Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all related settings, characters, and terminology belong to the great JK Rowling.
Author's Note: This story was written for Kyla in the DG Forum's 2013 Holiday Gift-Fic Exchange. Her prompt was "innocent, fresh starts." Merry Christmas, Kyla!
I don't know what the deal is, but this story is similar in theme to the last two Christmas stories I wrote, Draco Unwrapped and A Very Normal Christmas. I guess there's something about Draco feeling outcast and ultimately being accepted that interests me. I apologize in advance if this feels repetitive, but I hope you like it anyway!
Of Conditional Innocence and Fresh Starts
Draco was released from Azkaban on December 24th, 1998. He sat in a cell for months, mostly waiting. Waiting for his trial to start, waiting to make court appearances, waiting for a decision, a sentence, and then to start his punishment for his crimes. He waited nearly six months to be told what he already knew: that he was guilty and unworthy of redemption. Isn't that what the Dark Lord and his followers had said about the Malfoys in snide whispers? Draco had failed to kill Dumbledore his sixth year at Hogwarts, and for that, his family had been shunned by the very people with whom they had aligned themselves.
Well, they lost the war, and Draco's attempt to save his family—not only their reputation, but also their lives—had cost him. No matter what the outcome had been on the Astronomy Tower that night, Draco would have failed, and now he had to pay for what he'd dared to try.
He'd watched as both of his parents were convicted and sentenced, and when it was his turn, his luck suddenly changed.
"Draco Malfoy," Kingsley Shacklebolt, the acting Minister of Magic, said. "For the crime of using an Unforgivable Curse, this court finds you guilty. However, we have determined that you acted under extreme circumstances, the pressure under which even the best witches and wizards might have cracked. Since you were underage at the time of your crimes, we find you conditionally innocent."
Draco, who had been holding his breath and staring at the chains around his feet, finally looked up, and his breath escaped in a gasp that was echoed around the courtroom. Shocked chatter from the audience filled the silence, but Draco could only hear the Minister's words. Conditionally innocent. What in Merlin's name did that mean?
"You are free to go," Shacklebolt continued, "on the condition that someone takes you in to look after you for the next six months. Preferably a family of outstanding reputation. Is there such a family you can think of that would agree to keep you?"
Dazed, Draco looked at the other members of the Wizengamot seated around the Minister. Their austere faces showed no sympathy for him, and he realized that they had the power to throw him in Azkaban simply to keep him out of the way. The fact that they hadn't chosen to do so meant they were showing him mercy they were under no obligation to show. Once that thought crossed his mind, his spine stiffened, but he didn't know how to appear grateful for their gift.
"No," he said, "I don't know any families like that."
Perhaps this was the trick. If no family would keep him, would he go to Azkaban then? But of course he didn't know any families with outstanding reputations. He was a Malfoy, and most of his acquaintances had relatives in Azkaban serving sentences or waiting for their own trials.
The Minister spread his hands wide. "Then I open my question to the court. Is there anyone here who would choose to take in Mr. Malfoy as his or her ward?"
Dead silence. Draco didn't dare to look around. He stared straight at the Wizengamot with as much dignity as he could muster, even though he was chained to a chair.
"We do, Minister," a male voice said, and Draco was shocked—as were the rest of the people in attendance—when Arthur Weasley stood up.
"Are you sure, Arthur?" the Minister asked.
"Yes," he responded. "Very sure."
Shacklebolt nodded. "Members of the Wizengamot, Arthur Weasley has volunteered to keep Draco Malfoy for the duration of his probation. Those in favor, raise your right hand." He took a moment to count, but it was clear that the majority had agreed with the solution. "Mr. Malfoy, you are free to go."
The chains immediately released, and Draco jumped out of the chair before they changed their minds and clamped around his ankles and wrists again. Murmurs flew around the courtroom, but he didn't pay attention; he was watching as Arthur Weasley and his daughter made their way to the floor to meet Draco. He was mildly surprised that the whole brood hadn't tagged along, especially Ron, but he was thankful for it. It had been bad enough having to sit in the middle of the courtroom while Harry Potter testified. Having Potter's sidekick around would have been the icing on the cake as far as this experience went.
"Ready, son?" Arthur asked, but Draco looked at the girl when he nodded. She nodded back to him, her expression neutral, only the slightest tightness in her lips.
Draco followed them out of the courtroom, and he heard her ask her father in a low voice, "What did he mean conditionally innocent? Are they just making up rulings now?"
"They're getting tired," Arthur answered. "You can see it in their faces. There have been so many trials over the last five months, and they're ready for this to be over."
Draco could tell by the way she clenched her fists that she did not like his answer, and when she turned around to look at him, her expression was angry.
They took the Floo to their home, and Draco had been tempted to yell out "Malfoy Manor" instead of "The Burrow" when he threw his Floo powder into the grate. Neither Weasley warned him about the consequences of running away, and that alone made him want to try it, but just as his surname was about to leave his lips, a deep exhaustion overtook him, and he said the correct destination instead.
The fatigue didn't leave him when he arrived in a small, cluttered kitchen and tripped over the chair someone had left pulled out after breakfast or lunch. He barely noticed when Mrs. Weasley—Molly, she asked him to call her—wrapped him in a stiff hug and welcomed him with a reluctant smile. When Arthur arrived, he showed Draco around the house, and then to his room, which, apparently, had belonged to Bill and Charlie before they'd moved away from home several years ago.
Finally left alone for the first time since he had prepared for trial that morning, Draco threw himself across one of the extra-long beds (clearly they had been adjusted to fit the tall bodies that had lain in them), and his eyes immediately fell shut.
He was woken up by a soft, hesitant prod on his shoulder blade. Without moving, his eyes opened to find Ginny Weasley standing over him. He grunted at her.
"Mum asked me to invite you down for dinner, but you don't have to come. All of my brothers and their families are here… and Harry."
Draco arched an eyebrow, and she continued, a little more flustered than before. "I mean, everyone knows you're here. And of course Harry does—he's the one who asked us to take you in. But we know it might be awkward, so—"
"Wait," he said, finally sitting up. "What do you mean Potter asked you to take me in?"
She stared at him for a moment, obviously taken back by his question, and her cheeks were stained red in embarrassment.
"Er… well, it was quite clear you would be convicted for the Unforgivable against Madame Rosmerta, so he asked the Minister to consider probation instead of prison. I honestly don't know why, but he asked my parents to take you in."
"And they agreed simply because Potter asked?" he said with a sneer. The tiny walls of the bedroom suddenly felt smaller, and he wanted her to leave. He would have suffered any punishment the Wizengamot gave him as long as he didn't have to be indebted to Harry effing Potter.
"No! Of course not, Malfoy," she snapped. "Do you really think we would readily take you just because Harry asked us to? We didn't want you here."
Teeth clenched, his hand went to his waist for his wand, but it had been taken from him. Part of his conditional innocence dictated that he go wandless for half of his probation. With good behavior, he'd get it back after three months. His hand fell back to the bed, but it remained clenched in a fist.
"Then why did you agree?" he asked, seething.
"Because Harry thought you deserved a second chance! And he insisted that you wouldn't be any trouble."
"Why the hell did he think that?" he scoffed.
She just stared at him until he looked away. He knew why Potter thought he wouldn't be any trouble. Because Draco was a nuisance, not dangerous. How many times had he heard it in his aunt's derisive comments after his failed attempt at murder? He was a kitten pretending to be a manticore. He'd only proved his aunt right when Potter had escaped from their clutches over Easter—along with all of the prisoners in the dungeons.
Calmer and more composed, she took a deep breath. "Like I said, you're welcome to join us for dinner." She hesitated for a moment, and then added, "It's Christmas Eve. No one deserves to be alone on Christmas."
She left the room after that, leaving Draco with things to think about.
A second chance. This was an opportunity for a fresh start, to change his allegiances even though the war was over. If he behaved and cooperated, maybe the public's opinion of him would change. Maybe his parents' convictions would merely be a speck on his own reputation, not a stain. Maybe one day he could rise above what had happened to him during the war and make something of his life.
It was a long shot, and he didn't want to bother, but he was now at the very bottom of the hierarchy of power. The Malfoy name meant nothing anymore. If he didn't make an attempt, if he didn't earn the approval of the public, what would be the point? He might as well move to another continent. There would be no more opportunities for a fresh start in England if he didn't take this one.
As he wound his way down the narrow, curving stairs, he heard chatter and laughter at the end of them. No particular words were discernable, but it was clear the Weasleys were a happy family. The Malfoys had been happy, too, but they'd never shown pleasure as boisterously as the Weasleys did now, and it was strange to think this was how other families behaved.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs, conversation abruptly halted. Draco didn't look anyone in the eyes, focusing instead on the roast sitting in the middle of the table. He didn't want to see the gloating or hateful expressions on his Hogwarts nemeses' faces. Draco had already been defeated and brought to his lowest low—wasn't that enough?
The attention of the room shifted when Ginny stood up and walked around the table to Draco's side. She touched his arm and placed a gentle hand on his back; her touch was so light, he could barely feel it through his robes. Then he realized he was still wearing the prisoner uniform he'd worn for the last six months, and his cheeks burned in embarrassment. No words were spoken as Ginny led him back around the table, to an empty chair on her left. They took their seats and as she smiled at him, he saw her father smile at her with pride.
What must it feel like for a father to have pride for his son?
The conversation picked back up again, and Draco was left to himself, which was perfectly fine with him. Every once in a while, Arthur or Ginny would ask him a question, or someone would pass him a basket of dinner rolls, or Molly would offer to refill his glass of cider. Draco's gaze avoided looking Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Harry Potter, and they ignored him in return. Across the table from him, George Weasley told stories of joke product experiments gone wrong, and when Percy Weasley suddenly turned into a giant chicken at the opposite end of the table, everyone laughed, including Draco. (Well, Molly was outraged and demanded that George turn Percy back at once, but even this was funny to Draco.)
He may have only been conditionally innocent, but he'd never felt more accepted than he did now. And maybe it was all a farce—maybe the Weasleys felt obligated to include him—maybe they were forced to make nice for someone else's sake—but this was his second chance, his new beginning—his fresh start.