A/N: Written for Round 6 of Season 4 of the Quidditch League Fanfiction Competition. I'm Chaser 2 of the Caerphilly Catapults.

Prompt: Write about a light character committing the sin of SLOTH or a dark character demonstrating the virtue of DILIGENCE - I went with the latter, using Draco and his stressful sixth year.

Optional Prompts: 5. (word) "curfew," 7. (song) "Unconditionally" by Katy Perry, and 15. (setting) the owlery


Draco nearly slipped twice on his way up the icy steps to the Owlery. Normally, he wouldn't have made the effort, especially so close to the holidays, but he wanted to be alone, and in a castle full of professors and students, and even ghosts, solitude was very difficult to procure. Darkness fell early at this time of year, making the trek even more treacherous than usual, and the tower itself was freezing unless you were an owl tucked snugly into one of the alcoves that lined the walls. Even without these extra deterrents, the smell was generally enough to discourage Draco from visiting the isolated tower. Its forbidding nature was precisely what drew Draco there, that December evening.

He stopped to catch his breath at the doorway, clouds of vapor collecting in front of his mouth as he exhaled. The air he pulled into his lungs felt sharp, and he stood there long enough that a few of the owls began to open their big eyes and stare at him. When they had decided he was no danger and it was late enough that they could go hunting, a few owls left the tower. A familiar hoot finally drew his attention, and he looked up to see his eagle owl, Strix, perched in an alcove not far from him. Strix cocked his head queryingly at Draco, as if asking whether he was all right. He waved a dismissive hand at Strix, and the owl took off after his fellows, soaring out a nearby window with a screech.

When Draco finally managed to take a breath that didn't sting, he made his way over to a relatively clean patch of the Owlery, carefully stepping around regurgitated skeletons of mice and voles, as well as spatters of owl excrement. Once there, he pulled a letter from his robes and fumbled at the Malfoy seal with his gloved hands until the letter opened for him.

My Darling Draco,

I want you to know that you have nothing to fear. You are already worthy in my eyes. If I could I would walk through this storm for you, I would. But no matter what happens, we'll figure it out. You have no need to apologize. I'm your mother. I love you unconditionally.

I'm counting the days until I see you again, my love,

Mummy

By the time he'd finished reading the letter, Draco's nose was dripping uncontrollably, and cold tears were sliding down his cheeks. He stood sobbing in the Owlery until the giant clock that kept time for the castle alerted him to the lateness of the hour, and he knew he would have to hurry to get back to the dungeons by curfew.

Draco Malfoy had started his sixth year at Hogwarts with a secret. He had been tasked by the Dark Lord to kill Albus Dumbledore by the end of the school year. If he did, Voldemort would be convinced of his worth and he could take his rightful place as a Death Eater, just like his father. If he did not, it was very likely he would be killed.

In August he'd had the idea to use a set of Vanishing Cabinets to smuggle a group of Death Eaters into the school. This information had been passed on to the Dark Lord, who approved of the endeavor, and Draco had temporarily been in good graces with the Death Eaters. He had no longer felt like an outsider. He had found that they were treating him less like a child who got in the way, and more like an adult, with his own talents and ideas to contribute to the cause.

When he returned to Hogwarts in September, he started researching ways to fix the broken Vanishing Cabinet in the castle. It took him several days to locate the Room of Hidden Things, where the Cabinet had been stored since Montague had been shoved into it last year. However, shortly thereafter he was forced to consider the possibility that he wouldn't be able to fix the Vanishing Cabinet himself. The spell was complicated, and while there were plenty of books in the Hogwarts library to explain what a Vanishing Cabinet was, there were very few which had any practical knowledge about them. There was a very real possibility that Draco would have to find a way to kill Dumbledore on his own.

So Draco began tracking Dumbledore's movements, as much as he could. Unfortunately, the headmaster was not what anyone would call predictable. Even when Draco thought that he knew where Dumbledore was and would be for every minute of the day and night, he would suddenly encounter the man in a corridor several floors away from where he should have been at the time. He even managed to disappear inexplicably for days, and Draco had no idea where he went.

Knowing full well that Apparition was not possible on Hogwarts or the grounds, Draco began researching the castle's defenses, in search of a possible way around this magic that Dumbledore might be using. He'd scoured the library for weeks; he found nothing.

By complete chance, at the end of September, Draco spotted Dumbledore on the other end of a long corridor. They were completely alone. Draco pulled his wand from his pocket, gripping it tightly. He could do it now. He could take out his wand, say two words, and it would all be over.

Several minutes later, he awoke from a sort of daze to find that the corridor was packed with students rushing between classes, and he was about to be late to Charms.

Draco began looking into different ways he could fulfill his mission. Since then, he had managed, with great difficulty, to put Madam Rosmerta under the Imperius Curse, enlisting her help. In October, he sent a cursed necklace as a present for Dumbledore. Katie Bell was sent to St. Mungo's following her accidental exposure to the object in the act of carrying it from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts. In November, he had enchanted a tin of lemon drops to send to Dumbledore. He wasn't sure what had happened to them, exactly. They may have reached Dumbledore, for all he knew, and the enchantment simply hadn't taken hold. It was difficult to curse sweets.

At the beginning of December, he had written to his mother, fearing that if he went home for Christmas, he would be interrogated and ridiculed by Death Eaters. He was also worried that he had disappointed his father by not completing his task more quickly. Draco had written to him several times since September, and not one of his letters had been answered. Despite wanting to see his mother more than ever before, he'd asked in his last letter if he should stay at Hogwarts.

The day before, Draco had discovered that his latest ruse, a Christmas cup of poisoned wine from Madame Rosmerta to the headmaster, had not yet reached its target. He had feared, when Strix had delivered his mother's letter that morning, that it was an ultimatum, or at the very least a recommendation that he stay at Hogwarts over Christmas to plan. It was a relief that she had said she wanted to see him, and she'd said they would figure it out.

Draco Malfoy cried. His mother loved him, and that night, it was enough.