This is a transformative work, written for fun rather than for profit. All recognizable characters and legal rights belong to JKR and her assignees.

May 1, 1998

Draco Malfoy was holding court in the Slytherin common room, surrounded by his fellow seventh years and a few favored students from other years. The only positive thing he could say about the Dark Mark branded on his arm was that it had cemented his social standing in the snake pit. Crabbe and Goyle always had been loyal and eager to do his bidding, but now Theo Nott and even aloof Blaise Zabini tried to curry favor with him. It went without saying, as Pansy ran her hand up his thigh, that the witches fawned over him more than ever.

Of course, the downsides included a disfiguring snake and skull tattoo branded into his flesh and perpetual service to a vicious madman who relied on torture as a tool to motivate his loyal followers. Or not so loyal, in Draco's case. His family's punishment after Potter escaped from Malfoy Manor with Granger, Weasley, and the other prisoners had been terrible. Inflicting the Cruciactus Curse on his branded followers was one thing, but Draco would never forgive Voldemort for what he had ordered to be done to his mother, having Narcissa stripped and flogged in front of an audience of jeering Death Eaters like a Muggle criminal.

After less than two years as a Death Eater, it was fair to say that Draco was disillusioned. Unfortunately, he saw no way out. Rumor had it that Potter was the only one able to defeat the Dark Lord, and Draco had no confidence that the gormless Gryffindor could find his arse with his hands unless Mudblood Granger was assisting. That meant he was playing a waiting game, careful to keep his platinum head down and his thoughts buried until he saw a chance to grab his mother and flee the country. He suspected that Narcissa, though still recovering, was plotting as well. His father was worthless - too many Crucios and too many months in Azkaban had left Lucius a twitching shell of a wizard.

None of this discontent showed on Draco's face, and the surface of his mind - should Snape or either of the Professors Carrow try to read his thoughts - was superficially preoccupied with upcoming NEWT exams and irritation at Pansy's emotional demands. When his Dark Mark burned, Draco dislodged her from his side, none too gently.

"Duty calls," he announced to the common room, hiding his discomfort behind a smirk.

"Just you?" Nott asked in disappointment. He had been Marked over the Easter holidays and was eager to see action.

"Just me," Draco confirmed. "You'll know if the Dark Lord is calling you," he added condescendingly. Nott did not yet appreciate how lucky he was, to be stuck on the sidelines and well away from the Dark Lord's increasingly unstable rages.

Draco sauntered out of the common room in a manner befitting the acknowledged Prince of Slytherin, but broke into a dead run down the corridor as soon as the door shut behind him. Appearances were important, but he was not going to be tortured for tardiness if he could help it. It was a good thing for him that Dumbledore's office and quarters had refused to open for Snape, since it meant the current headmaster's quarters and Floo to the outside world were in the dungeons rather than four levels up.

His godfather was never one for small talk, and merely nodded his permission when Draco asked to Floo to Malfoy Manor.

"Take care, Draco," Professor Snape warned unnecessarily. "The Dark Lord's patience is short these days, and the Prophet reports that Potter evaded capture after attempting to rob Gringott's this afternoon."

"Thank you, Severus," Draco nodded. He threw a pinch of Floo powder into the fireplace. "Malfoy Manor," he called, stepping into the green flames.

Draco did not bother to brush off his robes as he exited into the drawing room at Malfoy Manor. The house-elves kept the fireplaces clean of any soot. He crossed to the Dark Lord, lounging in a throne-like chair that had once been Lucius's favorite, and dropped to his knees.

"How may I serve you, Lord?" Draco asked, sounding deeply respectful.

"There is an object of mine at Hogwarts that I wish for you to retrieve, young Malfoy," Voldemort hissed.

"I should be pleased to do so," Draco murmured, eyes to the floor so nothing would betray his feelings at being commanded, like a dog, to fetch and carry. "What is the object, my Lord?"

He tried to ignore the stains under his knees. They were from the day Potter and his friends had been caught by Snatchers and dragged into the Manor, though Draco could not tell whether the dried blood was from his aunt carving up Granger's arm or from his mother's punishment. He buried that disquieting thought deep.

"A goblin-wrought diadem with an oval sapphire," Voldemort replied. "The inscription it bears reads, 'Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure.' You will find it in the Room of Hidden Things, which I know you are familiar with."

"Yes, Lord," Draco acknowledged. He had only spent the majority of his sixth year camped out in that Merlin-damned room, trying to fix the Vanishing Cabinet.

He risked one more question. "Shall I bring the diadem to you tonight?"

"I shall come to you, Draco. And if I am unavoidably detained, stay at Hogwarts and guard the diadem with your life. Its worth is far higher."

"Of course, my Lord," Draco agreed. With a sidelong glance around the drawing room, he realized that the diadem must be important indeed. While it was routine for Voldemort to threaten his followers' lives as a penalty for failure, he preferred to do so in front of an audience. Tonight, the two of them were alone in the drawing room.

"I shall go now, with your permission." He would love to stay and see his mother, to make sure she was as well as possible, but Draco was not so foolish as to make that request.

"Go, and do not fail me, boy," Voldemort dismissed him.

Back at Hogwarts, Draco stopped by the common room and ordered Greg and Vince to come with him to the Room of Requirement. They were just intelligent enough to help him search, once he explained what a diadem was, but too loyal and too stupid to try and share credit before the Dark Lord.

Even with their assistance, it was a daunting task to sift through a cathedral-sized room filled with all of the detritus Hogwarts students had hidden or lost over the centuries. Of course, a simple Accio did not work, and Draco estimated it had been going on two hours when he finally spotted the diadem, perched cheekily atop a horsehair wig on the bust of some ugly old warlock. He wondered what was going on in the rest of the castle, if Voldemort had yet arrived.

Draco climbed atop a rickety old chair to retrieve the diadem, and nearly dropped it once it was in his hands. He could actually feel the evil emanating from the diadem, like dipping into a cold and murky pond where anything might be lurking under the surface.

"Accio diadem!" called a girl's annoyingly familiar voice from the far end of the room.

Draco smirked to himself. That trick would not work and, in any event, the Mudblood was too late.

"Let's split up," Potter suggested to Granger and the Weasel King. "Look for a stone bust of an old man wearing a wig and a tiara. It's standing on a cupboard and it's definitely somewhere near here . . . . "

Looking at the diadem in his hand, Draco decided this was definitely an occasion where the guile of a serpent was preferable to the courage of a lion.

"Gemimo," he whispered, pointing his borrowed wand at the diadem. He replaced the copy on the warlock's pockmarked stone head and carefully tucked the real diadem inside his robes, suppressing a shudder at the cold feel of the metal even through his Oxford shirt. Then he beckoned for Vince and Greg to join him, motioning for silence. Draco wanted his wand back from Potter.

He waited until Scarhead was reaching for the fake diadem before stepping from the shadows. "Hold it, Potter. That's my wand you're holding."

"Winners, keepers, Malfoy," the dark-haired boy taunted, rather stupidly for someone with three wands trained on him. "Who's lent you theirs?"

"My mother," Draco said shortly, not pleased at that fact. His mother had left herself defenseless among the Death Eaters at the Manor so that he could have a wand.

"So how did you three get in here?" Potter asked with mock-casualness, raising his voice.

"I virtually lived in the Room of Hidden Things all last year," Draco answered in a brittle voice, annoyed by Potter's unsubtle attempt to get help from his filthy and ginger sidekicks. "Now give me my wand."

Then it all went to hell, with Weaselbee and the Mudblood converging on them and Crabbe conjuring Fiendfyre, of all the bloody spells in the world. Of course the great lug was incapable of controlling it, which is why Draco found himself hauling Goyle to a precarious perch atop some charred desks, while trying to maintain a Bubblehead Charm over the both of them. Through the choking smoke, Draco saw Potter swooping towards the exit on a dilapidated broomstick, with the Weasel and the Mudblood flying a second broom behind them. In desperation, Draco waved his hand for help.

His hand slipped through Potter's sweaty grip. Draco instead shoved Goyle onto the broom behind Potter, the larger boy barely conscious enough to hang on.

"If we die for them, I'll kill you, Harry!" shouted the Weasel. It made no sense - everyone knew ghosts were harmless - but the ginger was hovering his broom in front of Draco and the Mudblood was holding out her hand. He took it briefly, unsurprised that it was dry and warm to the touch. Of course she was intelligent enough to cast a charm so he would not slip. Draco swung onto broom behind her, trying not to think that he might owe Granger a life debt if he survived this. Even worse was the stray, blood-traitorous thought that she tucked perfectly under his chin.

The Weasel flew them to the exit competently enough, and then Draco was scrambling off the broomstick, coughing and retching from smoke inhalation and hoping he could forget how it felt to hold a Mudblood in his arms. And then he realized that Vince had not made it out.

"C-Crabbe," he choked out, trying not to cry for the large boy who had been his shadow since they both could toddle. "C-Crabbe."

"He's dead," Weasley said harshly. Granger gave Draco one fleeting glance of sympathy, but wisely said nothing.

The Headless Hunt thundered past them in the hallway, and Draco was suddenly aware of screams and cursing in the distance, teamed with the popping and shrieking of spell fire. He knew those sounds from the night Dumbledore had died - these were the sounds of a pitched battle. The Dark Lord had arrived at Hogwarts.

"Harry, what's that on your arm?" the Mudblood demanded sharply.

"What? Oh, yeah," Potter said vaguely. He pulled the copy of the diadem of his wrist. It was blackened with soot and broke apart as Draco watched with apathetic eyes.

The Mudblood was whispering something, gesticulating to her thicker friends for emphasis. "If we can just get the snake - "

Somehow, Draco was sure she was not referring to him. Slumped against the stone was of the corridor, he touched the real diadem inside his robes, feeling both relieved and repulsed that it was still intact. His Master would not be displeased.

A/N: A bit of dialogue in the RoR is borrowed directly from DH.