Author's Notes: Written for Meira in the Armchair Slash secret santa, 2002.
I gave a lot of thought to my life this summer. The Tri-Wizard Tournament was finally over and as usual when things go wrong, Harry was left shaken and scared and all of us were expected to just carry on as normal. Even more than he usually does, Harry had nightmares, and I watched him, shivering most nights, crying some of them, and unwilling to admit he was having trouble, hero that he is.
I guess that's what gets me. Harry and his whole hero thing. At first I was jealous of him, thinking he was just in the tournament for the attention, but not now. Now I can see what it's done to him, and I wonder, where's the point? Harry is a fool, barely walking away with his life at the end of each year, yet he somehow considers it his duty to bounce back for another go the next. Truth is, I'm sick of being dragged along.
I've spent a good deal of the past few months on my own - going flying to get away from the chaos of the Burrow. Harry and Hermione came to stay, but only in the last two weeks before school. I left them to their own devices as much as possible; I think they're worried about me. They'll have to stay worried. I've come to realise they won't be able to accept the way I feel about all of this now.
And how do I feel? I'm tired of playing hero. I'm tired of fighting when it never achieves anything. I'm tired of pain without anything to show for it. They would tell me we're fighting for the Light and to defeat Voldemort; I would tell them, though they wouldn't understand, that we haven't done anything, haven't won any wars, have nothing to show for our struggles but the first death of what will no doubt be many. And one day it will be us, and Hermione and I will fall to Voldemort, and Harry will see and be broken by it before he himself is killed.
I'm tired of being on the losing side.
I've decided what I have to do. I won't continue this pointless masochistic self-sacrifice, so I have to walk away. Away from Harry and Hermione. Any reason I give them, they won't understand, and will argue and no doubt think I'm under some sort of coercion. They're like that, so I'll need to do it carefully.
From that point, I've got a problem. I can't go from following Harry to being neutral; no one would believe that and I would still be a target. So my only option, if I'm not on the side of the Light, is to be on the side of the Dark. And the way there is through Slytherin.
Through Draco Malfoy.
Malfoy is my best bet - his father ranks high enough, from what little I know of Death Eater politics, that he would be able to help me. But Malfoy hates me, and I feel the same; that at least hasn't changed. Perhaps I can ease into some sort of civility with him and progress from there.
At any rate, caution seems to be the way this year will go. I seem to have become cynical; I can't summon any real hope that this year won't involve more attacks and paranoia. Best to distance myself from Harry and Hermione before they get into full save-the-day mode.
After all, who knows who will die this time?
It's easier than I expect to get away from Hermione and Harry on the train - they have apparently grown somewhat used to my frequent excuses and absences. Hermione sighs in a tired sort of way; Harry gives me a concerned frown, but nods anyway. I wait until I have left the compartment before allowing my relief to show. Perhaps it won't be so hard, breaking away from them?
I quickly quash that thought. They are hoping I'll return to normal once school starts, and will no doubt demand answers when I do not.
At any rate, I'm not actually sure what I am looking for; I guess somewhere quiet and perhaps to pass Malfoy along the way. Malfoy is certainly what I find.
"Where're your friends, Weasel?" I'm curious as to how Malfoy can sneer and speak like that at the same time; his voice is almost a purr. True arrogance. I'm forcing myself to be nice to the bastard, so I shrug.
"Didn't feel like being around them. I don't really feel like fighting, Malfoy."
He blinks, having expected a rise out of me. I fight the urge to smirk. "Scared, are you?" Crabbe and Goyle, behind him, smile in a disgusting way.
"Hardly. Can't be bothered, more like."
He thinks he understands, and now it's him smirking. "Problems at home, Weasel? With a family like that, I can certainly understand it." There is so much meaning in those few words. "Or is it your Gryffindork friends? Have you been rejected?" Ah, and he's back to that twisted purr again. Somehow, when I thought this through, I hadn't realised how hard it would be not to fight back. I take a deep breath to calm myself.
"Just felt like getting away from those guys. I'm really not in the mood to fight, you know." I shrug again, the corner of my mouth lifting slightly, and I step around him to casually walk away. That's all the civility I can handle for one day. If Malfoy has any further reaction I don't see it, and he doesn't say anything else to me. I walk until I find a secluded spot, and spend the rest of the train ride watching the scenery and eating sweets.
When we get to Hogwarts I eat my meal in relative silence, dutifully clapping when a new student is sorted into my House and barely speaking when my friends try to talk to me. They give up quickly. I go to bed early and try to ignore the worried glances I am getting from everyone. It's hard.
I try to be immune but the truth is, I still care about them.
I give Malfoy a small, casual smile as I walk in to the Great Hall for breakfast the next day. He's trying to suppress the desire to stare, I can tell. I'm quite enjoying throwing him for a loop, actually.
I sit down and I can feel his eyes on my back. I faintly hear another Slytherin ask him what's wrong and he mumbles something in response that I can't make out from here. I grin to myself and know I also have the Gryffindors watching me, but it doesn't matter.
For all my dark intentions, for a moment this is fun. And it should stay so until Malfoy gives in and demands an explanation.
And for just one moment I forget that these are my friends I am worrying, that I care and that they care that I am pulling away from them, that I am about to betray them in the worst possible way.
And for just one moment the guilt does not consume me.
He stops me when I say hi to him this time. It is perhaps the fifth time, give or take, that I have greeted him in passing. He glares at me.
"Look, what do you want from me, Weasel?"
I smirk. "What do you mean?"
"You're being... nice. Why?" I can tell he has a problem with the word 'nice'. Probably he's never connected it with me before.
I'm getting remarkably good at looking innocent and casual, as far as I can tell. "No reason, really. I just decided there were more important things than fighting."
He rolls his eyes. "You mean the Gryffindors have dumped you, and you're desperate."
"No. The opposite, really, I got sick of them. They're just so bloody righteous, you know?" That should get a reaction - I know that's what Malfoy thinks of them, and while it isn't quite what I think, it's close enough. There's a difference between moral arrogance and feeling like the whole world is your responsibility, though.
He raises one eyebrow, amused. "So you thought to make me the next victim of your pitiful attempts at friendship?"
"I just thought you might be more interesting than them. Forgive me, I must have been wrong about that." I really hope I'm right about how that comment will be received.
I garner a surprised look for just a second, before Malfoy shakes his head with a low chuckle and the moment passes. "You must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of friends if you're turning to your enemies, Weasel." He gives me that arrogant little smile again, and turns to go.
He pauses just before he does, though. "You know, if you're that desperate for company, I'd be willing to kick your arse at chess sometime." He saunters off, and I know he's condescending to me, but it doesn't really matter beyond a minor irritation. A chance to sit down and play chess is just what I need to get him talking to me.
Who knows, I might even let him win.
Harry and Hermione are waiting for me when I step through the entrance into the common room. Hermione is curled up on a couch with a book and Harry is sketching something, but the way they both look up at me tells me there's a serious discussion about to be had. There is no one else in the room. I obediently sit on an armchair and wait for one of them to talk.
Harry's first. "Are you all right, Ron?"
"Sure." I give a small half-shrug and a wry smile. Neither of them are fooled.
"It's just, I mean..." Hermione hesitates. "Have you been avoiding us?"
I let my frustration show to some extent. "I told you guys, I just need a bit of space. Can't you let me have that?"
Harry's hands twist in his lap, probably trying to get up the nerve to ask me something. I furrow my brow in worry and watch him. Eventually he admits, "Neville saw you talking to Malfoy today."
My insides turn to ice. "Did he?"
"You'd think he's a better friend than we are, the way you're carrying on! I mean, you pretend we aren't even there, half the time, but you always speak to HIM."
"Ron... Neville said he heard you insulting us, too. I mean, if you... don't want to spend time with us that's one thing, but you're treating us like we're the enemy. We're your friends. Have you forgotten who he IS, Ron?"
Harry takes over again. "Ron, he hates us. And that includes you. I don't know what on earth you're trying to do, but you must remember that. Malfoy is the son of a DEATH EATER, and possibly one himself!" Harry is raising his voice, angry at me, Malfoy, who knows? It's somehow ironic that he's making the precise points to dissuade me that had originally convinced me. "He could KILL you, Ron!" Okay, perhaps not that one. "What the hell are you doing?"
I don't flinch away from him. I don't. "I'm not doing anything, Harry. Whatever Neville thought he saw, he was wrong." And will be hurt for this. No, I'm not the sort of person to do that... But I guess I'll have to be, eventually, in order to survive all of this. Not right now. I'm not thinking like that right now. Neville may be a prat, but he's just concerned. I am furious, though.
I am not thinking like that right now.
"Neville isn't stupid, Ron. If he says he heard that, I'll believe him until you can give me a better explanation." I glare, imagining things I could do to them both. They shouldn't pry, I tell myself, ignoring the logic that tells me they have every right.
Hermione is still talking. "Is Malfoy doing anything to you, Ron?" She leans forward, looking for all the world like she is truly concerned. She's not. I'm sure of it. She's jealous that Malfoy has my friendship where she does not.
I pause at that. Malfoy is not my friend.
"Of course he's not DOING anything! Honestly, Hermione, do you really think I'm dumb enough to let him?"
"We don't know WHAT to think," Harry interrupts.
"Whatever." It's time to end this. "You guys can believe all that if you really want to. Malfoy is not doing anything to me, I am acting fully of my own will, and I am quite fine, thank you. I'm going to bed."
I seem to be getting the last word quite a bit, lately.
There's a Quidditch game about to start - Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. For once it isn't us or Slytherin involved, a relatively unusual event in the scheme of things, and therefore not too stressful. Well, for us.
And Malfoy is sitting on his own. He's watching the crowds, and I'm curious as to whether he's looking for me. He's started anticipating me over the past few weeks, and occasionally has seemed as if he genuinely likes talking to me. Ten points to Gryffindor.
It's funny. We never did have that chess game.
I sit down beside him, not actually looking at him. Whether he likes me or not, he accepts my presence now and doesn't protest most of the time. He doesn't insult me so much, either, and it's almost easy to talk now.
Like he considers me a friend.
I smile to myself, still gazing out at the teams assembling on the pitch, pleased at how well my strategy is working. He notices. "Something funny, Weasley?" His tone is wry, without malice.
"Careful, you'll fry those last two brain cells." I glance over at him, and he's smiling slightly. I smirk back, unable to think up an answer at short notice, and look away from him again.
After a moment he asks, "Who do you think will win?"
I consider the question. "Ravenclaw. They've spent more time working on tactics than Hufflepuff."
He nods. "Yes, they usually do. Their seeker is improving too, though she won't beat us."
I chuckle, shifting slightly in my seat, and he moves as well. Our thighs brush lightly, and beside me Malfoy freezes, before all-too-casually leaning back and crossing his legs at the ankle, pulling them together. Curious. I keep my mind on it as I watch the players take to the air and the game begin.
Why would Malfoy have a problem with brushing against me? I can't think he considers me to be tainting his oh-so-perfect pure blood - he is willing to sit here and talk to me. Is he just over-sensitive about anything that could look 'unusual'? But his inherent confidence would belie that, too. He's not the sort of person to worry about being perceived as something he's not.
Unless, of course, it's something he IS. So I wonder, if he's upset at touching me, is it not because it could LOOK wrong, but rather because it actually IS wrong?
Is Malfoy gay?
That thought disturbs me and I hope it isn't true. It's awkward enough trying to keep this whole thing going ahead without adding complications.
I wonder if he likes me?
I shake my head quickly, earning myself an odd look from the boy in question, and watch the game. The broomsticks strike me as rather symbolic somehow, and I suddenly don't want to watch. Too many questions if I don't, however, so I keep my eyes trained on the balls (don't say it) and try to ignore the thoughts plaguing me.
After the game we stand and follow the crowds back into the school. Malfoy touches my arm (do I read too much into this?) and I turn, following him into another corridor. We stop, just out of hearing range of the main hallway. He turns to me.
"You're not really friends with those Gryffindors any more, are you?" I shake my head. Hermione and Harry finally gave up trying to talk to me about two weeks ago; the others stopped long before. He nods in acceptance.
"So am I your friend, then? You don't seem to talk to anyone else."
This is what I've wanted: Malfoy, with any luck, will acknowledge that he doesn't hate me. Even better if he actually WANTS to be my friend. In response to his question, I shrug. "I guess. You're the only one who seems to know where I'm coming from, you know?" Flattery will get you everywhere.
He smiles. He smiles! Just a small one, but he is pleased. "We seem to have more in common than we thought, eh?"
This seems an odd comment for Malfoy to make. "Sure." I wonder where this is going.
"You really aren't as bad as I used to think." I frown. This is getting surreal. "I mean, you don't have the same ridiculous ideas about things being so black and white as Potter and the mudblood do. Their stupid Gryffindor idealism, that sort of thing." I have long since stopped defending them against Malfoy's insults; now they barely register. This has become very wierd, very fast. Is he complimenting me?
"I realised how much shit all that was. Nothing's just black and white." He nods, taking a small step closer. I'm starting to question my sanity as well as his sexuality.
"You're right, Ron." RON? Since when does he call me Ron? "Calm down. I'm not going to hurt you." Oh. Was my fear showing? But he wouldn't be saying that unless he knew why I was scared, which means...
Which means he really DOES like me.
Now I'm terrified.
A slender hand touches my cheek, and I feel very trapped. A small part of my mind notes he is scared, too; his hand shakes slightly as it settles against my face.
It's warm. And where it slides down to my neck, burning hot. I shiver.
"Steady." His voice certainly is. I meet his eyes, and see a nervous determination reflected back. My mouth is open, I realise belatedly, and I close it quickly.
My lips stick slightly, dry, so I lick them. His eyes flick down and he mimics the action. I can't drag myself away from the sight.
I'm still watching as his lips press gently against mine a moment later.
I flick my tongue out again when he pulls back, catching his subtle taste and absently wondering how that got to be so nice. Then it hits me.
Draco Malfoy just kissed me. Me. It was what I was so scared of, and it shakes me to think just how good it felt. I must be looking as stunned as I feel; his eyes dart over me for a second before his cold arrogance masks the anxiety in his face.
"Um..." Ooh, that was sharp, Ron. "What- what was that for?"
"I just wanted to. You're so-" His hand is still on my face, I realise, and stroking lightly now. "You are beautiful, Ron," he states, calm and collected. I swallow. This is not the Malfoy I know.
For a long moment I cannot think, and then my mind clears and I remember my purpose. I am using him, to save myself. To join the Dark. This new development can only be a good thing.
Now I know he is vulnerable to me. If I play this right, he may do anything I ask.
I remember something. Once, once, so long ago, I would have felt remorse for this. Once I would have felt guilt. Once, and the knowledge leaves me cold inside, once long ago I had a conscience.
I smile gently, and lean in to brush my mouth briefly against Malfoy's. "We should be getting back."
He nods, relaxing, and twines his fingers with mine for a moment before we leave.
My hand strokes the back of Malfoy's as we sit, side by side, out by the lake. It's becoming clear he has something of a romantic streak; he suggested this excursion as 'just a chance to sit and relax'. I lower myself back onto the grass, looking up at him, the sun low and shimmering around his profile. He turns and smiles down at me, before leaning back as well, tucking himself into my side. I put an arm around him.
"What does your father have planned for you, Draco?" It is a sudden question; his head jerks up to look at me in surprise.
"Why do you ask?"
"Just because I want to know all I can about you. You're so mysterious about things like that, I don't like you keeping things from me." Just the right amount of petulance and worry in my tone and he softens, placing his head back on my chest.
"He wants me to become a Death Eater, of course."
"So you're not one yet?" I keep my voice calm, curious but not demanding. He sits wordlessly, pulling his left arm from under him and sliding the sleeve up so I can see his unmarked skin. I put a hand on his shoulder, easing him back down with a small smile.
"Do you want to be one?"
"I.. haven't decided." Malfoy's voice is uncertain. I feel like growling at him, but I hold myself back. How is he going to help me if he doesn't want to join Voldemort himself?
"Do you get much choice?"
"No. It's not really a matter of whether I want to be or not; I've been brought up to serve the Dark Lord, and if I refuse there will be - consequenses."
I stiffen, my arm tightening in anger around him. I force myself to relax. This is what I have chosen to do; I will not go back now.
"Surely you would have a lot of power, though?"
"Yeah. My father is truly formidable at times." He lifts his head, looking at me through lowered lashes with a coy smile. "That's the one good thing, really."
"Wish I had that much power." It's a muttered comment, intended to sound as if it is just to myself. He takes the bait.
"A Gryffindor on the Dark Side. That'd be a sight to see." Malfoy chuckles.
"Well, why not? God knows I'm sick of the Light." I roll my eyes at him, attempting to look amused.
He frowns. "Would you really want to do that?"
I appear to consider it. "I think it would be a better deal than what I've got at the moment."
Malfoy looks disturbed. "Ron... let's not talk about this."
"Sure." We settle back and I stroke his hair in comfort.
I've been making more off-hand comments to Malfoy in the hopes of desensitising him to the idea. I think it's working; he still gets a wary look in his grey eyes when I mention joining the Dark, but he tolerates it now.
He will be going home over Christmas - this is my best chance to get things moving.
This time when I speak to him we are nursing hot chocolates in the Slytherin dorms. It is early afternoon on a Hogsmeade weekend, and there is some sort of game or excursion happening for the first and second years, so the common room is deserted. We had planned for this, deliberately staying behind to get some privacy. I consider my next move.
Subtlety is all very well, and has served me so far, but at a certain point you just have to ASK for what you want. So I take a sip of my drink and stare into the flames opposite, slowly choosing my words.
"Draco..." I turn my head to Malfoy, leaning in to kiss him softly. He smiles, but it fades at my expression - I am carefully cultivating an air of anxiety.
"What's wrong?" He searches my face, hand reaching away from his mug to touch my cheek, warm.
"It's nothing, really, I just- This is going to sound stupid." I quirk my lips in a weak grin. "I guess I feel vulnerable. You know, like it's impossible to just be neutral in this whole thing." He knows what I mean.
Suddenly he's angry. "Ron, you're pretty messed up, you know that? Stop dropping hints; tell me what you want from me." He watches me, eyes intense and sharp with a fire I haven't seen in a long time.
I had my whole speech planned out, but it certainly didn't take this into account. Who knew he would just ask me?
Fine. He wants a straight answer? "I want you to help me join Voldemort." I hear his gasp beside me, but I am looking once more into the flames. Surely he had realised that? Or perhaps he just didn't believe it until he had heard it directly; I can understand that. "Draco, I'm not on Harry's side, and I'm not on Voldemort's, but I'm in just as much danger not being either! At least this way I can get some measure of protection." My eyes widen, but I give no other reaction to what I've just said. I didn't mean to admit that!
Malfoy hisses softly, and after a moment I hear his cup placed on the table, and he is turning my head gently to look at him. "There are other ways, Ron! Don't do this," he pleads, and there is desperation in his eyes. I've really shaken him.
"No, Draco. This is all I can do." I feel cold inside, empty, but I make pain filter through into my gaze as I lean forward again.
The kiss this time is a little harder, though not enough to upset him, and I push him back slowly underneath me. My hand slips down to tangle in his shirt and I put my tongue to good use until he melts under me. When I feel his surrender I release him, lifting myself a few inches away from his mouth.
When I speak, it sounds like a confession, a reluctant admission. "I love you, Draco. I'd do anything to be with you." His breath, slowly returning, hitches once more, and he gives the reaction I seek.
"I- I love you too, Ron."
"Will you help me?" He searches my face, which I fill with all the sincerity, hope and unease I can muster.
After what seems to be an infinite time, Malfoy slowly answers me, voice almost silent with anguish. "What do you want me to say to my father?" My relief, this time, is genuine.
It is the holidays again - nearly two weeks off for the Christmas break. Malfoy and I have been exchanging letters almost daily. He is very possessive, it would seem.
For my purposes, this means I get a constant update on his discussions with his father. Apparently there have been arguments over me; Lucius Malfoy does not yet know, however, of our relationship. Draco seems miserable - understandable, given what I have asked of him and his seeming lack of loyalty towards Voldemort. I should keep an eye on that, it could be useful in the future.
It is late at night, as it always is when he sends his letters for fear of anyone intercepting them, and his owl has just flown in my open window. I unroll the parchment with little care, grimacing at the length of the letter. He does wax on.
I start to scan the paper quickly, then stop with wide eyes and go back to reread it. His father has agreed. He will inform Voldemort of my intent, the writing states.
I tell myself to breathe.
Voldemort will summon me to determine my fidelity to him. If I survive that - and I force myself to gulp in another breath - then I will, with any luck, become a Death Eater. I'm not sure if I can really call that lucky, but it's what I want. No; it's what I need. This is a necessity, and I will play my part to perfection as I have played to Malfoy over the past few months.
My mouth twists at the thought of Malfoy. He is a means to an end, no more, worthless aside from that. Worthless. I do not enjoy sitting with him, curled up together... kissing slowly and sweetly, his hands gently wandering over me... mine tangled in his hair...
I shake my head. A means to an end. Less than that, even.
I take out a quill and piece of parchment and write my reply.
My name is written in a much neater script this time, with a flourish on the 'y'. I stare at it for a moment before the Malfoy seal registers and I realise Lucius has sent this. I break the seal and open it quickly.
The message is simple:
Your presence is required tomorrow at midnight. This letter will act as a portkey.
My hands tremble as I refold the note and place it inside a book on my dresser. It would not do for my family to find this, they are suspicious enough as it is. I can't afford to add fuel to the fire.
So the Dark Lord wants to see me. This whole situation is suddenly very real, and very overwhelming. I sit on my bed, run my fingers raggedly through my hair, lick my abruptly-dry lips. I can't do this.
I have to do this. As I told Draco - Malfoy - it is the only way to afford myself some level of security.
I get up for a drink, change my mind half-way to the door, and return to the bed. I lie back, pulling my hands painfully through my hair again, and force myself to imagine all the questions I could be asked and come up with a suitable answer for each. Subject matter aside, Hermione would be proud.
I don't know where I am when the portkey finishes transporting me. It is dim, hazy, the clichéd mysteriousness you find in one of the Muggle films my father is so fond of. It is outdoors, a field somewhere, and I have appeared within a ring of Death Eaters. My hands are carefully buried in my robe, hiding their shaking.
A part of my mind seems to take comfort in trivial things, as I register the half-full moon and wonder how long this will take and whether my family will notice me gone.
I suppress a sharp intake of breath as a shadow at the head of the circle resolves itself into Voldemort himself, stepping forward to look down at me. I want to shudder at the emptiness in his eyes, but hold myself still.
"Ronald Weasley. I must confess to being surprised at your request." Even his voice is dark, snake-like and cold. I cannot break his gaze.
I swallow. "My lord."
"Good," he purrs, lips twitching into a hard, twisted smirk. "You know your place. And may I ask what brings you to us?" He is mocking me, showing me by his very courtesy the absolute lack of control I have over the situation. All I can do is answer, praying my voice is steady.
"I have... no interest in the Light, my lord." My voice falters slightly, but is otherwise sure. "I can give you information about Harry Potter and Dumbledore's forces. I wish to serve you." I swallow again.
"Do you indeed. And what information do you have, then?"
"I, uh, I can tell you about their defenses and vulnerabilities." I am speaking too fast, betraying my fear, but I know what I am saying. I have been going over all my experiences with Harry and Hermione, taking note of all the things that could be used against them. I have a decent list. "What do you want to know?"
He holds my eyes for a long moment before he answers. "I think you could be of use. You will go with Lucius and tell him what you know. Then we may discuss this further." He turns away, contempt in the very fact that he is showing me his back - a complete disdain for any skills I may have, proving he knows I would not - could not - try anything against him. My whole body is shaking as the Death Eaters disperse and Lucius Malfoy steps up behind me and places a hand on my shoulder.
"Hold on. We will apparate to my estate." I nod, eyes widening and breath coming quicker as I let myself give in to the terror I could not previously allow. He turns me to face him, clasping both arms and we vanish into the air.
We appear in some sort of sitting room in what must be Malfoy Manor. I distract myself almost desperately by looking around at the furniture and decor. Malfoy is holding a glass of amber liquid towards me and I take it, gratefully sipping and feeling the alcohol burn my throat.
He regards me for a long moment while I gather my scattered nerves and the liquid in my glass slowly stops sloshing with my tremors. I finally meet his eyes.
"I am impressed by your conduct, Mr. Weasley. I did not hold much hope for your ability to survive such an encounter." I nod, unaccountably thankful for his praise. "Are you capable of discussing this with me now, or do you need a few more minutes?"
I shake my head, remembering belatedly to reply, "Now is fine, sir."
"Very well. We should probably be finished with this before your family notices you gone, hm?"
"Yes, sir. They, uh, don't know I'm here." I am struck by my own inanity.
He snorts. "I had gathered that, yes. Let's start at the beginning, then. How would one go about getting to Harry Potter?"
Malfoy lifts a quill to take notes as I begin to relate what I know.
Two days pass before I am summoned again, in which I exchange several more letters with Draco. His father has told him about the meeting, and he keeps asking me if I'm really all right. I'm getting very sick of it. I was unable to speak to him on the night in question; Lucius Malfoy and I kept talking until it was nearly dawn, and Malfoy insisted I go home rather than try to wake his son. I felt unexpectedly disappointed.
The owl this time is dark and regal, not the usual one Draco - Malfoy - uses, so I know instantly that Lucius has sent it. I have been itching to find out what is going to happen, the stress making me irritable towards people. I broke a glass yesterday, stopping myself from throwing it at the last second so that it simply crashed to the floor, looking like an accident. I apologised and cleaned up, while mum watched me with an odd expression.
The bird calmly deposits the paper on my dresser before turning and winging away, perfectly aristocratic. I am briefly amused as I break the seal.
Our Lord is pleased. At midnight this letter will take you to him. Good luck.
I drop myself onto the bed, clutching at the sheets to reassure myself of their reality. A single sob of profound relief escapes me before I hear footsteps on the stairs and have to scramble to hide the parchment.
"Yeah, mum?" My voice is gratifyingly confident.
"Dinner's ready. Are you joining us today?" She sounds exasperated and in a startling surge of guilt I realise how much I have been avoiding them.
"Yeah, sure. I'll be right down." I don't really want to after Malfoy's letter, but there is still every chance I may be killed tonight, and I realise that I truly cannot handle the thought of going to THAT without leaving my family some better memories than the past two sets of holidays. So I resolve to be decent company this time, and perhaps be able to go tonight without feeling like I've left something broken behind me.
I am not sure whether I should be more or less scared than last time. On the one hand, I know that so far I'm doing well. On the other, I also know that if I put a single foot wrong I could end up as a little puddle of Weasley-coloured goo. It's not a cheerful thought.
Nevertheless, I take a deep breath and reach for the portkey. It tugs at me and the world shifts, then resolves into another circle of dark, shadowed people. I keep my eyes forward, knowing better than to look around at the Death Eaters. My gaze flicks between those few I can see directly in front, and I'm tense enough that I nearly jump when Voldemort appears, this time apparating into the circle after me. Nearly jump. Not quite. The silence that follows is eerie.
I hold my ground as he approaches me, realising this time to keep my eyes down, submissive. I don't flinch when he tilts my head up to look at me, icy, hard fingers digging in to my chin. "Your information will prove very... helpful, young Ronald." A small shudder echoes through me at what his tone suggests. He notices and grips me harder for a second before releasing me - I hope because he deems it unimportant.
"Do you still wish to be in my service, boy?"
"Yes, my lord."
"Let us hope you can prove your worth, then." He holds out his hand imperiously, and I suddenly understand what is about to happen. I expose my left forearm for him.
The pain is excruciating. I bite my lip until blood flows, grunting slightly but making no other sound. Mercifully, it only lasts a few seconds.
When he releases me, the Dark Mark is vivid in the dim light, unnaturally red before it fades to black.
I am shaken awake in the morning by one of the twins, who looks worried. I blink tiredly and attempt to get my bearings.
"...wrong with you? It's nearly midday! We're meant to be going shopping this afternoon, remember?" I stare at him blankly. "Oh, honestly, Ron! You'd think you weren't getting any sleep! Come on, get up." He pulls the pillow out from under my head, finally jerking me into wakefulness. I sit up, absently rubbing my arm where the Mark lies.
"I'm up. G'way," I grumble, and Fred rolls his eyes and leaves. I drag myself out of bed, pull on some clothes and stagger downstairs. I have enough presence of mind to wear long sleeves. Mum fusses over me as I enter the kitchen, sitting me down with a plate of toast and tugging at my hair until it looks vaguely ordered.
I am out of danger for the moment and awake enough to go over the events of the previous night, finally. I recall that I failed to mention Draco to Voldemort, but I was afraid to do so in front of Lucius and there was so much else to take my attention that I couldn't remember that one little thing. Malfoy being disloyal, wanting me to stay on the good side. They would kill him, I note with little care. But still, there would be ample opportunity to tell the Dark Lord later.
I have requested to be allowed to visit Draco tonight, sick though I am of portkeys. The Mark still itches, a day later, and I rub it as I stand waiting in the Malfoys' foyer, where I have been taken.
Draco comes in at a run, stopping dead when he sees my hand covering my arm. "Father told me. Is it true?" I nod, showing him. "Oh, Ron. You shouldn't have done that, you really-" His eyes widen as he realises he is speaking against Voldemort to a Death Eater. I'm a Death Eater; in that instant it finally hits home. He shakes his head. "You're still mine, though, aren't you?" His voice is softer, painful to hear.
"Of course. I wouldn't leave you, Draco."
"Come sit down. Father has agreed to give us some time alone." I smile, kissing Draco gently and following him into a study. We sit on the floor in front of the fire, him snuggling between my legs, his back against my chest. I wrap my arms around him.
As we talk I remember once more my resolve to tell Voldemort about him. And it occurs to me that really, my memory tends to be a little faulty at times, especially when I'm scared.
And who knows? Maybe I'll never remember when it's the right time.
And as I press my lips to Draco's hair I wonder if that's really such a bad thing.
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