Chapter 17: The Calm Before the Storm
"Dear Starry-eyed Lover,
Last night was the most awesome night of my entire life! Can we do that again? Soon?
Holidays are in a week and I imagine you'll be going home so I won't be seeing you for a while. I'm really going to miss you. With everything that's happened this year, I don't know what I'm going to do without you. We'll definitely have to make the most out of this week.
But there's another reason I'm writing to you. Please don't be upset! I know how you get about things, and I did make a promise to you. Believe me, I really want to keep it. It's just that I got backed into a wall when I got back to my common room this morning. Everyone saw me and Ginny together and jumped to all sorts of conclusions, and now everyone in Gryffindor thinks we're dating…
And, I kind of said I was going to go to the dance with her…
I'm really, really sorry! You have no idea! I just don't think there's any way I can get out of it.
I love you,
Awaiting Forgiveness (Hopefully)"
Harry sat rigidly at the table as he finished composing the letter. He knew Draco wasn't going to handle this news well. The other boy had a short temper and took everything personally. Oh no, this was not to go down well. He placed the note mechanically in the blue book and returned it to the shelf before going to class. He was running late for Defense, having gone to the library between classes, and he wasn't looking forward to seeing Remus who'd been treating him with kid gloves since his outburst the last time they'd spoken privately. Not to mention the strange glances the werewolf was giving Harry every time he thought the younger wizard wasn't paying attention.
Remus had already started his lecture when Harry arrived, and Draco looked at him curiously when he came through the door. Harry just shrugged and went to sit in his usual seat. Remus was giving him that look again.
"If I could get you all to split up into groups of two, we'll work on putting some of these deflecting spells to good use," the man finally continued, shaking off his concern the best he could. "And remember, this is a classroom. Let's try not to let things get quite so out of hand this time." He shot Draco a stern glare as he said that last part, but the blond seemed rather proud to be called out in such a way.
"So what did I miss?" Harry asked Ron as the two paired off and found a solitary corner to practice.
"Not much," Ron commented offhandedly. "We covered a lot of this in the DA. Where were you anyway?"
"I had to stop by the library," Harry replied, trying to sound casual. The redhead just rolled his eyes.
"You're always in the bloody library these days, mate," he accused lightly. "You weren't off snogging my sister, then?"
"Relax, mate. I was just joking," Ron placated, but Harry was fed up.
Ron's unrelenting teasing and verbal pushing had been tiring for months, and now it had spread to the rest of Gryffindor as well. It wasn't Ron's fault per say, but the clandestine nature of his relationship that bothered him most. Ron and Hermione were just nauseating in their ceaseless giggling, touching, and general public closeness. It just wasn't fair!
"Harry!" Remus called as the students filed out of the classroom. Harry stopped short, sighing despondently to himself. The last thing he needed was one of the werewolf's lectures. "Would you mind staying after class?"
"I'm sorry I was late for class, Professor," Harry answered quickly before heading for the door once again.
"Just a minute, Harry," Lupin stopped him again. "That's not what I wanted to talk about."
"Okay," Harry mumbled as he approached his professor. It wasn't that he intentionally meant to be rude to his favorite teacher and friend, but he was so tired of lying. Avoidance seemed the best option.
"You were going a little rough on Ron today, don't you think? Is something going on between you two?" Lupin questioned sincerely, crossing his arms and leaning back on his desk. Harry sighed.
"Not really. I just have a lot on my mind lately," the boy answered honestly. "I'm sorry I've been an arse." Remus couldn't hold back his chuckle.
"Don't worry about it, Harry. I could tell there was something going on with you. I am your friend, Harry. I hope you know you can tell me anything. Anything at all," Remus insisted, piquing Harry's interest.
"What are you getting at, Remus?" Harry asked apprehensively. He was being paranoid. That had to be it. Remus couldn't possibly know.
"I've been hearing a lot about you and Ginny lately. Mostly from Ron," Remus answered.
"Oh, that." Relief flooded Harry. Remus didn't know. Of course he couldn't know. Everything was fine.
"Um…yeah, I guess so."
"So you must be taking her to the dance?"
"So you're not taking Draco then?"
Harry eyed his professor critically for a long moment, suddenly unsure if he'd heard correctly. But there was something in the man's patient nature and slow, understanding smile that confirmed Harry's nightmare.
"I know, Harry," Remus explained. "I have to admit, I was surprised at first. I knew I had to be wrong, but there was the way you two kept staring at each other from across the room. I knew something had changed. And then there was the way his scent was all over you. At first, I thought the two of you were just brawling again. But he's not just in your clothes, Harry. He's on your breath. I knew you'd been kissing…"
"Remus…" But Harry didn't know what to say. He'd underestimated his friend's werewolf senses. He couldn't bear the thought of losing Remus now, but how could he explain? And did he really want to try to explain away Draco? But Draco was awful to Remus. He had tried every trick in the book to get the werewolf fired, taunted him incessantly, and never let him forget what he was.
"You have absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about, Harry."
But the young Gryffindor couldn't find his voice. He wasn't ready for this. He wasn't ready for Remus to know, to look at him like he was looking at him now – like something had changed. Like he was somehow different than before. Because even though the professor's smile was real and his eyes understanding, there was an underlying confusion there that Harry wasn't quite prepared to face.
"I wish you had told me, Harry," the werewolf continued when it became obvious the boy had no intention of responding. "I would have understood."
"Do you?" Harry asked sharply. Remus sighed.
"I want to, Harry. I'll admit it came a bit unexpected. I thought for sure something was happening between you and Ginny. You seemed to hate Draco Malfoy for so long that…but things aren't always as they seem. I know that more than most." Remus reached out and rested a hand on his student's shoulder.
"He's different than you think," Harry insisted.
"Harry, I don't want you to feel like you have to defend yourself, or Draco Malfoy for that matter, to me. I know you've both had it rough, and this isn't going to make it any easier."
"You can say that again," Harry said, eyes downcast. "Remus," the boy finally ventured, "how do you think Sirius would have reacted?"
Remus watched him intently for a long time, knowing he was entering dangerous territory. How would Sirius have reacted? Remus was surprised to find that as well as he'd known the other man, as close as they'd been, he didn't really know. Sirius had always been quite apt at "skirt chasing" (as he referred to it) in his day, and Remus couldn't recall them ever having known someone who was gay. Or at least someone who was open about it. But then again, it wasn't really talked about in those times when the purebloods were pushing for dominance.
But regardless, Sirius had been a rebel. Pureblood ideals were archaic to him, and surely he would not have turned his back on the son of James and Lily over something so trivial.
"I think he would have needed some time to wrap his mind around it," the werewolf answered honestly. "But I also think that nothing could make him stop loving you." The young Gryffindor looked hopeful at the response, and he offered Remus the tiniest of smiles.
"And you?" he asked.
"I know what it's like to be different, Harry. I may be surprised, but I know that you're still the same Harry who's saved this school time and time again. This changes nothing." Remus patted the boy on the shoulder once more before broaching the subject he knew Harry would be most interested in. "And your parents would have been proud."
"You think so?"
"I know so. No matter what."
The blond crumpled the note into a tight ball and dropped it on the table before him. Despite years of experience carefully schooling his features, he couldn't stop a few tears from streaking down his cheeks. He walked quickly from the library.
"A poor attempt at Occlumency, Draco," Severus sneered. "Disappointing."
Draco twitched at the words. "I usually do better than that, Sev," he insisted. "You know that. You've trained me before."
"And 'usually' means nothing, you foolish child. If you lose control over your emotions like that around your father or the Dark Lord, you will let them in as you did me." Severus said. He approached his student slowly. "Potter fails to impress as well."
That got Draco's attention. His head shot up quickly, eyes wide at the mention of his boyfriend's name.
"Oh? What does he think he's doing? What did you see?"
Severus's mouth curled down in distaste. "More than I'd like. I encourage you, Draco, end this now. Has he not shown himself to be unworthy?"
"He's a bloody prat," Draco spat through clenched teeth before softening. "But he is trying to keep our secret. My secret."
"For his sake or for yours?"
"For both of us. Does it really matter?" Draco sighed. Snape did not look happy, but then again, did he ever?
"Then figure this out," he snapped shortly. "Lucius demands you return home for the holidays, and you must be able to Occlude properly." Draco nodded his understanding. "You are dismissed."
And that was that.
Draco understood. Really he did. Sort of. But that didn't mean he had to be happy about it, and it certainly didn't mean he wasn't going to give Harry a hard time. The other boy deserved it. Besides, he wouldn't really be Draco Malfoy if he let the other wizard off too easily, would he?
Harry squirmed uncomfortably in front of him, shifting his balance from foot to foot and digging his hands into the fabric of his robes with an awkward twist. Draco had to admit, he was kind of enjoying this. He smirked at his guilt ridden boyfriend as the dark-haired boy did his best to explain.
"So you see," he was saying, "there wasn't much else I could say, Drake. I was on the spot and all, and I didn't want it to seem too suspicious. And at least Ginny understands where I stand with this. And you, I hope. It doesn't mean anything."
"Of course it doesn't," Draco drawled easily. He arched an eyebrow at the other boy's surprised gape.
"Really," the blond assured. "I can see that you're quite serious. Promises to me 'don't mean anything' and why should they? I'm just your dirty little secret after all."
Now Harry seemed torn between hitting the Slytherin and trying to reassure him otherwise. "That's not what I meant and you know it," he finally settled on. "And this is your secret as well as mine so don't blame that on me."
"Fine," Draco said with a surprisingly straight face. "I suppose I should do my part in keeping it. I'll go find Pansy then, shall I?"
"Parkinson?" the Gryffindor squeaked. "You can't be serious! She'll have her hands all over you! You said you didn't even want to go to the bloody dance anyway!"
"Yes, well…I am a Malfoy, and I do have appearances to keep up," Draco informed with a tiny, mischievous smile. It finally seemed to dawn on Harry that perhaps his Slytherin was enjoying this scene a bit more than he should. He smiled back sheepishly before taking the blond's hand in his own and sighing deeply.
"I suppose I deserved that. But are you really going to be okay with this?"
"I don't know. I guess I'll have to be," Draco replied honestly. "But I don't like it and I think you're a damn prat for doing this to me, Harry." Suddenly, he smirked. "But you'll be making it up to me for a very long time, my little house elf." With that, he leaned in and gave the other boy a quick kiss on the mouth.
"I don't doubt it," Harry said. His eyes were still closed in relief, and the tension in his body released like a balloon letting out excess air. "So, holidays…. How are you about going home?" That seemed to finally dishearten the blond.
"I'll have to face my father's wrath for not killing you with that gargoyle. Merlin knows I haven't been looking forward to that." Draco released Harry's hand and nodded his resignation for the ordeal. "But other than that, it'll just be the same old Malfoy Christmas tradition of plotting and scheming. At least there will be presents."
"I wish you could stay here with me," Harry admitted. Draco would have liked that too, and the privacy would have been sublime. Finally, to not have to sneak around in the shadows and under the invisibility cloak! But alas! Lucius Malfoy was not to be undermined. Not yet anyway.
"As do I. But I will see you very soon, my foolish Gryffindor."
"I'll miss you too, Snakeface."
Draco glanced up at the looming manner with apprehension in his gut. He wasn't ready to face his father after everything that had happened that year. He knew Lucius was disappointed, and more than that he was downright furious at Draco's failures. All that was bad enough, but the whirlwind of emotions within Draco had unsettled his usual stoicism to the point that his Occulemncy was suffering greatly. Now was so not the time for that. If Lucius knew that all of those so-called "failures" were intentional on his part, knew about his son's clandestine relationship with none other than Harry Potter, knew Draco's deep, dark secrets that he'd fought so hard to protect, then there was no telling what the man would do.
The young Slytherin pushed down the bile forming in his throat as he handed off his bag to a house elf and marched inside with his chin held high. Appearances were everything, and he must not forget who he is. Panic would be the end of him.
However, Lucius Malfoy was not in the foyer to greet him as Draco had expected. He held back a sigh of relief.
"Draco, dear!" a voice called out to him. He turned to see Narcissa coming down the staircase, arms outstretched and a wide, elegant smile on her face. She embraced him immediately when she reached him, running a hand through the soft hair he'd forgotten to gel back, and he returned the hug.
"Mother," Draco acknowledged. "It's nice to see you. Where's Father?"
"He had some business to attend to," she explained. "I expect he'll be back before dinner." Her delicate eyes creased with worry at the statement and her mouth tightened into a fine line.
"What kind of business?" Draco asked slowly.
"With the others. With the Dark Lord," she elaborated nervously before laughing it off and pulling him forward. "But you must be starving, my little dragon. I've had the house elves prepare something for you. I imagine your trip was tiresome."
Draco followed her, but his own concerns still rested heavily in his gut. Why had his father gone to the Dark Lord now? Were they talking about him? Were they deciding his punishment? Draco couldn't get his mother's nervous expression out of his head.
Draco was in his room, propped up on a couple of rather expensive pillows at the head of his bed. His foot twitched nervously, tapping uselessly at the air there. The manor was silent. Too silent even. He couldn't even hear the hustle and bustle of the house elves, usually hard at work on one task or another. His mother hadn't been to see him since she got him settled, and she'd been acting strange even then. His father would be home by now, he thought with a sigh. That was where everyone must be, milling around the pretentious blond man with practiced caution. Draco could imagine his mother, the house elves, the servants, all at their master's beck and call. And soon it would be his turn. And Lucius would want him to explain his failings and to submit to some awful punishment or another.
And if the almost painful silence offered any sort of foreshadowing, that punishment was going to be rather unpleasant. Just get through it and you'll be back with Harry in no time. He's your father. What can he realistically do to you? But Lucius had been meeting with the Dark Lord, and that was something to fear. Because whatever fatherly affection Lucius felt for his son, and there certainly was a great deal despite everything, the Dark Lord's orders always took precedence.
He was interrupted by a knock on the door. A house elf, his brain registered. But it wasn't a house elf at all. Instead, he turned to find Narcissa Malfoy standing with forced elegance in his now open doorway. Even stranger, he realized. She'd come by herself to his room without sending a house elf to fetch him for her. This was not standard procedure in the manor.
"Your father has returned," she informed her son in a steady voice that sounded rehearsed. "He requests an audience with you, Draco." She could not meet his eyes.
"In just a minute. I wanted to change before dinner," he said nervously.
"At once, Draco," she commanded, but with little bite. It was as if she was willing him to defy the order, to somehow escape whatever fate beheld him. Oh, things were bad indeed.
"Mother?" he questioned. But she simply shook her head before he could question her further and walked purposefully from the room.
Draco got up and followed, but he moved slowly. Still, he could not hold off forever, and soon he found himself stepping cautiously into his father's study.
Lucius sat tall behind his desk, appearing every bit like a regal portrait, a characterture of himself. His cane was poised beside him, long, ivory fingers resting atop it. He'd been waiting for Draco, and he watched the boy enter the room with mounting impatience.
"Take a seat, Draco. We have much to discuss," the man drawled silkily. Draco couldn't stop the shudder that coursed through him, but he did as he was told.
"Father," he greeted. "It's nice to see you."
"Let's dispense of the small talk, Draco," Lucius said. "There are issues of much greater importance at hand."
"Of course." Draco slunk deeper into his chair, Malfoy posture failing him in his uneasiness. "You wanted to talk about the gargoyle?"
"Yes, your little stunt of setting the beast loose in the Great Hall," his father confirmed absently. "I gave you a specific set of instructions, Draco. Instructions that you failed to follow."
"I thought I had a better way…"
"A fool's way! Do you see now, Draco? Do you see the importance of obedience?" Draco nodded mutely. Lucius continued: "I have been to counsel with the Dark Lord, Draco. Your disobedience has failed us for the last time, my son, and our Lord deems it necessary to…Sit up straight, Draco! Are you a Malfoy or not? And your hair…but at any rate, our Lord deems it necessary to put you through the proper training."
"Training?" Draco gulped.
"It is time, Draco," the blond man said through a piercing gaze of cold slate. "You will take the mark. You will join the Death Eaters, and through your service to the Dark Lord you will learn to do as is expected of a pureblood. But the Dark Lord will not be as forgiving as I have been, Draco."
Draco stared, unmoving and unbreathing. This couldn't be happening! He'd failed! He wasn't worthy of the mark! He would make a terrible Death Eater! He was too young and foolish. His skin too perfectly pale and fresh to be marred forever by the Dark Mark.
"But I failed! Surely I'm not worthy," Draco sputtered at last. No! No! No! How could this be happening? What about Harry? He couldn't return to him as a Death Eater! If he returned at all…
"This is an honor, Draco," Lucius said, steel in his voice at his son's impudence. "You should be grateful. The Dark Lord has chosen you despite your…shortcomings."
"Yes, sir," Draco muttered quietly. He should have known better than to think he could escape this life. And now it was too late for any sort of life. The Dark Lord would see through him. He would glare through the young boy with evil, hollow eyes that bore through to his inner most soul. He would call Draco an imposter, a traitor, a freak. Because Draco had acted on his feelings, and there was no greater sin when your name was Malfoy.
A rose by any other name…
…was much sweeter.
His mother came to him that night to comfort him, but he could not be comforted. He didn't care if it was unMalfoy like or not, he cried. He cried loud and long in deep, heaving breaths that threatened to turn his pale complexion purple. He threw things across the room to shatter, break, or thud to the floor. He paced and he screamed and he muttered unsensibles to himself.
"Now, now, Draco," his mother soothed. She led him to his bed and sat him down. "This doesn't have to be a bad thing," she said, sounding like she was trying to convince herself as much as she was trying to convince him. "If you're careful, if you do everything the Dark Lord asks of you…"
"No," Draco said. He shook his head in defeat. "No, Mother. You don't understand. I won't even live long enough to receive the Dark Mark. He'll look into me. He'll look into me and he'll see…"
"See what, Draco?"
"Crimes," Draco answered in a dead voice. "Crimes against the purebloods. Crimes against my bloodline."
Narcissa trembled where she sat, worry scurrying across her delicate features and creasing her forehead in uncharacteristic lines. What could Draco be talking about?
"What crime could you ever have possibly committed, my dragon?" she asked soothingly. He fixed her with a steady gaze before taking a deep breath that did little to ease his nerves.
"I'm gay, Mother," he confessed. "And I've accepted it. I've been with someone, too. And it was so wonderful. But the Dark Lord will see it, won't he? Mother?"
Narcissa sat there, numb, for the tiniest beat of a second. Then what Draco said seemed to sink in and her face changed in a way Draco couldn't read.
She got up and left the room.