. Lovegood," she said, finally releasing the younger girl's arm. Ginny held her breath. "The Death Eaters killed him." Ginny shook her head soundlessly. She had only met Mr. Lovegood a handful of times, but he had always been a sweet, jovial man. And he was so good to Luna, trying to be both mother and father to the girl after his wife's death… Now where would Luna go? Hermione seemed to know where Ginny' thoughts had wandered, as she continued. "Luna is in a room down the hall, and she isn't doing too well."

Ginny moved the bedding away, quickly standing. After a solemn nod of thanks to Hermione, she left the bedroom in search of her friend.

She found Luna in a room just a few doors down from her own.

Ginny could not stop the wetness that pooled in her eyes as she went to sit beside the young Ravenclaw. Luna did not acknowledge her presence, eyes staring unseeingly at the far wall.

"Luna?" Ginny tried to control the trembling in her voice, affecting a soothing whisper. Luna did not respond. Ginny could only imagine the pain the orphaned girl was going through, so she simply took one of the blonde's lax hands into her own, and leaned her head against the taller girl's shoulder. Gazing at the wall that seemed to hold the distraught girl's undivided attention, she continued in her whisper. "I'll be here when you're ready."

Neither girl moved to wipe the tears that cascaded down their cheeks.

The month following the Quibbler attack was ominously calm.

Though the Order was still busily scurrying about, Ron, Harry, Hermione, Luna and Ginny were kept out of much of the activity. Apparently, the Order had been using the Quibbler to relay messages to operatives of the Light. Somehow, the Death Eaters had learned of this, indicating there was a leak somewhere in the Order. Harry, who had arrived from his stay with the Dursleys the same morning that Hermione had arrived from her visit with her parents in a safe house, was quick to point a finger directly at Snape. Dumbledore simply waved the accusation away, and instructed the students to refrain from any snooping for their own safety. The black-haired Gryffindor boy was not taking the exclusion well. Ron and Hermione seemed a bit more resigned to the situation, and worked to keep Harry distracted.

Well, Hermione did most of the distracting. Ron's discomfort with Harry and Hermione's new relationship was plain for Ginny to see, though he valiantly put up a brave front when in his best friends' presence. Maintaining such a façade was difficult, however, so Ron spent much of his time with Ginny and Luna.

Luna no longer sat staring at the wall, but she rarely left her room, at sparingly, and still did not speak much. The blonde had changed so much from the spacey girl Ginny had come to know and love the past few years. But the red head understood that sometimes the only way to deal with the hurt is to withdraw within. She only wished that Luna would soon be ready to emerge, for until she did so, she would never heal.

Amazingly, it was Ron that seemed to garner the most positive responses from the despondent girl. For instance, two weeks before, at the small dinner that had been held in honor of Harry's seventeenth birthday, he had not only managed to get Luna to attend, but also to enjoy a slice of Molly Weasley's infamously decadent chocolate cake.

Ginny could only be grateful to Ron for his presence and comfort to her friend. Though Luna always seemed pleased enough to see her, Ginny was quite aware of the light that brightened considerably in the Ravenclaw's eyes when Ron came to visit her. Ginny knew that Luna had never fully recovered from the crush she had carried for the older red head. Watching the two together over the past few weeks, she saw that idle affection slowly transform into something much more substantial. And, to her relief, the feelings did not appear to be one-sided.

Ginny herself had been splitting her time between sitting with Luna and finishing her summer assignments. Sabine had taken a liking to Luna, and the child seemed to lighten the depressive mood the older blonde was ensconced in, so Ginny often brought the baby when she visited her friend. Often, Ron would already be sitting with Luna when Ginny arrived, and the time the two red heads spent together in those weeks greatly healed the damage that had been done to their relationship since Ron had left for his first year at Hogwarts. And, although Ginny did not actively avoid Harry and Hermione, she was grateful that the two seemed content on their own. Well, maybe 'grateful' was not the right term, as Ginny still was not certain how she felt about their relationship.

An early morning two weeks before September 1 found a groggy Ginny handing her list of books and supplies for the coming year to a haggard-looking Tonks, as did the other Hogwarts students. Sighing into her barely-touched breakfast, Ginny tried not to think of the night before: she had dreamt once more of the mysterious dark-haired girl, though the red head was no closer to discerning the meaning of the vision. Shaking the thoughts away, the small Weasley realized that the others had finished, and stood to leave. Upon turning, however, she discovered that another was left at the table, picking idly at the food.

"Are you feeling alright, Tonks?" Ginny questioned quietly, approaching the once fun-loving girl.

The older girl, whose hair was now canary yellow, nodded tiredly. "I'm as well as can be expected, Gin. Thanks for asking." The half-smile the young auror attempted fooled no one. Ginny slowly nodded in acceptance, and watched as Tonks abandoned her nearly-full plate and left the dining room, the school lists clutched firmly in her fist.

The owls had arrived the morning before, bearing the school lists, as well as a letter predictably naming Hermione Granger Head Girl. Neither Ron nor Harry was appointed Head Boy, however, and Ginny kept her thoughts valiantly away from the likely candidate for the position. Also among the mail were Ginny and Luna's O.W.L. results. Both girls had done quite well, and Ginny was pleased with her marks: all Outstanding's and Exceeds Expectation's, totaling to a score that surpassed Percy's, but not Hermione's. Molly Weasley had not stopped beaming all day after seeing the report.

"Oh, Ginny, you're still in here." Ginny turned at Harry Potter's voice, and watched idly as the older boy poured himself a glass of pumpkin juice from the pitcher that had been left over from breakfast. She only raised one brow when Harry looked up at her lack of response. Ginny had not been alone with Harry since the detention they had served together for Snape back in December. And considering all that had happened since then, she did not know what to say to the boy.

"So I am," she said when she could no longer stand the awkward silence that ensued.

Harry fidgeted slightly before taking a sip from the glass in his hand. "Um, congratulations on your O.W.L.s," he said, obviously working to dispel the tension in the atmosphere.

This surprised Ginny, as she was used to Harry's quick retreats or cold shoulder when her presence cause him discomfort. "Thanks," she replied carefully. Ginny tried to find something more to say, to continue this unspoken truce, but she had nothing.

Apparently aware of the problem, Harry nodded a farewell and left the room.

A few minutes later, his exit was followed by that of one distracted red-headed girl.

Draco crumpled up the letter proclaiming him Head Boy, and threw it in the trash bin next to his desk. Lucius had been pleased when the owl had arrived the morning before with notice of his appointment, but Draco could not be bothered to care what his father thought about it.

Flinging himself back onto his bed in an abysmal display of uncouth behavior, Draco tried to calm his turbulent thoughts.

He was proud of being named Head Boy – he truly was. But his mind was busy trying to deal with much larger issues.

In two weeks he would return to Hogwarts for his seventh year at Hogwarts. And once the school year was completed, he was expected to bow before a half-human creature and be willingly branded.

Thinking back on the Death Eater meeting he had been forced to attend the month before – thankfully, Lucius had thought once was enough – Draco could not fathom donning a mask, and killing and torturing with the savage gleefulness of some, or with the detachedness of others. He had not shared his experience that night with anyone, not even Blaise and Pansy. But the image of Montague's lifeless body falling to the cold, hard ground haunted his mind relentlessly.

And the knowledge that the former Slytherin's death was not the last of the night also disturbed the young Malfoy greatly. The uneasiness that had begun to churn deep within Draco when he had read about the attack on The Quibbler the next morning transformed fully into nausea when Lucius had arrived to breakfast looking particularly pleased. His father had mentioned nothing about the meeting the night before, and upon seeing the cover story of the attack, had only smirked. The Malfoy Lord had almost looked surprised when Draco had curtly excused himself from the table, leaving the older man contentedly spreading jam on his scone.

Now Draco found himself with a choice to make: He could not follow the Dark Lord, but neither could he sign on to be one of Potter's merry men. What was he to do?

His mother had warned him that the decision would not be an easy one. But it was his to make, and so much relied upon the path he chose. Thinking of the beautiful woman, who had once more become a withering shadow of the Malfoy patriarch, caused a clench in Draco's heart. Slowly, Draco stood from his bed, and went to his school trunk to retrieve a creased parchment. Returning to his bed, he sat on the edge while carefully unfolding his treasure. With a few whispered words, the hidden letter was revealed. Narcissa Malfoy's flowing script appeared before Draco's eyes, the ink as dark as it had been when he had received the correspondence last December.

My Dearest Draco,

How I wish I had that trait that Gryffindors pride themselves on, that my cousin Sirius had in multitude: courage. Do no misunderstand, my son, for Godric's house is still mostly a collection of emotionally-charged fools, who see the world in black and white, and not the shades of gray that truly surround us. But their bravery is something I find myself longing for, as I write to you now. I should have told you, this past summer when I had finally had you to myself – away from your father's constant tyranny – just how special you truly are.

No, darling, I am not spouting Hufflepuff nonsense. Nor is this a simple missive of a mother's love. Truth be told, I would have held this confession a bit longer, until you were older, and finished with schooling. But your father's… activities have forced my hand. The time is nearing when Azkaban will hold the Dark Lord's supporters no longer. I have heard rumors, the briefest hints of plans, and the subtle winds whisper that the darkest of times is upon us. You will be safe at Hogwarts for the holidays, I know. I suppose there is no need now to hide why I truly wish for you to stay in the castle: Dumbledore can keep you safe, away from Lucius; I do not wish for that man to come back to the Manor to find you. Fear not; I shall indeed visit my dear sister Andromeda, so I too will take care to be away from the Malfoy grounds that still answer to Lucius' call, should he return.

I have avoided the true purpose of this letter thus far. I would have liked to have stood before you, and looked into your eyes as I imparted my knowledge of your fate, your destiny. But that will not come to pass. So may this letter serve as my conduit…

You will recall, Draco, our talks of the Noble House of Black. It was my duty to educate you on your family history, and I can only hope I succeeded in passing on the pride in our ancestry to my only child. You have learned, as the Malfoy heir, that the title and properties of the Lord of each House have been passed down to the rightful descendent in each generation. The rules for inheritance were devised by the original twelve founders, upon the creation of the wizarding world: After seeing numerous contenders validly vie for the throne in muggle society – creating factions and discourse among supporters of different candidates – the Lords of the Wizards' Council decreed that the title of Lord, as well as all that that title entails, would be passed down to the eldest son of the currently reigning Lord. If the reigning Lord bore no son, the title would be passed to a brother, or the eldest son of the closest brother in age. Should none exist, the son of the Lord's daughter, or his closest niece by blood relation, would inherit. This system minimized the number of potential heirs, and kept discourse to a minimum at times when change in House leadership passed.

The stipulations constructed by the original Twelve succeeded quite well in allowing efficient transitions of title and properties of the Nobles. The founding Lords had realized early that wizard-kind did not have the luxury to fight over petty differences, or for the seat of power – not when muggles posed such a serious opposing threat to our world, by their sheer numbers alone… not to mention their destructive tendencies when faced with anything they could not understand, or found unnatural. So it came to pass, that for generations, the title of Lord has been inherited by the rightful heir without much creation of complications or spectacle.

I fear that your inheritance will not follow so smoothly.

You know, Draco, that Sirius Black was my cousin; what you may not know, is that he was killed, months ago, in that awful skirmish at the Ministry of Magic, the same day your father was revealed to be a follower of the Dark Lord. Sirius was the rightful heir to the House of Black. My dearest Uncle Landon, the Lord of the House of Black, had had two sons – Sirius and Regulus. He had also had two younger brothers – my father, Draden Theran Black, and my Uncle Alphard. My own father had had three daughters – Bellatrix, Andromeda, and myself, while Uncle Alphard – blood traitor that he was – never did marry. When Regulus was killed in connection with the Dark Lord, my uncle had been devastated. Oh, my Uncle Landon was a good Lord, and while he was proud of the pure blood of his line, he refused to bow to He Who Must Not Be Named. Regulus' decision to join the Death Eaters – in the wake of Sirius' obvious abandonment of principles of Nobility – had greatly disappointed his father. Sirius' wrongful imprisonment to Azkaban followed not long after his brother's death. You were but a year old at the time, the time when the future of the House of Black became clearer…

It was never truly considered that I, the youngest daughter of the younger brother of the Lord of the House of Black, would give birth to the next House Lord. That is why my marriage to Lucius was so well-received… I could give him an heir to the House of Malfoy that would be of Black descent; these two great Houses had plotted to join for generations, and when the opportunity arose for a proper marriage, with the belief that the title of lordship of neither house would be compromised, an agreement was finally made.

There was a miscalculation, however.

The Dark Lord, and his gruesome, cruel, and violent crusade – all under the guise of promoting pureblooded society – shook our world. Sirius should never have been put into Azkaban, and Regulus should certainly not have been killed by his own fellow Death Eaters… My eldest sister, Bellatrix, was found to be unable to have children when I was pregnant with you; this is why she joined You Know Who's cause: Since she could not perpetuate the line of purebloods by procreation, she chose to actively cleanse the wizarding world of those 'less worthy,' by becoming a Death Eater. Andromeda married a muggleborn, tainting her future bloodline, so I am somewhat grateful that she had only one daughter, and no son. The Lord of each of the twelve Houses has taken care for centuries to ensure that the next Lord is of pure blood, and it would have been a travesty to see someone unworthy as Lord of the House of Black...

I think you will see, my son, where this leaves you. You, Draco, are the reigning Lord of the House of Black. Since Sirius' death, I have held the title in trust for you, but it has been yours officially since your seventeenth birthday last month. Your father knows of your new status, and I fear that it has caused in him only more determination to have you join the ranks of the Dark Lord. I have no doubt, however, that you will lead the House of Black through these times of bloodshed, and away from the unworthiness of the creature your father calls Lord.

That is not why I worry, my son.

You remember when I spoke with you, that last night in the Manor before you left for your sixth year at Hogwarts, regarding the magical energy passed on to each House Lord. I suspect that it lies latent in your blood as you read this now…

Never before has a wizard been decreed to inherit the titles of two Houses.

Until now.

I cannot be certain what will happen when you inherit the title of Lord of the House of Malfoy, as you were born to do. The creation and continuation of the wizarding world has been based upon the powers of the twelve Lords – even if those powers were not active. When Lucius does pass on, there will be a shift in the balance – there will be twelve Lords no longer. Instead, there will be ten Lords of the old ways, and then there will be you, my son – a Lord and Master of both the great Houses of Black and Malfoy. Your inheritance could be the tool to great advancement of our world, or great devastation: It is possible that, if mishandled, this concentration of old magic within you will break apart the taming restraints placed by the original Twelve. The spells keeping the wizarding world safe and separate from the muggle world – those placed by the founders – may not survive an overwhelming shift in the circle of power.

Do you understand now, Draco, my hesitation to reveal the truth to you? While you may be well on the path to manhood, you are still my child… I did not wish to burden you with the truth of your future responsibilities, with the choice you will have to make regarding the path your father has set for you… When the time comes, it will be your duty to protect the lands and peoples of both Houses Black and Malfoy, and to ensure the continued survival of the European wizarding world. Should you abuse your twice-blessed powers, our world could crumble…

I have faith in you, my son, my Lord.

My love always,


As he cautiously hid the letter once more, his thoughts were clearer than they had been for months.

Draco had made his decision.

Author's Note: Sorry, no individual responses for reviewers this time. All I can say is thank you to those of you still reading the story. I cannot apologize enough for the long delay. I never intended to let it last that long, and when I did get a chance to look at my yahoo mail, I was always inspired to write by those fans who let me know they were patiently waiting for an update. I found Chapter 7 to be the most difficult to write thus far. It is actually a piece that I have been working on -- on and off -- for the past year and a half. For that reason, I feel that it may be a bit choppy, and I apologize for that: I did try to make the different parts flow together as nicely as possible. I know there was no D/G action in this chapter, but Chapter 8 is back at Hogwarts, so that is something to look forward to. I am working on it now (I'm on Spring Break), and I hope to have a version ready for Beta reading in a few days.

NOTE: Thanks for reading. Please review and let me know what you think.