For Sam (MissingMommy), because she is the Draco to my Ginny... er, Charlie. 3
Draco stared absently into the expansive blue sky above him, wondering just what he was getting himself into. The air was hot and dry and smelt of fire, and the sounds of dragons roaring in the distance were quite evident from where he stood. As he listened to the shouts and inhuman screeches coming from where the camp was set up, he began to feel worried about what it was he was running to.
Slightly nervous as to what his future would hold here, he took a deep breath and began walking through the grass. He wasn't sure where he was supposed to be going, exactly. All he knew was that he was to be in tent six, which was on the far end of the field. His roommate was probably already situated. He wondered who it would be or what they would be like, but it didn't matter. This was where he wanted to be. Or at least it was better than where he had come from.
The blond glanced around at all of the tents. They all looked to be about the same in terms of size and appearance, the only difference being the large black numbers adorning the outside to indicate which tent was which. Every one was pale grey in colour and very standard looking. The old Draco – the one that he was trying to conceal as he made his fresh start – wanted to turn his nose up at what he was seeing. Why was he – a Malfoy – being treated like any other person and forced to live in some subpar excuse for a Wizarding tent?
But the man walking through camp was no longer the teenaged brat that he had been only a few months before. This was a different person entirely, worn thin from having grown up far too fast and knocked down a few notches from having been saved by his biggest enemy. All of his beliefs had been called into question, and all of his friends had either died or had fallen from grace as he had. No, this was a very different person. This was not Draco Malfoy at all.
When he came to tent six, he found himself worrying deeply about who would be on the other side of the entrance. Would they recognise him as a Death Eater straight away, or would there come a day when he would forget that he had his left sleeve rolled up? Would they know what family he was from? Would they hate him immediately, or would it take time before they realised that a part of him still held onto many of his pureblooded values? He hated the heavy feeling of vulnerability surging through him. It made him feel weak. He hated to feel weak.
With one final, wistful look at the sky, he found the courage to enter his new home.
It was rather anti-climactic, really. There was a sitting room adjacent to a small kitchen and dining room, and a tiny hallway that Draco assumed would lead to the bedrooms and bathroom. The furniture was homely to be sure, but it wasn't terrible. His favourite part was the small bookcase filled to the brink with dusty tomes. After a quick glance, Draco was able to deduce that whomever it was he would be sharing the tent with was someone who was very passionate about dragons and loved to research them all the time.
Still exploring his new environment, Draco began to peruse the room. There were several photographs adorning the mantle of the fireplace. It wasn't until he was finally able to get a closer look that his face fell. Every single photograph depicted one or more redhead with a face full of freckles and worn second-hand robes. Of course it would be just his luck that he'd end up bunking with a Weasley.
No sooner than thought crossed his mind, a very stout, muscular man with the very same red hair came through the hallway that led to the bedrooms. His face was tanned and possibly even more freckled than the others of his clan from spending so many hours in the sun with the dragons. His smile was warm and friendly. Draco wanted to like him, but the knowledge of who his family was disturbed him. How was he supposed to knowingly live with a Weasley? Draco had changed somewhat, but not enough for that.
"You must be my new tent mate," the Weasley man said happily, offering his hand to Draco. "I'm Charlie."
Draco stared at the proffered hand sceptically before finally accepting it, gingerly giving him a shake.
The older man did not seem to notice Draco's displeasure, for he smiled once more before releasing his hand and walking towards their humble kitchen. "Make yourself at home, all right?" Charlie said, rummaging through the cupboards in order to begin preparing something over the stove. "I know what it's like," he paused, shutting the ice box door with his hip, "to be new here." He was back in the doorway. "But if you're anything like me, you'll realise that everyone here is pretty decent."
The blond sneered as the other man turned away to continue working on his dinner. He sincerely doubted that he'd find all of the people around the dragon reserve to be decent.
Weeks of cohabitation went by. Draco was immediately forced into a routine during his first full day at the reserve. His schedule was rigorous and intense – and he was spending a great deal more time out in the sun than he ever had in his life – but he still felt that he was better off in Romania than he was back at home. Everything that waited there for him when it finally came time for him to leave weighed in at the back of his mind, but he chose to ignore it. He had more important things to concern himself with.
Many of the other workers on the reserve, Draco had come to find, were quite nice, just as Weasley had said. None of them knew about Draco's past, and thus no one gave him a hard time about being there. There were a few other men with whom the blond had made it a habit of sharing meals with, and occasionally he had even laughed at some of the things said over their lunch break. It was almost as though these men had been totally isolated during the War, and perhaps they had no idea at all about what was going on in England. Perhaps they had been oblivious to it. If that were the case, Draco mused, he should have come to work with dragons a lot sooner.
His opinion on Charlie Weasley, on the other hand, seemed to be infallible. Though the redheaded man did nothing to hurt Draco, or tease him mercilessly, or call him names, or compare him to his father, or… Draco could not seem to disengage. The man before him was still a Weasley, and thus Draco felt that the other man was unworthy. A Weasley – no matter which one or under which circumstances – was never good enough in the eyes of a Malfoy.
It wasn't until Draco's worst fears were realised that this changed.
It was just past midday, and Draco had had a particularly rough morning. One of the Norwegian Ridgebacks had been especially difficult and had been absolutely refusing to eat. But it was still Draco's responsibility to ensure that his dragons ate, and after a dozen or so unsuccessful attempts, Charlie Weasley had come to his aid, demonstrating that oftentimes pregnant dragons needed to be coaxed in a certain way. Though he would never admit such a travesty, Draco was quite grateful, but since he was coated in a thick layer of mud and grime, he decided to skip over his lunch break in favour of a long, hot shower.
After taking a blissfully slow shower, which somehow seemed to soothe every ache in Draco's body from stress that he hadn't realised he'd been experiencing, he stepped out into the steam-filled room and wrapped a towel around his waist before stepping out into the hallway.
And there was Charlie Weasley, staring at him with a slightly opened mouth.
At first Draco wasn't sure what the older man was gaping at. The man had a thousand brothers, after all, and as poor as the Weasleys were, it wasn't unlikely that they'd had to share one single bathroom.
But then the blond remembered about the ugly scar that marred his otherwise pale skin. He remembered what that mark symbolised, what it meant that he had it.
Weasley didn't move or speak – just stared – until Draco was finally able to mumble something incoherent under his breath and walk away, wondering how quickly Aurors from England could arrive in England to apprehend a wanted fugitive.
Draco spent the rest of the day in his bedroom, lying flat on his back and staring up at the ceiling, wondering how he was going to show his face to his bunkmate ever again. It wasn't that he was anxious to impress Weasley – because that would imply that some part of him wanted Charlie's approval, and that was just absurd – but he was just so embarrassed that he had the Dark Mark, that he bore the indication that he supported the mass murder of Muggles and Muggleborns, that he had put his faith in the Dark Lord. Of course he still thought himself above others who were not of pureblood status, but that was how he was raised. How was he supposed to change everything he thought overnight? He couldn't and he wouldn't.
But that look on Weasley's face said everything that he needed to know. Even though Draco had never – could never – take a life, he still had once believed that the views that the mark represented were what he held onto, and that was obviously just as bad.
He stared at his left forearm and traced the dark imprint with the fingertips of his right hand. It had become a rough, dry scar once the magic from Lord Voldemort had been sucked from it, but it was still so plainly visible against his fair skin. It would always be there. He could never get rid of it. It would be a constant reminder of the things he had done, of the things he had tried to do, of all the people who would forever be afraid of him.
A soft knock brought Draco from his reverie. It would be Charlie, he knew, because even if someone else had been curious as to why he never returned to his duties after lunchtime, Weasley would still be sent in as a liaison to find out if he was all right.
Despite his instincts, the blond got up from his bed and opened the door. His hair was askew and he was wearing, for once, a short-sleeved shirt rather than his work robes. There was no sense in hiding his forearms now. His secret was out. If Weasley wanted to gape at him over it, he would do so whether or not the scar was covered.
It was Charlie on the other side, holding out a steaming mug of cocoa.
Draco raised his eyebrow in response. The blond had barely spoken to the older man since they had become tent mates, and he had never given an explanation as to why. So why was Charlie there now, offering him comfort in the form of a steamy hot beverage, when Draco had been nothing but cold and distant?
Charlie cleared his throat after a moment. "Just thought I'd check in on you," he said, somewhat uneasily. "You rushed off before you and I had a chance to talk."
Draco narrowed his eyes. "What have we to talk about?" he answered coldly, taking the mug from the other's hands. Perhaps pretending to be completely ignorant of the elephant in the room would be the best way to make Weasley go away.
But of course it didn't work in the slightest. Charlie closed the bedroom door with a click and rounded on the blond, eyes narrowed in frustration. But not anger, Draco noticed. Charlie appeared frustrated and irritated, and perhaps even a bit concerned. But not angry.
"Draco, can you please stop pretending that I'm stupid?" Charlie asked, his voice laced with exasperation. "It's not like I didn't know who you were before you got here, you pretentious git."
That made Draco stop. "What did you say?"
Charlie looked somewhat amused. "You did go to school with a few of my brothers and my baby sister. You think I've never heard stories of the infamous ferret? You think I didn't know that you're the reason for why my older brother was attacked by a werewolf?"
The blond didn't like this at all. He didn't like that the mask he had put up had been so transparent and all for naught. He hated that Weasley had been able to pretend for weeks that they had been strangers. He hated, most of all, that Weasley knew all of these things about him and said nothing.
Because that meant that maybe all of the things that had been bothering Draco since he had left England and since he had arrived at the reserve had been petty. He was holding onto memories and experiences that he ought to have let go a long time ago. He was making it impossible for him to be forgiven, and maybe that was because deep down that's what he felt he deserved.
Draco swallowed the lump in his throat. "I'm not – I'm not who I used to be," he said quietly.
Charlie's face softened even further as he took in the vulnerability of the younger man. "I also know, Draco, that you left England before they had a chance to try you as a Death Eater."
A wistful smile came to the older man's face. "I wrote to Ginny when I saw your name as one of the new workers on the reserve because I thought it was odd. And so did she, apparently, because she sent me a copy of your wanted poster. After that, I talked to her boyfriend and we worked it out that I would somehow convince you to go back and attend your trial and none of this would be held against you."
The blond found the strength to finally meet Charlie's eyes. "Why would you do that for me?" he asked, part of him curious and part of him grateful. "You didn't even know me, and everything you did know should have told you that I was a… a…"
"A Death Eater," Charlie finished for him. "I know."
"So, why, Charlie?" Draco asked, much more animatedly than he would have liked to. "Why would you want to help me when I've done nothing but hurt you and your family and the families of other people?"
There was no immediate answer. Rather, Charlie approached Draco with slow, precise steps and reached out to touch the younger man's left arm. His fingers – calloused and blistered from years of working with dragons and doing much manual labour – felt even rougher against the remains of the Dark Mark, but it sent a shiver through Draco's spine at the sensation of it being touched gently by another person. Not from it being activated by the Dark Lord. Not from the magic being sucked from him. But from someone who wanted to show him that it was all going to be okay. Draco gasped and let his eyes close gently, letting the feeling of being comforted by another human being take him over, if only for a minute.
"Draco, you're going to have to go back to England," Charlie said after a moment. "You can't stay here like this and not face what's waiting for you back home. It'll catch up with you eventually."
"But they'll send me to prison!"
"No, they won't," Charlie said easily. "Ginny said that her boyfriend testified for your family. Your mother and father both got off, Draco, and she said he'll do the same for you."
"Her boyfriend?" Draco questioned.
At this, Charlie smirked. "I think you've met him once or twice. A bespectacled fellow with a scar on his forehead. Goes by Harry."
Draco rolled his eyes. "So Potter is going to save my arse once again, is he?"
"No," the older man answered firmly. "The fact that you hate this scar on your arm and everything it stands for – that is what is going to save you. Because you're better than what this represents."
The words were said without a second thought, without even realising what they signified. For once, Draco Malfoy didn't consider himself better than anyone. Being a Malfoy no longer meant that his pureblood heritage and his family's money would place him above everyone else. It no longer meant anything. It was just a name.
Just like Weasley was just a name.
Charlie smiled softly and looked at the younger boy with very serious blue eyes. "Yes, Draco," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "You are so much better than that."
Muchas gracias to my lovely beta, TamariChan.