A/N: Hey everyone! I know its been a long time between chapters, and I'm sorry for the wait, but I really hope you enjoy this one and thank you for all your reviews and for sticking with this fic. I want to say a massive thank you to the incredible HPFF staff, especially sauerkraut_poet, for their help and advice. I really appreciate it guys.
Okay, here we go!
The following morning, Draco and Hermione sat with Ron, Harry and Ginny in the Manor’s living room. Ginny had been unable to discover why Draco’s body reacted so strongly to the Veritaserum, saying simply that it could have just been a freak coincidence, words that offered Draco no comfort whatsoever.
“You have no idea?” he asked crossly, folding his arms over his chest and glaring at the redhead. Ginny sighed, playing with a strand of her long hair.
“No. And before you get all testy, I asked around at work. None of the senior healers at St Mungo’s could tell me anything. There have been reported cases, but each one is different. I’m guessing that your body reacted the way it did because of the amount of the potion you have been exposed to in the past. It does not necessarily have to be a bad thing.”
Draco raised his eyebrows. “Really? So I should just forget about it then,” he snapped, and Harry frowned.
“Lay off, okay, Malfoy? She did her best,” he said firmly, his arm sliding around his wife’s shoulders. Draco scowled.
“This is all your fault, Potter. You and Weasley. Why couldn’t you just believe me?”
Ron blushed, with embarrassment or anger Draco could not tell. “Yeah, that was an option.”
“Enough, okay,” Hermione said loudly as Draco opened his mouth to retort. She lay a hand on his arm and he felt his body relax, responding to her touch. He gave her a weak smile, leaning over to kiss her cheek softly, muttering a terse ‘sorry’ in her ear. Ron was sitting glaring at them with his arms folded over his chest, and Harry simply looked weary and stressed out. Draco sighed, turning back to the people he had come to regard as tentative friends. He needed them, taking a deep breath before speaking, feeling terribly nervous about what they would say.
“So, anything on this Mark of mine, Potter? Weasley?” Draco asked bluntly, taking a sip of his drink. Harry shook his head.
“Nothing. We’ve searched the archives, going over all the records, all the statements from the Death Eaters captured over the years. We’ve looked into the magic used to create the Dark Mark, but we cannot find anything to explain why this is happening now Voldemort is dead,” he explained.
“So I just have to put up with this bloody painful thing on my arm for the rest of my life?” Draco asked bitterly, scratching absentmindedly at his forearm.
Ron sat forward. “There is another possibility. Zabini.”
Hermione frowned. “What do you mean, Ron?”
Draco only laughed. “Zabini wants to be the next Dark Lord.”
Ron nodded. “It’s a stretch, but the only thing we can think of. I’m sorry, Malfoy. I know that’s the last thing you want to hear; the last thing any of us want to hear.”
“What do you know?” Harry asked Draco, watching him closely. Draco knew Harry was thinking he knew more than he had said, choosing, as Harry had done himself many times throughout his life, to keep certain information hidden.
“Not much,” Draco sighed, leaning forward and resting his empty class on the table. “Only that he is hungry for power. I don’t know the inner workings of his plans; unfortunately, I was not a good enough psychopath to be let in on the secret. What I do know is that even though Voldemort is physically gone, his power is still out there. His knowledge and skill. His magical ability. Zabini wants it badly.”
“You’ll just have to make sure you capture him before it can happen then, won’t you,” Ginny said in a quiet voice, her eyes shifting between Ron and Harry. “As much as I hate the idea of you being out there chasing Dark Wizards, Harry, you and Ron are the best Aurors the Ministry has.”
“What does Percy have to say about this?” Hermione asked quietly.
“He has called a meeting for tomorrow morning, to discuss the plan of attack. I’ve been thinking though, Hermione. If we’re going to go after Zabini, we will need more help,” Harry said, looking intently into her eyes. She nodded.
“I’ll send out Owls tonight,” she replied, her face determined.
“You won’t find him. He’ll have moved his whole operation again. It’s what they do, when they feel threatened. He could be anywhere,” Draco said in a harsh voice.
“That’s why we need help,” Hermione answered with a smile.
“Why are we here?” Draco asked irritably, looking around in confusion. He was standing in a dirty, deserted Muggle street somewhere in the bowels of London, with Hermione at his side. She squeezed his hand, smiling at him. Refuse littered the side of the road, and the buildings opposite them were coated in layers of grime. The decaying scent of garbage floated through the air, and Draco wrinkled his nose delicately. Hermione laughed softly, and he frowned at her.
“I know the meeting this morning was not helpful,” she said gently, and Draco snorted.
“Weasley is an idiot. The Ministry are idiots.”
Hermione smiled. “We know. That’s why we are here. Memorise this,” she said, thrusting a piece of parchment at Draco. He took it, read it, and handed it back to her, not asking any questions. It started to rain, the light drizzle quickly soaking into their plain Muggle clothes, and Draco had an overwhelming desire to be somewhere sunny, like the Caribbean, or Fiji.
A dull groaning sound echoed through his ears, and Draco looked up, watching with interest as the houses in front of them slowly thinned out, another dirtier two storey Muggle building springing up between them. The windows facing the street were all blacked out, and a thin trendril of white smoke leaked from the chimney and into the atmosphere. He let out a short, admirable laugh.
“Fidelius Charm. Clever,” he said softly.
Hermione looked at him in surprise. “You know where we are?”
“I can guess. The Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix? My father used to spend a lot of time ranting about this place. They could never find it, and it drove him mad. I always liked Sirius Black for that,” he mused with a smile.
“It belongs to Harry; it has since the end of fifth year at Hogwarts, but he lets the Order use it,” Hermione replied. “I haven’t been here in years,” she said with a sad sigh. “There’s been no need.”
“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” Draco muttered, but she ignored him, pulling on his hand, dragging him towards the door of 12 Grimmauld Place. She knocked loudly, once, and the door swung open to emit a small, thin man. His sandy hair was graying around the temples, and his skin was pale and drawn, but otherwise Remus Lupin looked no different to when he was a Professor at Hogwarts. His robes were still torn and disheveled, and he looked slightly ill. He smiled at Hermione warmly, before throwing Draco a quick nod, ushering them inside.
“Remus, how are you?” Hermione asked softly, giving the werewolf a gentle hug. Lupin patted her back affectionately, his eyes meeting Draco’s over Hermione’s chestnut head. Draco shifted uncomfortably under the intense stare Lupin gave him.
“Fine, Hermione, just fine. Come on, everyone else is already here,” Lupin replied, pulling out of her arms and leading them down the dark hallway. Draco followed Hermione, a sense of dread starting to coil deep within his stomach. He felt sick. This was not going to be pretty. He could already imagine the reactions.
Lupin paused before a closed door, his hand resting lightly on the handle. He nodded to Draco.
“I hope you’re ready for this, Draco Malfoy. There are a lot of people in there who never wanted to see your face again,” Lupin said softly.
Draco took a deep breath, feeling Hermione squeeze his arm. “Let’s get it over with then,” he mumbled, fiddling with the buttons on his shirt. Lupin nodded, and opened the door, quickly stepping into the room. Draco could hear a buzz of talk, and he turned to Hermione, nervous and apprehensive.
“I can’t go in there,” he said quickly, watching her face crease into a frown.
“You have to, Draco,” she replied.
Draco shook his head. “No. I can’t.”
Hermione sighed. “I never figured you were a coward, my love.”
“I’m not,” Draco said indignantly, then he sighed. “I just don’t know what to say to them all.”
“Harry will have told them most of it already. Today, we just want to focus on how to find Zabini, and we need your help for that. The Order knows that you can help, Draco. They may still resent you, but they will be fair,” Hermione replied softly, leaning over and kissing him gently on the lips. With her encouragement, although he doubted her words about fairness, Draco took a deep breath, and stepped into the room.
Heat blazed from the fireplace, engulfing him, but it was nothing compared to the force of the hatred that rose from the assembled group. Draco swallowed nervously, his eyes scanning the room, settling on faces he knew and recognized, faces he had not seen for six years, and longer in some cases. No one spoke. Draco ran his fingers through his hair, and wished he were invisible, wished that he were somewhere other than where he was, faced so blatantly with his past.
“You look more like your father than you ever did before boy,” a voice growled, and Draco turned, his eyes settling on the twisted face of Mad-Eye Moody. Moody was smirking, his gnarled fingers curled around his wand, a mischievous glint in his good eye. Draco shuddered in remembrance and humiliation. “Finally grew a spine did you?”
Draco said nothing. He heard Harry telling Moody to be quiet, but it didn’t matter. The old man’s words were true. He was the very image of Lucius, a fact Draco had to deal with everyday when he looked in the mirror. Lucius had bestowed his eyes, his pointed chin, his strong cheekbones and his nose on his son. His mouth came from his mother, and his hair, from both his parents. On occasions, Draco despised his appearance. Just that morning, he had spent a considerable amount of time staring at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, seriously considering shaving his head. The only thing that stopped him was his hair reminded him more of his mother than his father. Narcissa had always loved her son’s pale, silky hair. Draco wondered, not for the first time, how Hermione could stand to look at his face, to kiss him and hold him, make love to him, when he resembled Lucius so strongly, at least physically.
Draco looked around again, finally putting names to the faces he saw before him. Besides Moody and Lupin, his old transfiguration teacher and head of his rival House, Professor McGonagall, was sitting straight-backed close to the fire, wrapped in a green tartan cloak. Her bright eyes snapped to Draco’s face, and she gave him a very slight smile and a nod. There were, Draco noticed with a jolt of fear, five Weasley’s sitting around the table. Ron, Fred and George sat together on one side of the long wooden table, while two other men with red hair sat opposite them. Draco guessed the shorter stockier one was Charlie, while Bill was unmistakable. Draco swallowed as Bill’s eyes found his. The other man’s face was terribly deformed and scared; a result of an attack at Hogwarts by the werewolf Fenrir Greyback. The last time Draco had seen Bill was when he’d finally given in to the Ministry’s summons after he returned home, but at that time he had not given the other man a second thought. Bill fixed Draco with a hard glare, and Draco lowered his eyes, knowing he was responsible for Bill’s condition. He had, after all, let Greyback into the castle.
“You’re looking better than the last time we met, Malfoy. How’d you pull up?” Seamus Finnigan asked, uncorking a bottle of whiskey. He poured Draco a glass, sliding it down the length of the table towards him. Draco took it with thanks, allowing his body to slip down into a chair.
“It took a while, but I’m fully recovered now,” Draco replied, and Seamus grinned.
“Pity,” a voice snapped.
“George, please,” Hermione said wearily, sitting beside Draco. She turned to him. “You remember everyone?” she asked, and Draco nodded. Sitting beside George was Katie Bell. With her were Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, Lee Jordon and Ernie Macmillan. Neville sat with Luna, who looked dreamily into the fire, a small child, with a head of golden hair and bright brown eyes, on her lap, gurgling contentedly. Draco wondered if Luna even knew where she was. Next to her were Harry and Ginny, and Lavender Brown. Lupin stood off to one side, observing the interactions closely, while Moody’s magical eye rolled around like crazy, making Draco feel sick.
Draco smiled, raising his glass. “Dumbledore’s Army,” he said, not thinking, impressed they had all come through the War unscathed. Immediately, a choir of angry voices rose, flung in his direction.
“Don’t you dare mention Dumbledore, Malfoy!” Lee Jordan yelled, his face twisted in hate. Draco sighed, setting his drink down and sitting back in his chair, letting the insults and accusations roll over him like water.
“Shut up!” Harry yelled suddenly, banging his fist on the table. Draco raised his eyebrows in surprise. “He didn’t kill Dumbledore alright. How many times do I have to say it? It was Snape!”
The noise immediately quelled, although many murderous glances were thrown in Draco’s direction. He turned to Hermione, who was looking angrily at everyone in turn.
“I told you this was not a good idea,” he whispered, and Hermione shook her head.
“Still a coward, Malfoy?” Katie Bell asked in a quiet voice, overhearing him. “Are you planning on running away again, or will you actually stay and help us?”
Draco sighed, feeling terribly depressed. It was all too much. He wished he could have dealt with Harry and Ron, and no one else. At least they didn’t want to kill him anymore. He didn’t know how much more of it he could take. The Order hated him with a passion, and he found himself wondering did they always hate him this much, or had it evolved since Dumbledore’s death. He could only imagine what they were all thinking. They had stayed and fought, while he had run. He felt like a lamb to the slaughter, and had an inkling of what the Order had planned for him. Draco put his head in his hands, feeling like a sacrificial victim. His only solace was that there was no way Hermione would let them use him callously.
“Well,” Charlie Weasley snapped. “What’s it to be, Malfoy?”
“He’s staying, and he’s going to help,” Harry said firmly from the other end of the table. “Right, Draco?”
Draco lifted his head, meeting Harry’s intense green gaze. There was a challenge in his eyes, and Draco smiled wryly. “Right, Harry,” he said with emphasis, feeling Hermione squeeze his leg under the table. He flashed her a quick smile, noticing that their subtle interactions had not gone undetected, and he wondered exactly what Harry had told them all. Draco and Hermione had agreed between them not to make their relationship so obvious, at least, not yet. He could see Ernie and Lavender looking curious, their eyes shifting between him and Hermione, occasionally flickering to Ron, who sat staring frowning at the table, clearly uncomfortable.
“So,” Draco began, addressing his audience. “You want to find Blaise Zabini? I can tell you now, it will not be easy, and trust me when I say I will not let anyone use me as bait,” he said in a hard voice. A few people shifted uncomfortably in their seats, and Draco knew he had been right to be suspicious.
“How are we going to find him then?” Ginny asked, and a few people nodded, their eyes fixed on Draco.
“I don’t know,” he answered simply.
“What do you mean you ‘don’t know’? Isn’t that why you are here?” Fred Weasley asked in a loud voice.
“How the hell should I know where he is exactly, Weasley?” Draco asked irritably, and Fred scowled. “I’m not a Death Eater. In fact, if Zabini came bursting through that door right now, I’d be the first person he’d kill.”
“Do you have any idea where he might be then?” Lee asked, his voice tight, glaring at Draco as if he wanted to leap across the table and strangle him. Draco shook his head.
“He could be anywhere. Look, whenever he wanted to talk to me, he’d just show up, or send me messages telling me where to meet him. He didn’t exactly trust me. I have no idea where he operates from,” Draco replied, addressing the whole group.
“We need to get to him somehow,” Ron mused, spinning his empty glass in his hand. “What about any of your old mates, Malfoy?”
“Crabbe and Goyle are both dead,” Draco said indifferently. He never really cared about those two idiots anyway. “As for the rest … I haven’t really called everyone together for a House reunion since I’ve been back.”
“Well,” Lavender Brown began, twirling a lock of golden hair around her finger. “I saw Pansy Parkinson the other day, in Hogsmeade.”
Ginny rolled her eyes. “Are you sure, Lavender?”
“Yes, I’m positive it was her,” Lavender replied indignantly, looking at Draco. “You could always…”
“No bloody way!” Draco cursed, not liking the eager look in Lavender’s eyes. “I’m not going anywhere near that psycho witch. Forget it. Anyway, Pansy was never a Death Eater. She was just an idiot.”
Seamus laughed. “Come on, Malfoy. All you’d have to do is bat your eyelashes at her and she’d spill her guts. She was all over you at school, if I remember correctly.”
“Don’t remind me,” Draco grumbled, sneaking a side-ways glance at Hermione. Her lips were pursed together in annoyance, and he felt rather pleased at her sudden flash of jealousy.
“But I heard she married Zabini,” Lavender grumbled as all eyes swung to her.
“Are you sure?” Ron asked, and Lavender scowled.
“Why do people keep asking me that? Yes, I’m sure. I heard it from Parvati, who heard if from her cousin. She’d seen an announcement somewhere.”
“I’ll look into it,” Angelina said with a laugh at the look on Lavender’s face. “I know a few people who work at the Prophet and at Witch Weekly.”
“I’m not talking to Parkinson,” Draco snarled, folding his arms.
“You may not have a choice, Mr Malfoy,” McGonagall cut in, and Draco scowled. “However much you despise the idea, it may be the only way to find out where Blaise Zabini is.”
Lupin cleared his throat as Draco opened his mouth to retort. “There may be another way. Severus,” he said softly. There was an immediate uproar, and Draco saw Harry’s face twist in extreme hatred.
“No,” Harry said flatly. “No way.”
Lupin smiled. “We don’t have to find him Harry, just use his likeness.”
“Polyjuice Potion,” Moody growled with a grin.
“Alright, but where are we going to find anything of his?” Hermione asked, leaning forwards.
“Hogwarts,” McGonagall replied, standing up. “He never returned for any of his things. I have them all locked away. I will go and have a look, and send anything that may be useful back here as soon as possible.” McGonagall strode briskly from the room, bidding them all a good day.
“So I don’t have to talk to Pansy?” Draco asked hopefully, knowing he sounded childish.
Seamus laughed. “Sorry, Malfoy, but you know how long it takes to brew Polyjuice Potion.”
Draco sighed and slid an arm around Hermione’s shoulders, pulling her close, forgetting their agreement. He saw Fred and George throw him poisonous looks, but he only tightened his hold on her possessively, feeling he needed to keep his guard up around the Weasley twins. Angelina, Alicia, Katie and Lee stood, saying they had to get back to work, Angelina promising to find out where Pansy was and let them all know.
“Even if she didn’t marry Zabini,” Angelina said, “she may still know something.”
They left, Lee giving Draco a hard stare. Not long after, the others left too, Fred and George warning Draco in low voice that they would be watching every move he made. Draco nodded, knowing the Weasley twins meant it. Moody stomped out after them, telling them all to keep their heads down, and stay on their guard. Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Draco and Lupin were left alone in the large kitchen.
“You think using Snape will work?” Ron asked Lupin, who nodded and sat down wearily.
“He did kill Dumbledore after all. If that act didn’t prove where his loyalties lay, then I don’t know what would. We tried to find him, Moody, Hagrid and myself, but it was as if he vanished into thin air. Do you have any idea where he might be?” Lupin asked, turning to Draco, who shook his head.
“After he did my … after he killed … he got me away from Hogwarts, and then, he left. I have no idea where he went,” Draco answered, hearing Ron sigh. Harry was staring into the flames, his face tight, and his eyes distant.
“The question is,” Lupin said softly, sitting back with a frown. “Who will do it? Who will play Snape? They need to know every little thing about him, about how he spoke, acted, moved, thought…”
“I’ll do it,” Draco said quickly, forgetting his desire not to be a sacrifical lamb. He felt Hermione stiffen beside him. “I know his type better than I know myself.”