Shifting in the stiff low back chair from one uncomfortable position to the next, Bill took in a haggard breath and released it slowly.
It had been a long day that was quickly turning into an even longer night. He’d arrived five hours earlier, and since then, a healer had come out every once in a while to bring the family more news. Bill still couldn’t get over the fact that a Malfoy was apparently working tirelessly to help save his brother’s life. It was almost beyond comprehension.
He was still in a bit of a daze over the whole thing. His goofy, lovable, awkward baby brother was, at that very moment, fighting for his life. Granted, Ron hadn’t really been himself since Hermione’s disappearance. But now that she was back, he really seemed to be coming around to his old self again. Bill hoped it wasn’t all in vain.
He lifted his right hand to his eyes, rubbed them slightly with his thumb and index finger, and then pinched the bridge of his nose.
'If it hadn’t been for Fleur threatening me to answer that bloody floo, I would have ignored Percy’s call entirely.’ Bill berated himself silently.
The memory kept replaying in his mind.
Etienne was sick and had been particularly fussy taking up much of Fleur’s time. Unfortunately, Bill couldn’t be of any help to her because he had a Viability Assessment due for Monday morning.
The constant pitter patter of little feet, Fleur’s attempts at taming their wild son, and Etienne’s own well voiced temper tantrums when he wasn’t getting his own way rang loudly above Bill’s head. It sounded more like a herd of elephants than a mother with her toddler son.
To top things off, the Floo had been incessant all morning with meaningless sales calls, and his Mother-in-law’s annoying habit of checking on “le bebe et maman” every thirty minutes. Bill was on the verge of ripping the bloody fireplace clear out of the wall. He was never going to get any work done at this rate.
Once again, the floo network started to kick in.
‘I am not answering it this time.’ Bill huffed silently. ‘Vivien will just have to apparate over here if she really wants to see how bebe and maman are doing.’
“Beel!” Came Fleur’s disembodied voice from upstairs. “Can you pleeze ansere zat?”
“It’s probably just another salesman, Hun. If we pretend like we’re not home, maybe they’ll stop flooing.”
It continued for another thirty seconds then stopped. Not a minute later though, it started back up again. With grim determination, he ignored it, and eventually, whoever was on the other end seemed to give up. Thinking he had found the answer to his dilemma, Bill sighed happily. Suddenly, the floo kicked in for the third time.
“William Weasley, if I haf to come down zere and ansere zat floo, you weel be a very unappy man!”
The last thing he needed was an angry Fleur, especially when Etienne was obviously already riding her last nerve.
“Alright, alright,” he said jumping up quickly. “I’m coming. I’m coming…”
He reached the fireplace, and found Percy’s face searching frantically for some kind of response.
‘Great! Percy. This will be even better than talking to Vivien.’ Bill thought sarcastically.
“Cheers Percy! What can I do you for?” Bill asked tiredly.
“Why the bloody hell have you not been answering your floo?” Percy’s head bellowed at him.
Bill rolled his eyes. Percy could be such a pompous twit sometimes.
“Right, sorry! Been a little busy here this morning. What’s up?”
Percy’s expression went instantly from one of righteous indignation to that of worry. Bill noticed the change immediately.
“Um… well…” Percy stammered.
Growing concerned, Bill asked again. “Percy, what is it? Has something happened?”
Then it came. One of those moments in life when time feels like it has stopped completely.
“There was a Deatheater attack at the Ministry… It’s Ron… They’re treating him at St. Mungo’s.”
Bill’s chest constricted as a cold fear shot through him.
“Is he alright?” He asked quietly fearing the answer.
“Um… No, not exactly… Well actually, not at all.” Percy replied in a trembling voice.
“Percy?” Bill voiced weakly.
Percy paused to regain his composure. He swallowed the lump growing in his throat, and tried to continue.
“He’s apparently lost quite a bit of blood.”
A heavy silence took hold as Bill tried to absorb the shock.
“Who else have you flooed?” He finally managed.
“I’ve flooed Mum, and George and Fred were over there at the time visiting for tea. I called you next. I still haven’t reached Charlie yet.”
Bill nodded mindlessly.
“She’s the one treating Ron.” Percy answered quickly.
Bill nodded again.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he offered.
“Right. I have to try and get a hold of Charlie now.”
“Right… Oh, Percy?”
“Um… Thanks for the floo.”
Percy nodded, and his image was gone.
Bill stood stunned for a good minute before he found the presence of mind to move.
Gathering himself, he bolted for the stairs, and screamed, “FLEUR!!!”
Bill shook his head to clear away the memory. It wouldn’t do any good beating himself up over it. He was just lucky he had finally answered.
Fleur had taken Etienne to her parents’ house. A hospital waiting room was no place for an over active, sick two year-old.
He took a deep cleansing breath, and looked around the room at the other occupants.
Across from him, Charlie sat with his arm protectively around their Mum’s shoulder. When Bill had first arrived, he found her wailing hysterically, and hurtling desperate questions and demands at anyone she could get her hands on. It took a while for her to lay off the St. Mungo’s staff, but she was relatively calm now. She sat motionless staring vacantly at nothing in particular as a slow, steady stream of tears made their way down her face unheeded. Charlie was talking softly to her. His words were indiscernible to Bill’s ear, but he could guess that Charlie was just standing in his father’s stead trying to keep her calm.
Fred, George, and Angelina sat in the far corner. Everyone always assumed that Gred and Forge were of one mind, but at times like these, their differences became very clear. Fred had talked ceaselessly at a sympathetic Angelina ever since she’d arrived. He was a ball of nervous energy that wouldn’t stop. He babbled about everything from how business was doing, to the weather. Whenever he ventured into memories of teasing Ron and Gin, and childhood antics though, his voice would begin to shake uncontrollably, and Angelina would have to calm him down.
George, on the other hand, hadn’t said more than two words the entire day. Whenever anyone would attempt to engage him in conversation or ask him a question, his only response would be a slight nod or shake of the head. At the moment, he had his hands clutched together tightly pressing them against his lips, a look of deep consternation marring his brow. He hadn’t moved a muscle in over forty-five minutes.
The only family members not present were Father and Percy. Bill found their absence very strange, and a little disconcerting considering the gravity of the situation.
As Bill continued his surveillance of the room, his eyes fell upon Harry and Hermione deep in conversation. Not that there was anything odd about the sight of these two old friends talking, but something about the way they were holding themselves caught Bill’s attention. They were tense and whispering, almost as if they were back at Hogwarts, and up to their old schemes.
He chuckled lightly to himself, but sobered when it occurred to him that they were missing the third of their trio.
The tension in the darkly lit office was almost tangible.
“Let’s keep this brief Mr. Sparkle. Obviously, my son and I have other places we’d much rather be at the moment.” Mr. Weasley said in a business like tone.
“Yes Minister,” the boring little man responded.
“Now, let me just quickly confirm the Council’s decision in this matter,” he continued. “At your request, they have decided to forgo the agreed upon punishment for Mr. Malfoy’s transgression. In exchange for his failure to uphold his sentence, Mr. Malfoy will be required to work jointly with St. Mungo’s and the Ministry as a Cursebreaker specializing specifically in Deatheater curses. He will be required to perform this service for the course of one year, at which time he can either choose to continue this work voluntarily or pursue his own ambitions. Is this correct, Minister?”
“Yes.” Arthur Weasley answered curtly.
“What about any other stipulations of his sentence? Is there anything else I should be aware of in preparing the documentation?”
“Yes,” Percy piped in. “Mr. Malfoy will be permitted to practice magic in the presence of an Auror or other Ministry designated witch or wizard. Also, he is forbidden from leaving England without the express permission of the Ministry. Other than that, the terms of his punishment remain unchanged from the original draft.”
Mr. Sparkle nodded, and made the amendment to his notes.
Mr. Weasley stood, and released the breath he didn’t realize he was holding. “Well, if that’s everything, I believe we’ll be off Mr. Sparkle.”
“Yes Minister, and may I say I wish your son a speedy recovery.” Mr. Sparkle said merely for the sake of etiquette as he himself stood.
“Thank you, Mr. Sparkle. Come along Percy. I don’t want to keep your mother and brother’s waiting any longer. Good day!” Mr. Weasley said finally to the little paper pusher and was gone.
“Good day!” Percy said to Mr. Sparkle, and followed his father’s lead.
“Goodbye gentleman,” Mr. Sparkle said to the empty room.
He sat back down, and focused his attention on the mound of paper before him. This new development would entail a ridiculous amount of paperwork.
He sighed, picked up his quill, and got to work.
“They’re gone?” Came a voice directly across from him not two minutes later.
Not having heard his latest visitor’s arrival, Mr. Sparkle jumped. He looked up, and gave the man a small smile of greeting.
“They just left not a moment ago,” he responded.
“Running back to their fallen kinsmen’s bedside I suppose,” the man sneered. “Now, you said in our last meeting that you may have some information I might find of use.”
“Yes, I believe I do. Minister Weasley basically overturned the decision of the Council not once, but twice now. Albeit, the first time was to gain a great deal of information on the Deatheater’s movement.”
Here, the man growled angrily. “Draco will be punished for that… error in judgment. What of this second time you speak of though?”
“Well, Draco was not supposed to practice magic in any way, shape, or form. He did, however, when he attempted to save Auror Weasley’s life. In all rights, he should be sent to Azkaban for breaching the terms of his punishment agreement. This is not going to happen now. Minister Weasley has overturned the Council’s earlier decision, and has made them agree to not only look the other way on this matter, but employ Mr. Malfoy as a Cursebreaker for the Ministry and St. Mungo’s.”
“A very smart move on the Minister’s part, but I can see how this might be perceived as a major misuse of power for personal gain. It is, at the very least, a direct conflict of interest. Well done! If more incriminating information comes to light, you know where to find me.”
The man stood to leave.
“What of your son?”
Lucius Malfoy offered a vicious smirk.
“Oh, I’m going to let him get settled into his new life. Perhaps, when he’s embedded deeply enough into the Ministry, I’ll pay him a visit.”
And with that, the imposing man was gone having disapparated away.
Mr. Sparkle smiled to himself, and returned to the paper work before him.
“Harry, I didn’t see you here for over two weeks, and Ron was gone for even longer. No one would tell me anything, and they kept all forms of media away from me. Trust me, I tried. I was worried sick.” Hermione whispered angrily.
“Not even Ginny, or Lavender talked to you?” Harry seemed truly surprised by this.
“They briefly told me what was happening to Draco, but they didn’t say anything about the two of you being involved.”
“Maybe they didn’t know.” Harry offered.
“How could they not?” Hermione protested.
“Well, I don’t think it was initially the Council’s intention to have us at the trial. But when Ron convinced Draco to give evidence on everything he knew in exchange for a lighter sentence…”
“Ron did what? In Merlin’s name, why? I mean he hates Draco.”
Harry chuckled slightly.
“Yah, about that. He really doesn’t.”
Confused by Harry’s elusiveness, Hermione asked. “What? What do you mean? What aren’t you telling me, Harry?”
“Well three months ago, Ron accidentally found out about the Ministry’s plot to prosecute Draco. They threatened to take him off the case and relocate him to Rome unless he stayed quiet.”
Hermione thought for a moment on this revelation before continuing on. “It still doesn’t explain why he turned into a right git toward Draco these last couple months. He was doing so well, and then all of a sudden… bam… he turned into a jerk again.”
“Ron thought if he could convince the Ministry he hated Draco, he’d be able to stay in the information loop longer and protect him from the inside.”
“But why didn’t he just tell me that in the first place?” Hermione seemed to plead.
“Hermione, can you honestly say you wouldn’t have stormed the Ministry if you knew what they were up to?”
Hermione pouted slightly at Harry’s bang on assessment of what she would have done.
“Well, he could have at least told you. I’m assuming you didn’t find out until recently as well.”
Harry’s demeanor darkened.
“I understand his reasons. I have a bit of a reputation at the Ministry for doing what I think is right, everyone else be damned. Ron thought it better if I didn’t know.” Harry said with a certain amount of bitterness. “Also, he felt us not knowing would make our reactions more realistic.”
A shadow passed over Hermione’s features, and she seemed to be struggling with something.
“Why’d he have to go, and play the hero, Harry?” She finally said becoming visibly upset.
Harry knew exactly what she was referring to.
“I don’t know for sure, Hermione. I know it was partially for you, but he’d also grown attached to Draco believe it or not.”
A short moment of silence took hold as both fell deeper into their own thoughts.
“I know I’ve already asked this a million times Harry, but tell me again what happened outside the Ministry… with Bellatrix?”
Harry had gone over this with her several times, and he found her obsession with needing to know all the details a little disturbing. He decided to appease her nonetheless.
“She came to kill Draco with a very nasty curse, but Ron jumped in the way.”
Hermione just shook her head as the tears welled up again for the umpteenth time that day.
She leaned her head into Harry’s shoulder, and sobbed. “That stupid git…”
The rest of what she said came out as incoherent mumbling.
Suddenly, Ginny emerged from the healing room covered in what could only be Ron’s blood. She looked absolutely exhausted and stressed.
Molly spotted her first, and gave a loud shriek waking the others from their stupor. Everyone moved over to Ginny in a huddled audience.
“How is he?” Bill asked voicing the question on everyone’s mind.
Ginny sighed heavily.
“He’s alive. There was a lot of damage to his right lung, his kidneys, and his heart though. I was able to perform a mending charm on each of them as well as the superficial gashes.”
Speaking for the first time in hours, George asked. “Can we see him? When do you think he’ll be awake?”
“I need you all to be realistic here. Ron has lost a lot of blood. Maybe too much. We were able to repair the damage for the most part, but the next 48 hours are going to be crucial. It all depends if Ron takes to the replenishing charms I placed on him. Fortunately, he fought really hard in there to stay with us. I don’t think he’ll give up easily.”
The group was silent considering the weight of this pronouncement. Molly began to break down again, and Arthur wrapped his arms around her.
“Draco really helped?” Bill questioned still skeptical.
“Without Draco,” Ginny shook her head, but continued, “we would have definitely lost him. Every measure I took to mend the wounds, Draco followed me up by placing the binding counter curse. Because of the effect of the Cutting curse, Ron’s injuries would have just kept reopening regardless of what I did, and he would have eventually bled out. Now, at least he has a fighting chance.”
All of a sudden, the doors behind Ginny opened revealing a very fatigued looking and bloodied Draco. He moved slowly through the doorway, but froze when he found everyone’s gaze locked on him. He looked each person in the eye. Some still held blatant mistrust, while others bewilderment as to why he would help.
For all of this, no one said a word to him.
‘Bloody gits!’ He thought darkly. ‘What do I have to do? Raise the bloody dead to get a ‘thank you’? Wait, that’s exactly what I did do!’
Finally he spoke. “You’re welcome, but before you ask, I didn’t do this for you… For any of you,” he said bitterly.
Hate, judgment, and scorn flushed instantly onto the Weasleys’ faces, but he continued on regardless.
“I did it for Ron. He saved my life, and it was within my power to save his. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Draco turned away from them, and shakily began to walk down the hall. They all watched him leave in shock.
About ten feet away, however, he stopped abruptly. His whole frame swayed, and then his knees gave out, and he collapsed in a heap onto the floor.
“Oh dear!” Hermione mumbled as she ran to him.
She knelt down, and rolled him over taking him into her arms.
Ginny joined her on the ground, and began to wave her wand over him.
“He’s suffering from dehydration, and extreme exhaustion. We have to get him moved to a bed.”
“Could you levitate him?” Hermione asked her voice revealing a hint of desperation.
“I’m too spent from Ron’s healing. I might drop him.”
Hermione worried her bottom lip, but before either could come up with another solution on how to relocate him, a quiet male voice broke through.
“Here, I can carry him.”
Both women looked up to find Bill hovering over them.
A little surprised, Hermione moved back to allow him room. Bill tucked his left arm under Draco’s back, and used his right to hook under his knees.
He took a deep, steadying breath, and hoisted the unconscious man up.
Once he was certain he had a good hold on Draco, he asked. “Where to Gin?”
For her part, Ginny just stared at her brother in disbelief before shaking her head slightly.
“Right. This way?”
And the three headed off down the hallway toward Draco’s old room.