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Chapter 16 : Pride or Prejudice
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 15

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Harry found himself distractedly playing with his knuckles, cracking them, until it almost hurt. His jaw clenched. Umbridge, Malfoy, what next?

He really had no choice about Malfoy. He couldn't leave the guy out in the cold, indirectly partaking in his possible death, even by omission. However, he hadn't forgotten that it had been him, Draco, who had caused Dumbledore's death in the first place by letting the Death Eaters into the castle. And yet, Dumbledore himself had taken pity on him. He had seen how scared the boy had actually been, but that was Dumbledore! No matter how Harry looked at it, he could begrudgingly accept Malfoy coming to live with them, but that didn't mean that he had to like it. 

From what Lupin and Tonks had said, Snape and Draco were in touch. The man had even had the audacity to turn up at the Tonks' cottage, fugitive on toe. A strong feeling of unease was building up inside him. He himself had sworn that he would kill Snape if the opportunity presented itself, and yet again, why were so many people arguing his innocence? He had been there at the time, he had seen how it happened, he had seen the green light... He had relived that scene nearly as many times as his own parents' murder. Had Malfoy's outlook on the war truly changed because of his mother's death? It made sense in a way, Harry supposed. However he wasn't overly inclined to take too many risks, especially since it was not even a secret that the former Potions Master had been helping him all along.

The door flew open. Remus and Tonks entered the building first.

Draco stepped inside Grimmauld place silently, followed by a bundle of luggage which had appeared beside him. The once proud look on his pointy features was now replaced with one of ill-conceived disgust as he examined the decay of his new surroundings, as he glanced at the poorly kept furniture and at the wall-paper that had been peeling off the walls for decades. However, he said nothing.

"Good evening, Malfoy," Harry said formally.

"Good evening," he replied, looking around without making eye contact with any of the people present.

Tonks and Lupin had now taken a seat by the fireplace. Moody, Ron, Mr. Weasley, Hermione, Ginny and Harry were scattered across the living room in random sofas and armchairs, most of them, wishing they weren't there at all. The tension could be breathed, palpable and uncomfortable.

"Now, Malfoy," started Harry  authoritatively "I take it that you understand what this means?" 

"Meaning?" replied Draco snarling, holding his head high. "I suppose Saint Potter expects nothing less than for me to bow down in gratitude."

"Don't be ridiculous, I thought recent events would have taught you maturity. Now, what I meant, as you very well know, is that it's going to take some skill on your part to persuade us that you have truly changed, that you are on our side."

"I thought even you, Potter, would have realised that by killing my mother the Dark Lord has lost my loyalty!" said Draco locking his ice-blue eyes onto Harry's as if non-verbally saying I now know how you feel about your parents' deaths.

"I'm sorry about your mother," said Harry sincerely but in a low tone. "But I'm afraid to say you have been damn slow! How many years, Malfoy, has it taken for you to begin to understand how I've felt all this time?"

Draco didn't reply. The roles were now reversed. It was now Harry who was getting under his skin, who was touching a raw nerve.

"Ok, boys," interrupted Molly, "dinner is about to be served, I'm sure we can all do with some and, for crying out loud, would you two stop bickering, it's doing my head in!" She concluded not being able to help herself from noticing how very thin and sickly Malfoy looked.

Dinner was pretty much a quiet affair.

"This is delicious, Molly," complimented Remus.

"Glad you like it, and it's all full of goodness!" she said casting a look in Malfoy's direction, who was staring at the vegetable broth with what could be described as nothing but contempt. Vegetable broth indeed! And the main course of mutton and potato stew wasn't much better either. He knew the Weasleys weren't wealthy, but how about his host, supposedly a millionaire? Could Potter not boost up the shopping budget just a tad?

Treacle tart and coffee followed. The atmosphere remained tense. Draco himself didn't enjoy this tension any more than any of the Order members. Malfoy thought for a minute, silently and introvertly. Had Potter been the one in danger and himself the one with the option of affording protection, what would he have done? Well, that depended, he thought. Of course, if his own family had been at risk, that would have had to had come first. On the other hand, what the Dark Lord had planned for him to have to do was just plainly disgusting, unthinkable... and dislike him as he might, Potter perhaps didn't deserve to die at the hands of such a monster, a nuisance as he was!

Malfoy was now trying to work out his true feelings for his rival. He hated his arrogance, his superiority, especially as it solely stemmed from the fact that he had been the first one to survive the killing curse. But Malfoy now had to begrudgingly admit that, in turn, that indicated that Lily, Muggle-born or not, had possessed great skill. But the boy was just too annoying and famous. Also the way that he associated himself with scum, when he could have been befriended by people from the very best families, the way he had turned that down, in first year, for the sake of being mates with that Weasley wastrel. Why did Potter do that? Did he have no ambition? And then again, everything about Potter seemed to come to him effortlessly, like having become so obscenely rich, being only a half blood!

Alastor Moody on his part couldn't take his magical eye off the boy. He had the mark, he was a Death Eater, dead mother or not. Veritaserum, that would just do the trick, he thought. Where on earth had the boy been since he was last seen at Hogwarts? With the Death Eaters? How come Narcissa had annoyed Voldemort to the point of him killing her personally? But, had he really killed her personally? Well, that was another question.

Harry, by that stage, was now yawning badly. The events of the day had put a great strain on him. As far as he could see, this whole Malfoy affair could be put on hold until the morning, and Umbridge, and the locket and the whole lot of it! He felt drained. He decided he was going to bed.

"Now, young man," Mad-Eye addressed Malfoy. "Are you going to give us the privilege of explaining what the hell you've been up to since the Astronomy Tower?"

Draco had expected this, admittedly. He had thought, however, somehow arrogantly, that his Occlumency could have kept them at bay. Of course that didn't work. He was exhausted.

"Let's leave that for tomorrow, Alastor," protested Mrs. Weasley, "the kid's had a tough day and the same goes for us all."

"No disrespect, Molly, but this is, I'm afraid, a security matter. He is staying with us, here at Headquarters. We can't allow mistakes. Enough people have died because of traitors!" was his final pronouncement.

Draco didn't dare gaze at Mad-Eye too closely. Ok, granted, it had not been the real Moody who had turned him into a ferret back in his fourth year, but the image just wouldn't leave his mind. Moody scared him a bit, although, of course he would never admit it. But, on the other hand, he must gather strength and pull himself together because there was no way, just no way, he was going to admit having stayed with a Muggle Priest! Actually, Draco doubted that they would even believe him! He had suffered already so much humiliation; this thought had become reinforced by the sight of his cousin cosily holding hands with a werewolf. They truly terrified him, werewolves. This one had been his teacher for a year and had never shown signs of being as vicious as Greyback but even so - when was the next full moon?

"If you truly have nothing to hide from us, boy, I'm sure you won't object to a little Veritaserum," continued Alastor much on the same vein. 

Molly glared at him and looked at the Malfoy boy. He had gone very white. Mrs. Weasley had never been a fan of Veritaserum.

"You know my views on that, Molly, why should we trust him? Now, Malfoy, answer me this?" Moody said in a bit of a temper. "Are you or are you not a Death Eater?" Mad-Eye now looked impassive, behaving like the true Auror he was, carrying out his security duties.

"I was once, I suppose," Malfoy admitted very quietly.

"So, you're not, anymore? Likely tale!" Alastor retorted. 

“That fucker Volde.... murdered my mother. I hate him as much as Potter does!"  "For the very same reason..." cried Malfoy arguing his case.

"It's late now," Harry intervened. "Leave him to me and believe me, I have not forgotten how he smuggled Death Eaters into Hogwarts, how he boasted about his mission on the train to school, how he tried twice to kill Dumbledore and nearly killed Katie Bell and Ron. No, Malfoy, I haven't forgotten. Also, I must confess, I'm intrigued about your cosy relationship with Snape."

"I've got some Veritaserum," said Moody. "Let's question Malfoy properly now."

"We'll question him tomorrow, but for now, just leave him alone," Harry concluded.

On that note, Harry decided he may as well play the host and show Draco the room he had been allocated. Unfortunately, in order to get up the stairs, they had to pass by Mrs. Black's portrait yet again. Harry smiled at how predictable this was. He was sure old Walburga would be pleased to have one of her own residing at the place. He was slightly wrong. The old hag's painted image saluted Draco at first, acknowledging him as a rightful heir of the Black heritage but then it changed its mind mid-way and started screaming that even her own true blood was now mingling with Muggle lovers.
Malfoy looked at her in slight awe, he frowned, but again, he said nothing. That house should have belonged to him anyway, he thought. Maybe Potter needed reminding about that fact if he got more impertinent.

Harry had decided to place his guest on the uppermost floor of the house. He put Malfoy as far as he possibly could from the rest of them. This fact hadn't passed unnoticed. But maybe that had been a mistake, Harry wondered with hindsight whether this may not give Malfoy further opportunity to plot and send owls undetected to the likes of Snape. Ok, arrangements had already been made for that night and it was getting late. Tomorrow he would try to think of a plan B.

They arrived at the top. Harry opened the heavy wooden door and let Draco in. Malfoy really resented having had to move his trunk all the way up the stairs, even if he had used magic to accomplish it. That was another insult, as it was the room, which felt cold, even in August, and extremely inhospitable; its tiny size, the fact that there was hardly any furniture, only the bare necessaries... In fact, it felt more like a cell.

Harry sensed how Draco felt about the place and grinned, feeling a perverse pleasure.

"Be my guest, Malfoy, make yourself comfortable." 

"Your guest?" Draco replied throwing a look at Harry that conveyed he wanted to spit at him. "Your guest or your prisoner, Potter?"

"Well, you don't know me well at all, do you now? But even so, do I strike you as the kind who enjoys taking hostages?"

"Just leave me alone, will you!" cried Malfoy not able to suppress his sadness or his anger any longer.

Harry let him be.

Harry decided just to go back downstairs to say good-night but not to linger for long. He could do without questions. Ok, it was his house, but really it belonged to the Order as far as he was concerned; it was their Headquarters. He had, somehow indirectly, been put in a position where the ultimate decision regarding Malfoy fell onto him. Ron, Hermione, and especially Ginny, he could kill to talk to them! Even Remus perhaps. He felt lost and, yet again, there was a sense of urgency on the whole episode. If this went wrong, everything would, if Draco managed to betray them, all would be lost, that's why he needed them, to reassure him that he'd done the right thing.

"Good night," said Harry yet again, his eyes looking blank, tired with the thinking.

Mrs Weasley, unwittingly, played straight into their hands.

"Off to bed, boys and girl!" she commanded, looking at the youngsters. Harry, Hermione and the two younger Weasleys felt relieved. They could finally talk to one another in private. They went to the boys' bedroom.

"Well, the idiot hasn't left behind his airs and graces, has he?" Ron opened up the topic.

"Come on, Ron, did you seriously expect him to?" mocked Ginny. "It's going to take more than him being in danger and his mother being dead, surely!" She tried to remind them.

"I don't know what to truly think, guys," said Harry looking a bit confused.
"Maybe he'll grow up a bit, Harry. After all, he has now experienced first hand what Vold... is capable of, even to his own people." Hermione commented trying to be optimistic, realising that if this was a mistake, it would be a serious one.

"Ok, I'm a bit inclined to agree with you, Hermione," said Harry thinking on the same lines. "Of course, miracles don't happen just like that. Of course he hasn't had a complete personality transplant! Ok, if he's going to be decent, even if he is still his arrogant self, I'm willing to protect him but there is always the if," he concluded.

Harry's eyes were now nearly closing. He longed to get to sleep but what he longed for the most was to fall asleep with Ginny by his side, just the two of them ... It would be her birthday soon, he'd been thinking about that all day, even despite Malfoy and all the other conundrums. He would have loved to think of an excuse to be alone with her, but he just couldn't come up with one.

Despite being that tired, Harry couldn't get himself to fall asleep. More and more ideas flashed in his mind.

Now, Kreacher? That was another problem, he thought. He must keep them separate, at whatever the cost. It wasn't hard to guess that the pure-blood obsessive elf was likely to develop a soft spot for someone.

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