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Innocent by MarauderLover7
Chapter 58 : Picking Up The Pieces
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7

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“Come in, Dawlish,” Scrimgeour called. John straightened his robes, smoothed his expression, and entered. “Can I help you with something?” Scrimgeour asked, in a rather frosty voice. John didn’t meet the Head Auror’s eyes. Malfoy’s plan to tie Scrimgeour’s fate to Black had succeeded, it just hadn’t gone the way they’d hoped; with Black proven innocent, Scrimgeour now looked like an excellent judge of character, and held his position more securely than ever. He also appeared to be rather unhappy with John for making the statement about his friendly attitude toward Black.

“Just my report,” John said, holding the scroll of parchment up. “On the Dementor incident,” he added, when Scrimgeour looked blank.

“Robards gave the case to you?” Scrimgeour looked surprised by that, and John hid a scowl. Robards hadn’t given him anything. John had had to ask for it, though Robards was busy enough with his missing person case that he’d handed it right over. Malfoy had instructed John to take over the investigation. Umbridge was behind it, he’d said, and leverage over her was a valuable thing. He’d also said that Fudge must never know.

“Two days after the trial,” John said, putting it down on Scrimgeour’s desk. Scrimgeour didn’t touch it.


“And what?” John asked. Scrimgeour rolled his eyes.

“And who did it?” Scrimgeour asked, very patiently.

“Pettigrew.” That was John’s own idea, because it was almost too easy to frame a man who’d already admitted to trying to kill both of the intended victims. “Didn’t want the truth to come out, apparently. Even without evidence, Black’s testimony would have made things hard for him.”

“I see,” Scrimgeour said, in a voice that gave nothing away. “And how did he get the Dementors to help him?”

“He said he had inside help,” John said. “He wouldn’t give us a name, but I’m looking into that.”

“I see,” Scrimgeour said again. “Any leads?”

“We think it might be McKinnon, Robards’ missing trainee. A source told me that she and Black they have history-” Dawlish silently thanked Malfoy, yet again. “-and since Robards said he found her and Pettigrew together before he brought Pettigrew in... well, it seems logical, doesn’t it?”

“Certainly,” Scrimgeour murmured.

“It’s all in there, anyway,” John muttered, waving a hand at his report. Scrimgeour pulled the parchment toward him, looking interested now. “I’ll keep you updated on McKinnon.”

“Excellent,” Scrimgeour said, browsing through. “Thank you, Dawlish.”

John left the office and headed straight to the lift, which he took to Level Nine, and then walked down to Level Ten, just to ensure he hadn’t been followed. He knocked once on the office door.

“It’s John,” he called, and a moment later, Umbridge pulled it open and ushered him inside. Dawlish conjured a chair and sat; Umbridge was already situated at the desk.

“Where’s Malfoy?” Before she could answer him, however, there was another knock and Malfoy let himself in.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said, conjuring himself a chair. “Robards cornered me, wanting a word. I was the last person – other than himself or Pettigrew – to see McKinnon.”

“I only just arrived myself,” John said, shrugging.

“I’ve been here for ten minutes,” Umbridge said crossly. John muttered an apology, though Malfoy didn’t bother.

“So she hasn’t been found, yet?” John asked.

“Obviously not. Frankly, she can stay wherever it is she’s got to-”

“Then having her as a suspect in the Pettigrew-Dementor case is a bad idea, isn’t it?” John said.

“The Pettigrew- the what?” Umbridge asked. John and Malfoy ignored her.

“Shall I-”

“No, leave it,” Malfoy told him. “Once that rumour reaches the paper, she’ll have an incentive to stay in hiding, and then it’s less likely that she’ll be found.” John didn’t know why Malfoy harboured so much dislike for McKinnon, and he knew better than to ask. Everyone had hobbies, after all. “Has there been any news of Black?” he asked, turning to Umbridge.

“Nothing,” she said, rather angrily. Malfoy glanced at John, who shook his head as well.

“Bones has her wand in a knot – reckons it’s been a week, and that they should have contacted her about the second trial by now.”

“And when has Black ever done what he should?” Malfoy drawled. “Thankfully, this works in our favour. Fudge’s position is precarious, as you no doubt know, and we need as much time as we can get to build the second case-”

“Second case?” Umbridge said, shrilly. “Don’t you think we suffered enough in the first-”

“No serious allegations will be made,” Malfoy assured her. “Trying to put him back in Azkaban would be disastrous at this point. No, we just need to make Black look like less of a victim.”

“How?” John asked. Malfoy leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment.

“Well, the Animagus charges, for one,” Malfoy said. “And we can probably get Lupin on kidnapping charges from St Mungo’s. I have my solicitor deconstructing their accounts, and I’m sure she’ll find something we can pin on them.”

“And what about Cornelius?” Umbridge asked.

“What about him?”

“Well, he’s not very popular at the moment,” Umbridge said, looking frustrated. John’s eyes met Malfoy’s for a brief moment, and then they both looked away. They were obviously both thinking the same thing; Fudge was useless, and didn’t have the slightest idea how to run the Ministry. Without the three of them whispering ideas into his ears, he’d have crashed and burned a long time ago. Merlin, even with their help he was still doing fairly well at ruining everything.

The only reason they’d kept Fudge around this long was because, as Minister, he could give them things. John was in it for the money, and for a higher rank, and Umbridge wanted the same as John did, but also had some strange affection for their hapless Minister. Malfoy – as far as John could tell - was in it solely because he liked playing puppeteer, and feeling like he was in control.

“There’s an understatement,” John muttered, and Umbridge glared at him.

“The peoples’ faith in him will be restored in time,” Malfoy said. “Fudge is hardly an innocent in all of this, but he wasn’t in charge when Black was arrested, or when he escaped. I feel the public ought to be reminded of that...”

“They blame him for the Dementor attack in the cells, though,” John said.

“If Black hadn’t brought it up,” Umbridge began, “no one would have known-”

“The Minister managed to convince Scrimgeour to stay quiet about it, but it would have been leaked eventually. Two Aurors were Kissed that night, remember.” Umbridge wilted, and Malfoy gave her a pointed look. “Black may have brought it to the public’s attention, which is inconvenient, but as far as I’m concerned, the largest inconvenience is that it happened at all.”

“Yes,” Umbridge said, flushing. “Well. I’m sure-”

“We know it was you,” John said.

“Me?” Umbridge squeaked. “No- I- Wherever did you get that idea?”

“We’re not all as oblivious as Fudge,” Malfoy told her, and she deflated. She had the decency to look embarrassed.

“I had the best intentions when-”

“I’m sure,” Malfoy said curtly. “Dawlish has said in his report that Pettigrew was the perpetrator, and it’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.”

“Yes,” she agreed, straightening the horrible bow she wore in her hair. “Perfectly reasonable.”

“You got lucky,” John told her.

“Very,” Malfoy agreed, and Umbridge, who’d been scowling at John, looked chastened. “I’d advise you consult one or both of us before you try anything that foolish again.”

“Of course,” Umbridge said sweetly, baring her teeth.

“Good. In the meantime, see to it that Fudge gets the support he needs. Your role as Junior Undersecretary makes you well suited for that.” In other words, she was to stay close to Fudge, and out of everyone else’s way. “Dawlish, keep me informed on anything to do with Black or McKinnon, and try to keep Scrimgeour from poking too many holes in your report.” John swallowed his irritation at being told what to do, and nodded. “I’ll keep looking for charges to pin on Black, and I’ll do what I can to reassign blame and repair Fudge’s public image.” Malfoy stood and vanished his chair. Dawlish did the same. “With any luck we might get through this.”

*                    *                     *

Dora, I’m alive.

Tonks had received that note a week after Remus left the courtroom with Harry and Sirius. It had been delivered by a snowy owl who’d stayed still exactly long enough to let Tonks take the parchment, and then had vanished out the window. It had been a week since then, and Tonks had kept the note on her person the entire time.

She hadn’t written back. She was beginning to understand what Remus had meant when he’d said he didn’t know what to say, and she was terrified that he’d take her silence for anger, but she didn’t really have the words to express what she was feeling; there was anger, of course, and a sense of betrayal, but logically – and it had taken her days to reach the point where she considered logic – if he’d told her the truth, she’d have been honour bound to tell the Auror Department, and that could have been disastrous.

She liked to think that she could have kept a secret, but it was easy to say that upon reflection, and she was fair enough to admit that there was a good chance she would have turned him in. Remus hadn’t forced her to choose between her job and her friend, and she was grateful, but also annoyed that he’d made a choice for her. Her feelings were extremely mixed, and she’d been too busy to sort through them properly.

She’d managed to find time to drop by the cottage several times, however, hoping he’d be there, and that they could talk things out. He hadn’t been, but she’d run into a Mr Diggory, from the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, who’d given her his office number and told her to send Remus to him when she found him, and she’d also met one wizard who bound her with silver rope.

She’d morphed her way free, Disarmed and Stunned him, and then called Mad-Eye to have the man arrested. Officially it was for attacking an Auror and trespassing, but Tonks’ biggest problem with the man was his disgustingly obvious prejudice, and intention to hurt Remus.

Mad-Eye had helped her set up wards – which aligned nicely with the Program’s coursework – yesterday, and also a spell to let them know if Remus went home, but so far everything had been quiet.

Everything had been quiet on the McKinnon front too. No official statements had made it to the Prophet yet, but when McKinnon didn’t return to the first training session after the trial (when she was officially off of Harry guarding duty), and then missed the ones that followed as well, Tonks, Florence, Ben and Yaxley – who was mentoring under Shacklebolt after what had happened to Louisson - had gone to talk to Robards and he’d explained that she was missing. He’d been very vague about why she’d run off, but Tonks had got the impression that he thought she might have done something stupid, and that he was afraid for her wellbeing.

And, while Yaxley was now well and truly part of their group, Tonks couldn’t help but feel that they were losing members; first Melvin, and then McKinnon... she’d known the Program would be difficult, but she’d never imagined that they’d have lost two trainees before the first year was even over.

Tonks cornered Robards for an update every times she saw him, but so far there was nothing. She had, however, managed to get a photograph of McKinnon, which she’d had Dad show on the muggle news; according to Robards, McKinnon had left her wand behind, which made Tonks think she was probably using non-magical methods to hide.

Greyback’s murder case wasn’t going well either, though she and Mad-Eye had managed to reconstruct the order of events of the night of his death; they knew from Parkinson – one of the guards at Azkaban - that Greyback had been alive and well at four, when Parkinson delivered an early dinner, and that he’d been dead when he was found just after midnight.

Carrow and Jordan had both supplied statements saying Greyback had been shouting and howling from about six onward, and that he’d fallen silent somewhere around eleven. They also knew he’d died of silver poisoning – very slow silver poisoning, because the silver hadn’t broken the skin and reached the blood – but the spell that had turned the cell was nothing anyone had ever heard of. It wasn’t even registered as a spell, and Mad-Eye had voiced the opinion that someone had created it specifically to kill Greyback.

There’d been a few spots of pale blue magic – according to Mad-Eye, who could see such things with his magical eye – but most of it had faded so much that he hadn’t been able to tell if it was sparkly, or ribbony, or misty, or spiky, or anything. Tonks had done research on the matter and found that it wasn’t unusual for the traces of transfiguration spells to fade quicker than the traces of other spells, and that was interesting, but not very helpful. The only thing it alluded to was the fact that the killer had either been very lucky, or had obviously planned this to perfection. Tonks was reasonably certain it was the latter.

She yawned and closed the file she’d been looking at; she and Mad-Eye were in a small, boring room in the Department of Magical Records, looking through the descriptions of every living witch, wizard and magical creature’s magical signatures, for anything pale blue; everyone who worked at the Ministry was required to submit the information – Tonks remembered the question about the magic that came out of her wand when it chose her, from her Auror interview – and there were also quite a few other members of the wizarding public who had their information recorded; those who’d been admitted to Azkaban had their magical signatures examined and added to a file, and anyone – of any age - who’d ever been admitted to St Mungo’s was also on file.

“Aren’t we going to be missing an enormous chunk of the population?” Tonks had asked when Mad-Eye’d first brought her down to help him sift through the files. “If all we’ve got are Ministry employees and people who’ve gone to Azkaban or St Mungo’s, then-”

“This is a murderer we’re dealing with. Chances are they’ve spent a bit of time in prison,” Mad-Eye countered. “And if not, they were still able to get in and out undetected and find Greyback, so they must either be in the Ministry, or have Ministry connections. And, if they really did invent the spell that killed him, chances are they’ve been admitted to St Mungo’s for spell damage or something similar.”

“Mmph.” It made sense, Tonks supposed, but it still seemed like an unnecessarily flawed system. “And they can’t just take magical signatures from babies in St Mungo’s because...?”

“Not everyone has their kids in the hospital. It would make sense to check them when they’re putting the Trace on-”

“-but the Ministry’s not that logical?” Tonks suggested, and that earned her a small, amused smile.

“They’re not, but that’s not the reason. Children don’t have magical signatures until they’re at least a few weeks old. Magic’s there, but it’s... dormant. Then, at some point in the kid’s first seven years, something will happen and trigger it. If it’s not triggered by then, it’ll start to fade, and that’s when we get squibs.”

“Wow,” Tonks said, wondering why an old Auror knew so much about magic and its manifestation.

“My mother was one,” he said, looking uncomfortable.

“Was?” Tonks asked quietly.

“Grindelwald didn’t like squibs any more than he liked muggles. He didn’t touch Britain, but France...”

“You lived in France?” Tonks asked, staring at her mentor.

“Shall I tell you my entire life story?” Mad-Eye asked sarcastically, and Tonks cursed herself for interrupting.

“I’m just curious,” Tonks said, blushing. Mad-Eye harrumphed and went back to flicking through files. Tonks sighed and went back to her own work.

“My father was a Hit-Wizard,” Mad-Eye said, after a moment. Tonks resolutely kept her mouth shut, though she had a thousand questions to ask. “Reckless fool,” he growled, almost fondly. “Helped the muggles with their side of things – as good with a gun as he was with a wand... he was away a lot. Protecting my mother fell to me. Constant vigilance, my father used to tell me before he’d go.” Mad-Eye harrumphed again, and Tonks bit her lip to keep from saying anything; she’d always thought Mad-Eye’s favourite saying bordered on paranoia, but she’d never imagined it was taught behaviour, and not merely learned. It wasn’t a habit; it was compulsive.

“One night, when I was eight, my father came home unexpectedly. I was good, but I was tired and young and I didn’t realise he was acting strangely. Should’ve,” he said, nodding at Tonks. “Imperius Curse. I saw the other two Unforgivables used that night, both on my mother. My father shot himself afterward.” Mad Eye drummed his fingers on the table and glanced at Tonks. “Long story short, Dumbledore found me after the final battle... brought me back here, to my father’s relatives.” Tonks wiped sad look off her face, but he’d already seen it. He gave her a flat look. “Satisfied, or do you want to hear about my schooling too?” Tonks shook her head; she felt she’d probably pushed her luck enough as it was. Mad-Eye looked uncomfortable.

“So why can you put the Trace on a baby if it doesn’t have magic yet?” she asked, giving him a safer topic. Mad-Eye nodded his approval, and then scowled.

“They’ve always got magic; weren’t you listening?!” She winced. “It’s just not visible – in any form. The Trace works because it detects magical activity, not the use of the kid’s magic. It’s a common misconception that the Trace is tied to a person’s magic.”

“So it’s not?”

“I just said that,” he grumbled, and they lapsed into silence.

Sorting through the files was tedious work. While the files were grouped by the colour of the magic (or colours), there was nothing to distinguish navy from aqua, and so all the blue files needed to be checked, and sorted. Each file contained nothing more than a name, a date of birth, a sentence describing where the person had been when their magical signature was recorded, and occasionally, a description of the person’s wand.

Between them, Tonks and Mad-Eye still had over three hundred blue files to sort through, but already had a list of one hundred and four names of people that had signatures that possibly matched the traces Mad-Eye had seen. Each name would require even more research through other files, and also possibly interviews with the potential suspects, because there was only so much about a person’s life that could be found on paper.

Blue, royal, with gold mixed in. Syrup-like appearance. Sonja Parkinson nee Rosier. May 15th, 1954 – March 12th, 1990- She sighed and closed it.

She glanced between the three piles Mad-Eye’d made, and tried to remember which was which. She tossed it onto the end one, and reached for a new file. Mad-Eye added another name to the list in his horrendous handwriting; Tonks thought his writing was so awful that anyone who tried to steal anything he’d written by hand, would give up on trying to read it.

“Ahoole Fbowomls?” Tonks asked, struggling with the pronunciation. Mad-Eye scowled, adding a few more lines to the already illegible name. Tonks squinted at it, and then grimaced. He scribbled it out and wrote it carefully, in rather large letters. Nicole Edwards.

“You think Edwards is a suspect?” Tonks demanded. “She’s an Auror trainee; that’s ridi-”

“No one’s exempt,” Mad-Eye said stubbornly, flicking through a few pieces of parchment.

Another hour later, Tonks was beginning to believe him; Burt Bulkes and Florence had been added to the lists – both had pale blue magic – and so had Peter Blackburn, who was a full-fledged Auror. There were other names of course, but those that Tonks recognised stood out.

No one’s exempt, she thought glumly. While she was reasonably sure it wasn’t any of them – particularly not tiny, sleep-in prone Florence – the fact that they were even suspects made Tonks uncomfortable, because there was an element of uncertainty. She’d had enough of not being sure if she could trust her friends. She patted her pocket, where Remus’ note was sitting, and pulled the list and a quill over so that she could add Aislinne Lovegood nee Gamp to the list.

*                    *                     *

“What are you reading?” Remus asked, from the other side of the library.

The Keplie Companion,” Sirius said, while Harry said, “Something Latin. It’s boring.” Sirius glanced over from his place on the floor, and Harry did the same from the couch. Remus’ eyes flicked between them, and he laughed. Sirius looked at Harry, who shrugged.

“What’s funny?” Sirius asked, at exactly the same time as his godson. Sirius quirked an eyebrow at him, and Harry pulled a face back.

“You two,” Remus said, shaking his head at them both. Sirius grinned and returned his attention to his book, but it seemed the momentary pause had drained Harry’s willpower; he snapped his own book shut, and left, saying something about tea.

Sirius smiled without looking up, and called, “You know, if you keep procrastinating, you’re going to be my age before you can transform!” Harry peered back around the doorframe, poked his tongue out at Sirius, and left again. Sirius chuckled. “Speaking of procrastinating, though, Moony...” Remus’ smile faded, and Sirius marked his page, shut his book and sat up. “We’ll have to go back eventually.”

“I know,” Remus sighed. Sirius had known Remus for a long time, and knew he’d never been one for confrontations – other than duels – but thought he was getting worse as he got older. If Sirius had had his way, they’d have written to Amelia last week and probably would have been completely freed by now. Remus had wanted to wait. First he’d suggested they all recover – which Sirius had agreed was a priority – but he’d been making pitiful excuses ever since. “It’s just... the full moon’s only two nights away, and I want to wait until that’s out of the way-”

“Yeah, all right...” Sirius said. He thought it was fair enough, but suspected Remus would have found another excuse if the full moon hadn’t been available. They sat in silence for a moment – Remus stared out the window, while Sirius stared at Remus – and then Sirius said, “Do you not want to go home? Is that it?” Remus hadn’t gone home once; clothes, and anything else he’d needed had been fetched by Kreacher the night after the trial.

“You haven’t been out much either,” Remus said. Sirius noticed he hadn’t even attempted to answer the question.

“We went to see Keira,” Sirius pointed out. They’d found the locket was still, unfortunately, in one piece, but Keira’d kept it safe the whole time, which was a relief. Sirius didn’t know what he would have done if the Ministry had managed to get their hands on it. And, all things locket-related aside, seeing Keira had been nice too. “And we went flying-”

“I went with you-”

“Reluctantly,” Sirius said. There was a CRACK and Kreacher appeared holding a tea tray in one scrawny hand, and Harry’s arm with the other.

“I could have walked, you know,” Harry said, sounding a little annoyed, and a little amused all at once; Kreacher had struggled with being separated from them. He hadn’t resorted back to taking orders from the portraits in his cupboard, thankfully, but he seemed to think that Harry and Sirius were going to disappear if he took his eyes off them for more than a few hours; when they settled in a room, he’d come to check on them at regular intervals, and if they were moving around the house, he’d either follow them, or take them to their destination, as if he was frightened they might get lost.

The strangest behaviour he’d exhibited, however, was watching them sleep; for the first three nights, Kreacher had woken every hour to check on Harry. Sirius had thought it was a little sweet and a little creepy, but above all, funny... at least until he’d woken to find Kreacher standing beside his bed. He’d put a stop to that there and then, and thankfully it hadn’t been a problem since.

“Tea for Master?” Kreacher asked, lifting his hand. The ring on his bony finger glinted; Kreacher had taken to wearing the ring with the Black family crest on it while they were away.

Sirius caught Remus’ eye to let him know that their discussion was not over, and merely postponed, and then accepted a cup and a slice of cake from Kreacher.

*                     *                     *

“So Harry Potter lived here?” Astoria asked, looking around with reverence. Draco thought she probably half-expected Potter to wander in and sit down next to her.

“Don’t you read the papers?” Pansy snapped. Draco watched her carefully; he hadn’t seen her in about a month, but in that time, she seemed to have recovered most of her usual bold, rather provocative nature. It was a nice change from the teary, waspish Pansy he’d known after Mrs Parkinson’s death. She’d been spending most of her nights with the Shafiqs, while Mr Parkinson worked, and it seemed to have done her some good. “Surely a soon-to-be weak- I mean, Ravenclaw – like you should do boring things like that.”

Usually Theodore would have come to Astoria’s defence, but Catherine had decided she was four and therefore old enough to sit with the rest of them, and Theodore’s attention was entirely occupied. Vivienne, Daphne and Millicent were talking to themselves and had also missed the exchange, so they weren’t going to help, and no one else had the inclination.

“I’m impressed you even know what the paper is, Pansy,” Astoria shot back. She sounded a bit like Daphne for a moment. “And even more impressed that you know that you’re supposed to read it.” Draco stabbed a roast carrot, and glanced between them, not at all impressed with the seating arrangements. He’d much prefer being trapped beside Millicent, than between these two. Pansy looked stunned that Astoria had actually had a retort, and could only gape. “I mean,” Astoria continued, “we all know you’re no Ravenclaw, but maybe we ought to give you a bit more credit.”

Hydrus made a delighted sound a little further down; he, Crabbe, Goyle and Nadia were all watching the exchange with interest. Draco caught Nadia’s eye and frowned, wondering why she hadn’t come to her cousin’s aid. She just smirked at him.

“Stop it,” Draco said, looking back to Astoria and Pansy. The latter was almost in tears, and the other looked quite pleased with herself. Draco wondered what had gotten into her; usually, Astoria never bothered with arguments, and never sought to actually hurt people.

“Stop it?” Astoria repeated, with a somewhat curious, somewhat mocking glance at Draco. “No witty intervention, or blackmail, just ‘stop it’? Really, Draco?”

“And you call me a Hufflpuff,” Daphne said, laughing at him. It seemed she’d heard the last part of the conversation, and that it had caught her interest. Draco flushed and set his fork down rather loudly.

“I am not a Hufflepuff!” he snapped. Mother glanced down from the adult end of the table, but Draco ignored her.

“You seem a little defensive,” Daphne said. Astoria watched her big sister with a shrewd expression, and something told Draco that this was where she’d learned her nastiness.

“I am not!” Draco said, without thinking. None of the others seemed to know what to make of his useless, hasty response. Draco wasn’t even sure what to make of it; it was practically suicide to say anything without thinking at this sort of function. “I’m cunning,” he said haughtily, trying to recover himself. “And I have ambitions-”

“Yes, to get into Hufflepuff!” Draco frowned at Pansy; he was in this mess because he’d come to her defence, and she’d turned on him in thanks.

Nadia and Daphne laughed appreciatively, and so did Astoria after a moment’s pause. Vivienne was watching her twin rather unhappily. Theodore was still occupied, and Millicent was also watching Catherine. Hydrus looked angry and embarrassed. No one was going to help Draco, and that realisation hurt.

Potter would have, he thought, glowering at his peers.

“-House of duffers!” Pansy continued, and let out a shriek of laughter. Daphne reached across and slid Draco’s plate away from him. He reached for it, and she shook her head.

“Uh uh,” she said. “Badgers don’t like meat.” Pansy giggled and threw a piece of lettuce at him. “Oh, that’s good, Parkinson. Feed the badger his greens.” They laughed. All of them. Draco thought, rather miserably, that this was the worst birthday ever.

“Give Draco his plate back before I tell my father,” Hydrus said coldly. Both Daphne and Pansy froze, and Astoria passed Draco his dinner with a rather timid expression. “Better,” Hydrus said curtly. “If you’d excuse us...” Hydrus stood and came to stand beside Draco. “Get up.” Draco, too shocked to argue, stood.

Behind them, Pansy called, “Oh, he needs a hug!” Hydrus’s face was entirely impassive, at least until they were out in the corridor.


“What do you think you’re doing?” Hydrus looked absolutely furious.


“‘Stop it’?! Are you a Hufflepuff?”


“Then why didn’t you tell them about when Pansy cried?” Hydrus demanded. “You know how this all works.”

If they target you, point out someone who’s done something worse, Draco thought. “I can’t do that to Pansy-”

“Oh Merlin, you really are a Hufflepuff!” Hydrus moaned.

“Shut up!” Draco said. “I’m not!”

“Then do it,” Hydrus said, suddenly cold again. “She can handle herself, and you need to make up for embarrassing yourself. You’re a Malfoy, and they need to remember that.” He paused, thinking. “And things have been strange between Daphne and Astoria all night, so if we get Astoria on our side, we can put Daphne back in her place too-”

Draco stalked off without another word. Father had sat him and Hydrus down after Potter left to talk to them about muggleborns, and about how they were inferior. Draco had followed Potter’s advice – partially, anyway, because he still hadn’t asked Mother about the white sheep - and gone along with it, but he’d questioned Severus on the matter when he next saw him, and had believed the answers he received there more than he had believed Father’s.

Draco had been very careful to keep his opinions to himself, but Hydrus had been obsessed with the idea of rightful places ever since. Father had encouraged that by buying Hydrus a new rat to replace Bosworth; Feta was sleek, black, magical, and treated with far higher regard Roquefort. Feta was permitted to go everywhere with Hydrus - but she had to stay in his pocket during meals or formal occasions – while Roquefort had to stay locked in his cage while Draco was involved in any sort of event. Draco didn’t think it was fair.

“Where are you going?” Hydrus demanded. “You have to go back-”

“I’ll be in my room,” Draco said.

“I’ll tell Father-”

“Go ahead,” Draco told him.

It wasn’t Father who came to find him later, however. It was Mother. She swept into the room, and Draco had expected a lot of expressions – irritation, disappointment, or maybe just a cold mask – but he had not expected sadness, which is what he’d got.

“I’m sorry, Draco,” she said, coming to sit behind him on the bed.

“It’s not your fault, Mother,” he said, and she made an odd noise and pulled him into a hug. “I’m just not a very good Malfoy.” She didn’t say anything, and Draco’s heart sank, because that probably meant she agreed with him. “I used to be, but now... I’m different, aren’t I?” He knew it, and everyone in the dining room knew it. Mother probably knew it too; again, she said nothing. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“You don’t have anything to apologise for,” Mother said, stroking his hair. “Nothing at all, do you understand me?”

“Not really,” Draco said. “I mean, it’s my fault that I’m different, not anyone else’s, so I should be the one apologising-”

“It’s not your fault-”

“It is,” Draco said.


“It’s all right, Mother,” Draco said. He wanted to cry, but he’d already embarrassed himself enough tonight without adding tears to it. Instead, he drew himself up, and smiled sadly. “No one made me different, it just... happened. I can take responsibility for that.”

“Oh, Draco,” Mother whispered. Then, shockingly, she started to cry. Draco had seen her sad before, and he’d seen her get weepy to get her own way, but he’d never seen her cry like this. Never properly.

And I caused it, he thought, feeling awful. She’s probably so ashamed of me right now... He had no idea what to do, but hugs were nice, so he went with that. Mother stiffened and Draco patted her back until she relaxed.

“I’m sorry, Mother,” he said, and she cried all the harder.

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