Draco panted as he fell against the wall of his room, which had become a veritable realm of destruction in the two weeks since the catastrophic conversation with the Muggle, as he was now referring to Mr. Wilkins. A broken chair was splayed beneath the window. The drapes were hanging in shreds. His four-poster bed had three-and-a-half posts. Feathers that once cushioned silk pillows flew in spirals as he threw yet another shoe at the wall. Pain shot through his back, his arms, his legs, his veins, as he violated his oath not to harm the house.
His attempts to replenish the stock of Dreamless Sleep were failing as he became overzealous in his preparation of the ingredients. Books written in English made less sense than books written in Ancient Runes as the characters danced across the page. Granger's last review of his Potions assignment—Potions, the one thing he knew he could do—was Acceptable. The only thing going right for him was his connection with Weasley's wand, and he had no clue why it chose now to cooperate.
For the first three days after the revelation from the Muggle, Theo braved confrontations with Draco that normally ended in one of them being hexed for a good six hours. Draco never revealed what caused his change in attitude or why he refused to leave his bedroom. He never told Theo that the Muggles knew. As far as Draco was concerned, if Theo was daft enough to trust Zabini, he didn't deserve to know they'd been found out.
And yet for all his fear, his paranoia, Draco stayed at the cottage. He couldn't bring himself to run, to find another place to hide, and that angered him more than anything else. Theo had been right all those weeks ago when he said that Draco couldn't live without relying on the assistance of others. Theo was also right that if Draco lost Theo and Zabini, he would have no one else.
The morning's newspaper flew at the wall next, before Draco stomped over to the offending paper. He slammed one foot on the front page, bent over, and ripped the page in half. As he stood, he shredded the article into confetti. Disjointed French words floated to the ground alongside the feathers, but even though Draco could no longer read them, their message was burned in his mind.
Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy were in Auror custody, awaiting extradition to Britain. In just over a week, they would be put on trial for their services to the Dark Lord. After ten months, their running was over and he was still free. He was still free, but in a prison, all the same. His cellmate offered condolences through a locked door until Draco put a silencing charm on the room. He didn't want to listen to empty words while rage burned through his veins. Theo couldn't help. No one could help.
It took another week before Draco left the room for reasons other than filching food at two o'clock in the morning or abusing his cauldron with concoctions that may or may not resemble a real potion. As he passed through the dining room, Theo stared resolutely at the table. The congenial relationship they built up after eight months of constant contact was shattered, and Draco was determined not to feel its loss. He made a plate of toast and carried it into the library. Away from Theo. Away from facing truths he couldn't accept.
"You're a right bastard, you know that?" a soft voice came from the direction of the door. Draco didn't turn around to face his roommate. "Do you feel better now that you've destroyed Blaise's house?"
Draco bent over his book and stared at a page. He still couldn't see the words. Why wouldn't the damn words stop dancing?
"You look like hell, Draco." Theo waited a beat, but Draco continued his silence. "When you're ready to act like an adult, I'll be in the drawing room." He paused. "I've made my own Dreamless Sleep, by the way. It's not as potent as yours, but at least it's something. And you look like you could use some."
Footsteps faded away from the library entrance and Draco dropped his head to the table. He couldn't continue like this. It was like being stuck in a loop, replaying the age of sixteen over and over. His father going to Azkaban. Spending months alone, not sleeping, worried out of his mind for his life and his family and his future. Did it ever stop?
Would it ever stop?
Draco stepped into the drawing room the following Sunday afternoon. Behind an ornate iron and oak desk, Theo was hunched over a long parchment, quill dashing across the page.
"I'm ready to talk," Draco said, struggling to keep the self-loathing from his voice.
Theo said nothing, but leaned over a book to his left for a moment before he returned to his writing.
"Did you hear me?" Draco snapped. "I said I'm ready to talk."
"Come back in an hour," Theo responded without looking up.
"You said to come in here when I was ready."
Theo set the quill on the desk and met Draco's eyes. There was coldness in Theo's expression that Draco hadn't seen since they attended Hogwarts. "I told you to come in here when you're ready to act like an adult. I'm not interested in listening to someone who's going to act like a spoilt child. Be an adult and give me an hour to finish this project."
Draco turned on his heel and didn't return to the drawing room for two days.
The words felt foreign on Draco's tongue as he stood before the desk and the man sitting behind it. He could count on two hands the number of times he'd said the words to anyone outside of his parents. One of the many lessons he learned in his childhood was the importance of those two words. An apology must be honest with true humility and repentance behind it. His parents tolerated nothing less. It was rare that Draco put aside his pride to humble himself, but after nearly a month without real human contact, his pride was broken.
Theo folded his hands and examined Draco, exuding confidence and power as he sat straight in a high-backed black chair with a stern set to his jaw. His golden eyes were dulled with exhaustion, emphasized by dark circles that told Draco the amateur Dreamless Sleep potion wasn't working.
Draco ran a hand through his hair, which he'd trimmed to shoulder-length during his time alone. "The Muggles realized what we are and so I ran. I hid. And then the news came about my parents and I realized that you were right." He choked on the last phrase. Humility and Malfoys did not mix well. He took another breath as Theo waited patiently for him to continue. "When you said that if I didn't trust you and Zabini, I would have no one. And I won't survive on my own. And as—" he coughed, "—scared as I am to be discovered, I don't want to leave here. It's been nearly a month since the Muggles figured it out and Aurors haven't found us yet, so I don't want to press my luck—our luck—by running headlong into unknown dangers."
He cast his eyes to the ground and waited for Theo to respond.
"Why didn't you Obliviate Mr. Wilkins?" the other man said after a long pause.
Draco blanched as he kept firm eye contact with the scarlet carpet. "I didn't think." Another pause settled over them before Draco ran the question through his mind again. He lifted his head to look at Theo. "How did you know it was Mr. Wilkins?"
"Because the man has asked about you half a dozen times. He knows he scared you off."
"Did he tell you what he said that scared me?" Draco cringed as his tone elevated into a near demand. He needed to keep a level head if Theo was going to let the conversation continue.
The golden eyes narrowed. "Yes, he did," Theo said shortly. "And for the price of one of those apple-cheddar muffins, I let him explain why he thought it was a good idea to say anything in the first place."
Draco snorted in spite of himself. Trusty Theo, bought off with an experimental muffin.
"You should hear him out."
"You don't believe whatever he told you, do you?" Draco asked. Theo said nothing. "He's a Muggle."
"And you're a wizard. And we all live on the same planet and breathe the same air and argue and fight amongst ourselves and fall in love and do everything else that humans do."
Draco growled. "You're starting to sound like a Weasley."
"Better a Weasley than an intolerant supremacist who was taught nothing but loathing based on false truths." Theo held up a hand as Draco made to interrupt. "You know the things we were raised to believe are rot. Inaccurate. You've known it since the day you took the Mark. Since the day the Dark Lord gave you an impossible task you were meant to fail, and threatened you with the lives of your family. Your father believed every word that fell off that demon's lips, and yet Lucius was disposable in the end. Every one of us who was brainwashed into believing the Dark Lord's words as Law were strictly a means to an end for him, and you know that, Draco. You may not be ready to believe it, but you know it's true." Theo took a deep breath and the impassioned pink in his cheeks receded.
Draco mulled over his next words, choosing them carefully. "The Dark Lord was—." He stopped. His thoughts were blasphemous and he felt the weight of the Mark on his arm. Eighteen years. He spent eighteen years in service to pure-blood ideology and the vision of the Dark Lord. He knew nothing else. He had never believed anything else, and had never found a reason to doubt his upbringing until he was set to kill Dumbledore. And then with Hogwarts and the Ministry under Death Eater control, he suppressed those doubts. How could he doubt the winning side?
But his true conviction had been demolished—not lost, or shattered, but truly and thoroughly destroyed—in the Astronomy Tower as he faced down an old man who offered him grace in the face of death. Not out of fear, but genuine kindness for someone undeserving of such a thing. His true conviction fell off that tower with that same man's lifeless body as it fell, broken, to the ground. Within moments of realizing his doubts, the Dark Lord won and he forced his doubts from his mind. If he wanted to survive, he had to pick the winning side regardless of whatever he felt. So he stopped feeling and became numb.
Sixteen years of blind faith. One year of terror. One year of necessary detachment, lest he lose his mind and his life.
And now, ten months of whatever new hell this was.
"The Dark Lord was—." He stopped and swallowed as he gathered the courage to speak the thoughts he had kept hidden for so long. "Wrong," he whispered.
He took a breath as Theo kept examining him. "But that doesn't mean I believe Muggles and wizards belong in the same world. I'm not going to change into some Muggle-loving fool because it's the antithesis of the rhetoric of a cruel man who believed he was a god. I can't explain how it happens, but I don't believe Muggle-borns 'stole' our magic, and if I'm honest, I'm quite confused how to think of them anymore. But the rest of my beliefs have not changed and I cannot tolerate Muggles any longer. I have no wish to kill them any more than I could wish death on my own kind. I'm not demented. I understand that they're human, but they don't belong with us. We don't belong among them."
Theo was quiet for a long time. Draco could hear his own heart in the silence, and he counted the beats as he worked to focus his emotions.
"There is one flaw in your argument," Theo said after Draco counted seventy-three heartbeats. Another pause. Another forty heartbeats. "The Wilkinses."
"What about them?" Draco asked slowly.
"They're descended from magic. That's how Mr. Wilkins recognized us."
"How can Muggles be descended from magic?"
"What happens when a Squib marries a Muggle? Muggle children. But that means those Muggle children have magical grandparents; thus, Muggles can be descended from magic." Theo allowed Draco to think over this new information until the silence became uncomfortable. "So where do the Wilkinses fit in to your beliefs?"
"They're Muggles," Draco said obstinately, though his heart wasn't in the statement.
"With magical ancestry, which means somewhere along the way, they're likely descended from the same lines as you and I."
Draco felt uncomfortable as Theo watched his internal struggle to reconcile the Wilkinses' origins with his already unstable belief system. "I can't...not right now. I can't."
And with his thumb and forefinger pressed to the bridge of his nose, tired silver eyes closed, he walked away.
As his feet crushed the dry pine needles at the edge of the Muggle town, Draco marvelled that he didn't Splinch himself. His feet, upon leaving the drawing room, had led him straight to the edge of the Zabinis' property and Disapparated with hardly a conscious thought. Now he faced the town, cast in the soft glow of an impending sunset. The shops were starting to close for the evening, but the lights were still on in the Wilkinses' bakery.
Instinct and logic warred in his chest. He stepped backward and forward a dozen times as logic demanded he go back to the cottage while instinct drove him to the bakery. With a resolute sigh, he tapped his head with Weasley's wand and felt his hair burst into the tell-tale frizz of his brunette façade.
The bell tinkled above his head as Mrs. Wilkins made for the door with a key in hand. Her impassive expression burst into a smile as she saw the visitor. He barely made it a foot in the door before she wrapped him in a hug. He was sure his eyes were bulging out of his head with the sudden and unwelcome contact.
Mrs. Wilkins let go quickly and stepped back, clearly realizing he was uncomfortable. "Welcome back, Mr. Granger. How are you feeling? Your brother said you've been a bit under the weather."
Draco glanced at the floor, at the ceiling, at the empty displays, and finally at the Muggle. "I've been better," he said with a sincerity that made him feel vulnerable. "Is your husband around? I'd—I'd like to speak with him."
Mrs. Wilkins looked puzzled but nodded. "We live just upstairs." She reached behind Draco and locked the door, before she waved for him to follow her into the back.
A dozen silver contraptions unlike anything Draco had ever seen lined the walls of the backroom of the bakery. Shelves and a stove were recognizable enough, but everything else were large metal cubes he couldn't begin to put names to. The lights were different from the glass-housed snake lights out front and in the clothing store. These were elongated and firmly glowing from the ceiling. An odd-looking cauldron held even odder-looking things that may have been utensils, though they looked like nothing the Zabinis owned.
Draco flushed a deep red and pulled his eyes away from what he was certain was a Muggle kitchen. "Following," he muttered, and walked to the stairs.
The room at the top of the stairs was notably smaller than any sitting room Draco had ever seen. Four or five of these rooms could have fit in the Zabinis' sitting room, which was dwarfed by the sitting room at the Manor. In this thimble-sized area, the Wilkinses had stuffed a long blue sofa set perpendicular to a matching armchair with an end table at the elbow. A coffee table on a plush blue rug sat in the middle, and next to the wall was a low shelf stacked with another metal contraption with a glass front. He imagined this contraption was likely not involved in the Muggle baking process.
Straight behind the sitting room was a dining room of equal proportion, and to the left was a kitchen divided from the dining room not by a wall, but by a four-foot high counter. Through a hallway directly behind Draco, he saw three doors, likely leading to two bedrooms and a bathroom. The hallway was lit by more of the glass lights, but instead of spheres, these seemed to emulate the shape of a candle flame.
"Husband!" Mrs. Wilkins called. She patted Draco's arm. "He'll be out in a moment, my dear. Make yourself comfortable." She gestured to the sitting room, which already had him feeling claustrophobic. "Do you want any tea?"
"I'm fine." With a stabilizing breath, he walked past the short table and settled into the armchair. No one could sit next to him and no one could touch him. It was the safest place in the entire home.
"Wife!" came the voice of Mr. Wilkins behind one of the closed doors.
"We have a guest, so you'd best be decent," Mrs. Wilkins warned the man.
A chuckle could be heard through the door. Draco marvelled that anyone would have doors so thin that something like a chuckle could be heard.
"Who dares spoil my plan to seduce my prey?" Mr. Wilkins asked, and Draco's eyes flew open in awkward disbelief. He did not need to hear that.
Mrs. Wilkins laughed loudly from her spot in the kitchen. "Husband, Mr. Argyros Granger does not need to be made more uncomfortable than he already is."
"Granger, you say? I suppose I'll put on a shirt, then."
Draco wasn't sure how red his face was at this specific point in time compared to other embarrassing moments of his life, but he imagined it compared closely with the ferret incident.
Mr. Wilkins entered the sitting room after a few minutes and gave a beaming smile to Draco. Draco felt lucky that he didn't have to see the man half-naked, even if Muggle clothing felt oddly naked anyway.
"Mr. Granger, it is good to see you again. I've was concerned that after our last conversation, I may have seen the last of you." Mr. Wilkins seemed perfectly earnest and honestly abashed at his handling of their last interaction.
Draco shifted in the armchair as Mr. Wilkins settled himself on the sofa. "Theo—my brother mentioned he spoke to you," he said in a low tone, and cursed himself for slipping up and saying Theo's name.
Mr. Wilkins nodded, unaffected by the error. "He did. And I appreciate that he waited for me to explain, although it's slightly concerning that with the weight of the secret you boys carry, he was seduced by a muffin. And one that three people total have purchased, at that."
"That's Chrys," Draco muttered, silently agreeing with the Muggle.
Mr. Wilkins shifted uncomfortably on the sofa. "Are you ready to hear me through?"
Draco paused before he nodded. His apprehension was at an all-time high (excluding the fear of Aurors bursting in at any given moment), but he forced himself to listen to the Muggle Theo trusted so much.
"My family has known about magic for generations, even if it's mostly legend now. My father always thought it was ridiculous, but my grandfather believed in it. I did too, until about twenty years ago. I honestly don't know why I stopped." Mr. Wilkins paused. "According to my grandfather, we were descended from a great line of witches and wizards particularly focused in the field of Potions. Somewhere around my great-great-grandfather, we lost our magic and descended into the world of science. Okay, maybe 'descended' isn't the right word. We evolved, as most would say. But the stories remained in our family, and I was foolish enough to believe them, or so my father would accuse. He was a man of definite science. 'Every action has an equal and opposite reaction', he reminded my sister and I every day. 'In magic, no such thing exists, therefore magic is in the realm of fantasy and you live in the world of reality.' I detested those words," Mr. Wilkins said with vehemence. "I hated believing in something my father had no faith in, but then in my twenties...well, I fell into his way of thinking, so to speak."
Mr. Wilkins stared at Draco with an intrusive glance that made him want to jump out of the chair, run down the steps, and Apparate straight into the Wizengamot courtroom. He clenched his fists and took calming breaths, willing his heart to slow down. "I saw you, every day with your wand and I knew I had given up a belief in something real. You were my proof that my grandfather wasn't lying. Those legends I abandoned twenty years ago were truths I wasn't ready to accept in a world so hellbent on science and absolutes." Mr. Wilkins gave Draco such an intense look that the younger man thought he might melt into the fabric of his armchair. "Your brother listened to this and told me that neither my grandfather nor I were insane."
Draco chewed the inside of his lip while he ran through his options. On one hand, he could Obliviate the Muggle and the entire concept of the Wizarding world would disappear from his consciousness—although to do so would require restructuring a significant amount of his childhood from the sound of it, and Draco was not a skilled enough Legilimens to do so in a convincing manner. On the other hand, he could choose Theo's route and affirm the Muggle that he was correct in his beliefs: the Wizarding world did exist, and he was in fact, the descendant of such a person.
Later, in private, Draco would curse the fact that he harboured any inner-Gryffindor tendencies. In front of Mr. Wilkins, and by extension his wife, who was listening eagerly from the kitchen, Draco lifted his wand and whispered, "Wingardium leviosa," and raised a candle sitting on the poor excuse of a coffee table several inches in the air before lowering it back to its regular resting place.
"You're not crazy," Draco said after a few minutes. Mr. Wilkins accepted this with a straight face; Mrs. Wilkins, on the other hand, seemed to be nearing a heart attack.
"Magic," she said as she gasped for breath near the counter. "That was actual—that was magic."
Draco's face stayed impassive while Mr. Wilkins reassured his wife. "Yes. That was magic. And it was real. Mr. Granger did not perform an illusion."
Mrs. Wilkins edged her way into the too-small sitting room and searched Draco with curious brown eyes. "Did you have—do you have a—?" She blushed and hid her face in her husband's sleeve. "Did you use a magic wand?"
Draco furrowed his eyebrows at the Muggle's question. What else did she expect him to use? He twisted his right hand and showed her the artefact. Her jaw dropped and she reached out to touch it. Draco pulled the wand back out of impulse. "Wands are extremely personal items," he said.
Mrs. Wilkins dropped her hand. "I'm sorry, Mr. Granger."
He gave a heavy sigh at the sound of that Muggle name again and again. "Please, please, call me Argyros. I can only take so much of 'Mr. Granger' before I start losing my mind," he said with a certain amount of exasperation.
The couple looked at him with astonishment before they nodded. "Fine," Mrs. Wilkins said, not unkindly. "But I expect you to call me Monica from now on."
"And I, Wendell," Mr. Wilkins said.
Draco stared at the couple and tried to come up with a compromise, but in all of his pure-blood etiquette training, nothing of the sort had ever arisen. He was, for all intents and purposes, stuck.
He nodded his agreement, however begrudgingly. "Monica. Wendell," he said, trying out the names. They felt foreign and strange on his tongue, but if this was the price of survival without having to defect to some unknown corner of the world, it was a small cost.
"Much better," Mrs. Wilkins—Monica—stated.
Wendell rubbed his short, untamed brown hair with his right palm. "So, Mr.-Argyros." The name was as strange for the Muggle as it was for Draco. He felt no small satisfaction at that. "May I be so indelicate as to ask why you and your brother are in hiding?"
Draco's jaw nearly dropped at the statement. "Pardon?" he said in the quietest voice possible.
The Muggle man clasped his wife's hand and seemed to draw some sort of strength from her silence. "When we spoke last, I said I suspected you were in hiding, at which point you ran." He paused, as if giving Draco some chance to jump to his feet, run down the steps, and Apparate to some unknown place in the Sahara Desert. When Draco did none of these things (however badly he wanted to, as his Slytherin instincts were screaming to GET OUT NOW), Wendell pressed on. "Son, what are you running from?"
Draco sucked in a sharp breath. That was a loaded question, and one that came sorely near to the philosophical standoff he had reached with Theo not two hours earlier. "What makes you think I'm running?" he challenged. The two grown adults looked at him with identical raised eyebrows that told Draco his bluff was not working on these far too-intuitive Muggles.
So this is what it came down to: a truth, or a full-blown lie.
"My world was at war for three years," his mouth said without his brain's approval. He stopped talking, but the Wilkinses were raptly listening. If it all goes to hell, I can Obliviate them at the end of the night, his desperate ego reasoned.
Draco swallowed and began, for the first time in his life, telling the whole truth. To Muggles. To people he didn't understand, but for some reason trusted. "In truth, we were at the precipice of war for two years, and then two years ago it came to a head," he clarified. "And my family were on the losing side. Now we're in hiding—or we were. My mother and father went off to America without me to hide, and now they've been caught." He looked at the dour brown carpet, and then at the equally uninspiring coffee table. "Two days ago, my father was sentenced to ten years in prison for war crimes. My mother has been put on house arrest for three years. I found out this morning," he spat bitterly. "It was in the newspaper."
Monica looked stiff and uncertain at the implication that there was a war and the young man in her living room had been on the wrong side, therefore implying she had a war criminal in her midst. For a reason he didn't want to examine, her reaction tugged at Draco's heart. Wendell, on the other hand, looked merely intrigued by the whole situation. "My condolences for your parents," he said.
Draco shook his head. His belief system might have still been in shambles, but he knew a true criminal when he saw one. As much as he loved his father, Lucius Malfoy was at one time the Dark Lord's right hand. Lucius Malfoy, by current moral and legal standards, deserved ten years in Azkaban. "They—it was well earned," he said after a moment's contemplation.
"You said you were on the 'losing' side," Wendell said with an air of caution. "Not the 'wrong' side?"
Draco contemplated his words for several long moments before he answered the inquisitive Muggle. "'Right' and 'wrong' are concepts. You're well aware of the adjoining concept that 'history is written by the victorious'. 'Right' and 'wrong' are just words the victorious use to make themselves comfortable with the sins they committed, as if they weren't as cruel and twisted as the rest of us. They killed just as many people. Tortured and interrogated just as many people. As far as I'm concerned, no one won this war," Draco said, and in a moment of unexpected clarity, he realized his words were true. Too many people had been killed and tortured by both sides of the war for anyone to reign truly triumphant. The only reason those twenty-eight war heroes were given anything was because they were on the opposite side of the Dark Lord. That was the defining aspect, and it was pathetic.
Mr.-Wendell nodded with a clear look of understanding and empathy. "How old are you, Argyros?"
"Eighteen," Draco answered automatically.
"So this war began...?"
"I was less than a month past fifteen when the Dark—the commander—of my allegiance rose to power." The name 'Dark Lord' implied Draco had been very much on the wrong side of the war.
Monica reached out to touch his hand, but seemed to remember his reaction to her earlier hug, and rested her hand on Wendell's arm. "You were a child soldier."
He looked away from the pity in her eyes. Draco bit the inside of his lip as he thought of taking the Dark Mark at sixteen, and Theo at seventeen; Crabbe losing his life just after his eighteenth birthday. Barely adults. Even goddamned Potter and his insufferable shadows were underage when they fought their first battle. "We all were," he said.
"Argyros," Wendell said with a tone that suggested he planned to change the subject. "What's your specialty? Charms? Transfiguration? Divination?"
Draco held back an unexpected and involuntary smile. "Potions," he answered, relieved to talk about something other than the years of his life he wanted to forget.
"Potions," Wendell mused. "I imagine you have to be precise with everything you do?" Draco nodded, frowning in suspicion at the line of questioning. Wendell raised an eyebrow and gave Draco a half-grin. "Have you ever given a thought to baking?"