Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine, which is just as well, because they keep ordering me around. Draco, especially, will not do what I want him to.

Precious

-Catspook

Chapter 7: Acceptance

Percy winced as the twins' latest product, potent putty projectiles, exploded in the trophy room, one floor and a long hallway away from where Percy was hiding. The fact that he could hear the explosions worried him; he didn't want to think about what was being done to the trophies. But it was too late now to second-guess himself.

Percy watched from behind a suit of armor as Filch ran down the hall yelling, "You ruffians! I'll see you expelled for this!" Swallowing his guilt, Percy stepped out from behind the statue once Filch was out of sight. Filch's door was easily opened with a simple unlocking charm, as were the file cabinets. Percy quickly grabbed Bartimus Crouch jr.'s and Lucius Malfoy's files, then re-locked the cabinets. He cast the same charm on the door, then ran to an old charms classroom to read through the files away from prying eyes.

Percy read through Crouch jr.'s file first, which was thinner than he had anticipated. There were only three incidents mentioned; two weeks detention for an exploded potions cauldron in his second year, and two episodes of after hours snogging in the astronomy tower his seventh year. Percy frowned when he read that Crouch jr.'s liaisons had both been a fourth year boys, but that proved nothing.

Malfoy's file was far thicker than Crouch jr.'s. He had never been caught having a dalliance in the astronomy tower, but he had been involved in more than his share of unauthorized duels. He had also had apparently been involved in more than one altercation with James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettegrew. Interestingly enough, Snape was also involved in every incident with them.

And then, aha! In his sixth year, Malfoy had been caught doing another student's potions assignment; he'd been forging the other boy's handwriting expertly, and he would never have been caught if Filch hadn't found him working on the document in an unused classroom. Percy now knew that Malfoy was capable of forging and sending the note, and he had a general understanding of why, but he couldn't go to the ministry without proof that Crouch jr. had hurt Draco.

But then, as unthinkable as it was, he started to wonder whether he should even go to the Ministry. It seemed the sort of thing that they ought to know, but what would the Ministry do that hadn't already been done? Tell the papers? If Malfoy had gone to such trouble to keep it quiet, he probably had his reasons. And if the motive had been revenge for something that was done to Draco, the boy would be dragged into it as well. Was it right to expose a victimized teenager to that kind of public scrutiny? Finally, though Percy would never admit this factored into his decision, what might Lucius Malfoy do to Percy – or his family - if he exposed him?

O~O~O~O~O

Lucius plunged his head into the basin of cold water in Draco's bathroom and held it there for over a minute. He felt wrung out, shaky, and as much as he wanted to take a long, hot bath, he was afraid he would fall asleep and drown. Not that Lucius cared that much at the moment, but Draco needed him. Lucius dried his face with a hand towel then stumbled back to Draco's bed. It seemed profane for him to share a bed with his perfect son, but Draco wanted him there. Lucius climbed into the far side of the bed from Draco and considered whether he should pull the boy into his arms. He did not want to Draco feel violated by unsolicited physical contact, but he also wanted to provide any comfort he could. He decided to lie about a foot away from Draco, so that Draco could reach him if he needed to. As exhausted as he was, Lucius was asleep within minutes.

O~O~O~O~O

"You're certainly up late, Mr. Weasley. Is there anything troubling you?"

Percy was so startled by the unexpected inquiry that he fell off the stool he was sitting on. "Headmaster Dumbledore?" he gasped, rubbing his bruised elbow.

"Are you all right, Mr. Weasley?" Dumbledore helped Percy to his feet, smiling in that all-knowing, fatherly was of his.

"Yes, I'm fine. I'm sorry, I didn't see you enter."

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled mischievously, "You weren't meant to. Now, could you possibly tell me what has kept you up so late, away from your charge, and required you to urge your bothers to coat the trophy room in slime?"

"They were caught?"

"Not by Argus, and they won't be punished if you can give me a good reason for why they would do such a thing."

Percy looked at the floor. "I asked them to create a distraction."

"For what?"

Percy paused only for the briefest of moments, before looking Dumbledore in the face. "I required a private a look at some of Mr. Filch's files."

"And did you find anything interesting?"

"Yes."

O~O~O~O~O

When Lucius awoke, the first thing he noticed was that Draco was cuddled up close to him. Lucius was elated; he had been so terrified yesterday that he had lost his son forever. Lucius didn't move; he would let Draco wake up in his own time and decide what happened next.

"Father?" Draco murmured sleepily.

"Yes?" Lucius smiled.

Draco didn't seem to be upset that Lucius was touching him. "Can I have chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast?"

Lucius grinned. "Of course, preci... Draco."

"It's okay, you know. You can call me that... If you want to."

Lucius brushed a lock of hair away from Draco's eyes. "Thank you, precious."

O~O~O~O~O

"I see you used less syrup this time."

"Well, after all that soup, it seems I can't handle it so well, doesn't it?"

Lucius just smiled. "Would you like a bath?"

"Yes, but don't look!"

"Of course." Lucius stood and extended his hand to Draco, but the boy didn't take it. Draco swayed a bit when he stood up, but he managed to walk to the bathroom by himself. Lucius filled the tub and was careful not to look at Draco until after the boy said it was okay.

Draco was leaning back with his eyes closed, up to his neck in soapy water. "Mmm."

Lucius smiled and sat on a silver plated, filigree chair asking, "Did you sleep well?"

"Yes."

"Good."

"Did you?"

"Like the dead." Lucius immediately regretted using that particular turn of phrase as Draco opened his eyes and gave Lucius an odd look.

"I've always wondered about that. If death is supposed to be so peaceful why is the Avada Kedavra so illegal? I mean, it's a better death than most people get, quick and painless."

Lucius looked at Draco thoughtfully; he sure was being philosophical for so early in the morning. "I believe the pain of the Avada Kedavra is not primarily for those killed, but those left behind."

"Oh."

Draco grabbed the soap and a sponge and started washing himself under the bubbles. Lucius leaned back and closed his eyes, still tired even after a full night's sleep. He had just dozed off when, "Father?"

Lucius jerked awake, "What?"

Draco grinned, "You were sleeping, weren't you?"

"Yes," Lucius replied, embarrassed.

"Oh. Would you wash my back for me?"

"Of course," Lucius rolled up the sleeve of his robe, grabbed the sponge, and scrubbed Draco's bony back gently.

Draco started giggling, "That tickles."

Lucius dropped the sponge as if it had burned him. "I'm sorry..." he stuttered, and Draco turned to look at him wide-eyed.

"Father, what... oh, yesterday. It's okay, father; I didn't mean it like that."

Lucius just gazed at Draco sadly. "I am so sorry, son."

"It's... I forgive you." Lucius didn't trust himself to speak. He hugged Draco tightly; completely oblivious to the fact that he was spilling soapy water everywhere.

"Father!" Draco smiled, "You're going to get soaked."

Lucius felt like yelling that he didn't care, but he instead released Draco and hid the fact that he had been crying by grabbing a towel and drying his face first, then his shoulders and arms. He cast a drying charm on his robes, too ashamed to look at Draco directly.

"Be careful getting out of the tub; the floor is slippery."

O~O~O~O~O

"It looks nice outside." Draco gazed longingly out the windows of Lucius' office. He was currently cocooned in charmed blankets on a black, leather lounge chair, reading his potions text. Lucius had some paperwork to do, and he had refused to leave Draco alone. Draco had said he didn't mind a change in scenery.

And because of that, Lucius immediately pick up on the hint. "It's too cold for you to go outside."

"How cold is it?"

"Slightly above freezing." Draco pouted and returned to his book. Lucius turned back to his paperwork, watching Draco out of the corner of his eye.

The boy kept glancing up from his book and fidgeting restlessly. "Are you all right?"

"I'm bored," he sniped, tossing his book on the floor.

"Would you like to play chess?"

"No."

"What would you like to do?"

"Nothing. Something. I don't know."

Lucius stood and walked over to the lounge. He sat at Draco's feet and picked the potions text up from off the floor. Draco took it sullenly. "Are you all right?"

"No."

"Can I help?"

"No. Yes. Maybe."

"What's wrong?"

"I hate this!"

"What?"

"This! Everything... Not being able to walk down the hall without having to stop... Not being about to go outside because I can't stand the cold... Not being able to sleep without feeling him still inside me unless I'm drugged and have you right there with me..." Draco sniffed and wiped away a few tears, but the fact that he wasn't sobbing hysterically was encouraging.

"Well, to be fair, it is an awfully long hallway." Draco stared at him, then did something very unexpected: he laughed. It wasn't a terribly happy laugh, laced with tears as it was, but Draco's smile was genuine. Lucius smiled as well and pulled Draco, blankets and all, into his arms. Draco tucked his head under Lucius' chin, gazing thoughtfully at nothing in particular.

"I know that you're upset, precious," Lucius said gently, "You have every right to be. But it will get better, I promise. You haven't even been home for a week; give it some time."

"Is that true?"

"Which part?"

"That it gets better with time. Don't you still think about it, sometimes? I mean, I can't imagine that I'll ever be able to forget it. Did you?"

Lucius looked into Draco's eyes sadly. "I... No, I cannot forget it. And yes, sometimes I still think about... it. But there are times, especially when I have you with me, that it's hard to remember why it matters so much."

Draco smiled slightly and rested his head against Lucius' chest. "I love you, father."

Lucius smiled brilliantly. "I love you too, precious."

O~O~O~O~O

The aurors came for Mr. Crouch that evening. He cooperated completely. To Percy, he looked almost... content that he had been arrested at last, but it was hard to tell, because Percy was otherwise engaged in the highly challenging task of restraining a hysterical Winky.

"Goodbye, Weasley," Mr. Crouch said with great dignity as he was led out.

"I'll be at the trial, Mr. Crouch," Percy called after him, but Mr. Crouch did not reply. Once Mr. Crouch was gone, Percy took Winky to the kitchen, where she was greeted by a garishly dressed (dressed?) house elf who called himself Dobby. Come to think of it, Percy seemed to remember hearing about a house elf with that name a long time ago, but he couldn't remember anything else about the matter.

After leaving the kitchens with all due haste, Percy made his way to the Great Hall to have dinner with his siblings before heading home. Walking though the doors, he made eye contact with Dumbledore, who nodded to him. Percy now shared a secret with the older wizard that he had sworn on his honor and his family never to reveal. And as much as he hated to admit it, Percy found that rather exciting.

"Hey, Perce!"

"How's it going?"

The twins were grinning at him with exaggerated friendliness; they really wanted to know what he had found in Filch's files. Percy smiled sadly and sat between Ginny and Ron. "The aurors came for , so I'm going home after dinner. How were classes?"

"Terrible!" Ron complained. "You'd think with You-Know-Who being dead we'd get more than just a day off."

"Ron, how do you expect to ever do well on your OWL.'s with that attitude?" Hermione scolded.

"Hermione, that's *next year*! Calm down, will you?"

Percy suddenly noticed someone was missing. "Where's Harry?"

"Having dinner with Sirius before he goes to stay with Remus," Hermione explained, "Dumbledore didn't want a repeat of yesterday's incident."

"The altercation between MacMillan and the Slytherins?" Percy questioned, "That wasn't Sirius' fault."

The twins giggled and Percy wondered what was so funny until Hermione explained, "Not that. At dinner yesterday, Sirius charmed MacMillan's robes so that they were transparent to everybody except MacMillan. Professor McGonagall was *livid*. She gave Sirius a long lecture about behavior and threatened detentions even though he hasn't been a student here for over eighteen years."

"I still don't know what all the fuss was about; I thought it was funny," Ron grinned.

The twins grabbed their goblets and declared, "A toast to Padfoot!"

"Here here!" Ron agreed. Hermione and Percy exchanged a look; Sirius' declaration of innocence was not without its repercussions.

O~O~O~O~O

"Would you like some help, Draco?" Lucius offered. Draco was obviously exhausted, leaning heavily against the wall as he made his way back to his bedroom. Lucius knew that he should not have granted Draco's request to have dinner in the dining room, but the boy had been so insistent, and Lucius was finding it increasingly difficult to deny his precious son anything. In response to Lucius' inquiry, Draco sighed deeply and nodded. Lucius gently lifted Draco in his arms and carried him back to the boy's rooms.

He pulled back the covers but Draco shook his head. "It's too early for bed."

"You're half asleep already."

Draco just pouted. "It's too early. Read to me?"

"All right, if you lie down."

"Fine," Draco huffed.

He let Lucius tuck him in, but he insisted that Lucius sit next to him on the bed. Draco then wrapped his arms around Lucius' waist and laid his head in Lucius' lap. "What would you like me to read?"

"Don't care," Draco replied sleepily.

"How about 'The Twelve Uses of Dragon's Blood'?" Lucius grinned.

"Oh, like you own a book Dumbledore wrote," Draco murmured. Lucius chuckled.

"I'll surprise you, then. Accio book." Lucius raised a hand to catch the leather-bound tome that came hurling through the air. He stroked Draco's back with one hand and held the book with the other. He smiled and began the first chapter of Draco's favorite childhood storybook. Draco smiled and was asleep within minutes.

O~O~O~O~O

"Dibby is mostest sorry to disturb you, Master Lucius, sir, but old fool Dumbledore is here to see you, sir, and will not be leaving until he is seeing you, sir."

"Where is he?" Lucius snarled, angry at being awakened from a restful sleep.

"Old fool Dumbledore is being in the ballroom, Master Lucius, sir. He is arriving by floo Master Lucius, sir."

"Tell him I'll be there shortly, and he had better not set a foot out of that room."

"Yes, Master Lucius, sir." Dibby popped away and Lucius scowled furiously.

How dare that old goat invade his home! Lucius carefully slid out of Draco's grasp and placed a hand on his hair. Once he was sure Draco was warm enough and still soundly asleep, Lucius marched to the ballroom to confront Dumbledore. "Oh, good evening, Lucius," the old codger greeted, smiling that infuriating, fake smiled of his.

"What are you doing in my house?" Lucius hissed.

"No time for formalities, I see. Well, I shall get to the point, then. I was wondering if you happened to know anything about a note that was sent to one of my students."

"Why would I know anything about that?"

"Well, you see, it contained certain information that I am inclined to believe you had access to, and it was an expert forgery of the student's godfather's writing. I seem to remember that you have a particular talent for forgery."

Lucius raised an eyebrow, "Is that all?"

"Yes, if you can answer one question for me. What were you looking for in the Ministry's files four days ago?"

Lucius seethed inwardly; that whelp! Lucius should have obliviated him when he had the chance. But outwardly, he just raised an arrogant eyebrow. "I work for the Ministry; I often have occasion to retrieve files."

"Ah, but you had arranged for a leave of absence to begin that very morning, if I am not mistaken."

"An extended leave of absence. I was tying up a loose end; I did not want to leave it hanging until September."

Dumbledore smiled, the irritating bastard, those detestable blue eyes glittering mockingly at Lucius. "You always have an answer for everything don't you, Lucius? I'm not interested in making a public issue out of this; I would merely like to establish that young Harry is not in danger."

"He will always be in danger, you know that as well as I."

"True, true. But surely you would agree that it would be better to know who sent the letter. We can't have identified forgers sending Hogwarts' students sensitive information." Dumbledore then looked at Lucius in a most peculiar way; it seemed like those piercing blue eyes could see right through him. "I have no interest in making this information known to anyone save for myself; I merely wish to be able to tell young Harry that he need no longer worry."

Lucius narrowed his eyes at the old git; he did *not* like being manipulated in his own home. "If you have no more evidence than that, I suggest you get out of my home *now*. As I have informed you, my son is very ill; I wish to be with him."

"Ah, yes, how is Draco doing?"

Lucius sneered, "Much better, now that he is away from that poor excuse of a school."

"Is that why you decided to rid us of Voldemort, Lucius? Because of Draco?"

Lucius nearly bared his teeth in rage, but whipped his head around when he heard a timid, "Father?"

Draco was standing on the bottom of the stairs, leaning heavily on the banister and looking lost. Ignoring Dumbledore, Lucius rushed to Draco's side. "Draco, what are you doing out of bed?"

The boy dove into his arms and buried his face in Lucius' neck. "Draco! You're freezing; you are going to catch another cold."

"I'm sorry, father; I was just scared. I didn't know where you went."

"I'm sorry, precious." Lucius turned to Dumbledore, cradling Draco against himself. "Well, I trust now that you saw all you came here to see?" he hissed acidly.

Dumbledore nodded, looking irritatingly wise and thoughtful. "I know you have little reason to trust me, but you can count on my discretion. And we do look forward to seeing Draco back at Hogwarts when he is feeling better. We'll do a better job of looking after him, Lucius; I promise." And with that, he tossed a hand of floo powder into the fireplace and stepped in. When he was gone, Lucius sneered; as if that hypocritical buffoon's word was worth anything! But, as always, Draco was more important. Lucius lifted his son, who was already asleep, and lovingly carried him back to bed.

O~O~O~O~O

"Hello? Father, are you in here?" Lucius looked up from his paperwork and smiled.

"Come in; I'm just about finished." Draco grinned, jogged over to Lucius, and hopped into his lap. "Ah! You're getting heavy, though not quite heavy enough, yet." Lucius frowned thoughtfully, running a hand down Draco's side. He could still feel the boy's ribs though his clothes, though they were not nearly as prominent as they had been four and a half months ago. Draco pouted. His weight was a constant bone of contention between the two of them; he thought he had the right to be as thin as he chose, and waved off Lucius' concerns about his health as paternal over-protectiveness.

He leaned into Lucius side and looked up at him with his large, silver eyes. "You're never going to stop harping on that, are you?"

Lucius looked offended. "Of course I will. If you reach and maintain a healthy weight."

Draco huffed; he knew there was no point in arguing about it. He handed Lucius a letter and mumbled, "Here. My final grades."

Lucius took the letter carefully. "Are you sure you don't want to open it?"

Draco shrugged. "It makes no difference to me; it's not like I can change them now." Lucius raised an eyebrow; Draco sounded almost... afraid? He had studied diligently for his exams, which Severus had administered to him last week; surely he couldn't have fared poorly on them? But then Lucius remembered that mudblood girl; Draco was probably wary of Lucius' reaction if he once again scored lower than her on every test.

In that case, Draco had nothing to worry about. "No matter what this says, I promise I will not be upset with you."

Draco smiled shyly. "I trust you, father."

Lucius hugged him, then broke the seal on the letter. He rattled off the list of grades to Draco, who was staring intently at his fingernails. "Arithmancy, 101%, second ranking. Care of Magical Creatures, 103%, second ranking. Charms, 100%, second ranking. Herbology, 101%, second ranking. History of Magic, 102%, second ranking. Potions..."

Draco looked up sharply. "What?"

Lucius grinned. "Potions, 112%, first ranking."

"First?" Draco smiled. "I can't *wait* to see Granger's face in September." Lucius just smiled; seeing Draco's face now was more than enough for him.

*The End*