No one could have seen him go. Malcolm was sure of it. He'd been so careful, calling the door from inside the bathroom stall of all places, but at the same time, when it shut behind him, it sounded like what he imagined the door of a gas chamber to sound like. He swallowed hard, smiling too tightly at the three older Ravenclaws waiting for him. "Tony. Steve. Luna. Sorry I'm late."
"It's all right. We assumed it might be a little more difficult than usual for you to get here. I'm just glad you made it." There was nothing aggressive in Steve's tone or words, but Malcolm's shoulders were still as tight as iron bars as he sat on the very edge of the offered seat, twisting his fingers together until they hurt.
"I don't have a picture. I'm sorry. They've been through – it would be...it might be recognized. As mine, I mean." He wasn't going to cry. Crying would be ridiculous. There was no reason for it, not here, and there it wasn't safe.
Something touched his arm, and he jumped so hard he nearly fell off the seat, gasping before he could even catch himself for how stupid it was. Just Lovegood. Loony Lovegood, looking placidly at him with those strange fish eyes of hers. "Would you like a cup of tea? I have chamomile-sage. Very soothing and cleansing."
"No. I mean, sure. I'm sorry." He was nodding and shaking his head at the same time, his cheeks burning.
"You apologize one more time, Braddock, and we might start wondering what's going on." Tony's face was an impermeable blend of something that might have been support and might have been suspicion, and Malcolm grabbed the cup from Luna so hard that he didn't even care that it made his palms sting with the heat and scorched his throat.
"Nothing! I mean..oh, Merlin, everything." He hadn't wanted to say it. Didn't know why he'd said it other than he couldn't not say it any longer and there was nowhere else to say it. Something shrill and sharp in his head was screaming at the top of his lungs to just SHUT UP, but the words poured out like the blood he'd seen three nights now in his dreams from Renny's shattered body.
"They came in yesterday all of them and they lined us up on the floor with our hands behind our heads like we were criminals and they turned out our pockets went through all our stuff even tore up the pillows and flipped over mattresses and everything we had was just all over the floor things broken and everywhere out in front of everyone and they were screaming at us that we were supposed to know better didn't we realize what it would be to our families did we want it to happen we were supposed to understand loyalty understand blood purity and how could we...how could he...did we want...did they need to I'msorryI'msorryI'm...I CAN'T DO THIS ANY MORE! I WANT OUT OF THE D.A.!" And then he had said it, this would be bad, he was sobbing, somewhere far away there was the sound of a cup breaking, something hot on his ankles, and he curled up beneath the arm across his shoulders that he just knew was about to hurt, unable to hold it in any longer.
"It's okay." But it wasn't that was a lie. Disloyalty was not an option. It was going to happen to him now like it had happened to Renny. He felt sick. There wasn't enough air. Everything was spinning beneath Steve's strange, foreign, sing-song cadences that sounded obscene in their cheerful rhythm. "You didn't tell them about us. You're under Fidelius. You couldn't have. What they did to you wasn't right, wasn't fair, and it's okay if you need to leave. No one's being forced to be a part of this."
Malcolm looked up, blinking rapidly to try and clear his vision enough to make sense of anything. "But if you...if I...don't you get it? They're going to kill us all for this. Why would you stay if you can get out? We can't quit!"
"Oh, we could quit if we wanted to." Tony nodded, stepping around the mess on the floor to kneel at the other side of the chair. "Some of us just have our own reasons."
There was a photograph on the table; Renny in the common room a universe or three weeks ago before a single piece of paper had sealed a death warrant for a loyal and pure family. Malcolm fluttered a hand at it, gulping back another burst of tears. "Don't you get it? They -"
"Slaughtered him. And his whole family." There was nothing casual or confusing in Tony's eyes, just an understanding that was terrifyingly old, even from a seventh-year. "That's what regimes like this do. It's happened to my people. It's happened to Steve's. It's even happened to Luna's in the sense that she believes a lot of things that would have gotten her burned as a witch even if she didn't happen to be one. We know we could die, and we don't want that to happen, but we've made our decision. It's okay if yours is different."
He heard the words, but they didn't make sense, and now he wished he hadn't dropped the tea because he needed something to do with his hands so that he didn't have to look at the others. The green satin lining of his robes seemed a mockery of unity and safety, laughing at him inadequately as he bunched and twisted. His throat hurt. "I'm sorry. I'm a coward."
"That's not true." Luna seemed as vaguely distracted as ever, but she had picked up the cup, repaired it, and there was nothing of rebuke in the smooth motions of pouring the kettle and plucking leaves from the little batik pouch she'd pulled from a pocket. "If you were a coward, you'd have ignored us today and pretended not to know us. You're still here to help with Runcorn's eulogy, aren't you."
Malcolm nodded, unable to say anything, and she smiled through the steam as if he couldn't have given any other answer. "That's perfectly brave, and we know you won't betray us even if you leave. We're not going to lift the Fidelius from you, of course, but I don't think you would anyway. You don't want to see that happen to anybody – even Harry Potter - do you?"
"I don't have anything against Potter. I don't even know him." He took a deep breath, wiping his nose on his sleeve because he didn't trust himself to move enough to look for a handkerchief. "Sometimes I wish he'd just die and You-Know-Who would find the body so this would all stop, but..."
"That's not the same," Luna said firmly. "Here. I put honey in it and you can lie back and put the spent tea leaves on your eyes while we work out the wording so that when you go back no one knows you were crying." She handed him the cup, but this time he didn't sip too quickly, looking warily across the three faces arrayed around him.
"Why are you being this way? Nice to me. I just came here and told you I'm walking out."
Tony and Steve exchanged a look, and Tony shrugged. "Unlike some people, we know who our enemies are. And aren't."
"You-Know-Who." It still trembled at the edges, his nose still ran and his throat was still far too tight, the memories of the smell of the stone floor and the sounds of drawers being slammed open and pillows slashed still too keen, but he sounded a little better now. Another deep breath, a tentative mouthful of tea, and he sounded better still. "You-Know-Who is the enemy."
"Damned straight," Tony grinned, standing and turning to pluck a quill from the inkwell and spin it quickly between his fingers. "So. Let's make your last go of it with the D.A. a good one, shall we? What can you tell me about Runcorn?"