Chapter 43: Draco's Dilemma

Hello there! I'm so sorry this update has taken so long! My husband has been on bed rest from a back surgery for about two months now, my toddler has majestically decided never to sleep again, and I just started a new course for my PhD program...suffice it to say retreating into a fictitious world of Ms. Rowling's creation and my humble dabbling has never been more tempting or less attainable. As usual, I promise I'll never abandon you guys, even if chapters take me longer than I'd like.

By the time Severus and Draco reemerged through the door from the grounds to Severus's sitting room, it was just Hermione and Harry left to wait for them. Ron had stayed for a while but had gotten a bee in his bonnet that Pansy might not be safe in the Slytherin dorms after what happened, so he had stormed off to Professor McGonagall's office full of what Hermione had referred to with a shake of her head as "Gryffindor bluster". It was all Harry could do not to make a comment about how she was technically a Gryffindor as well, but in light of Ron's observations, he decided to observe more and speak less.

At first, Hermione was grateful to have Harry for company as she waited for Severus. Waiting was usually a harrowing experience as she didn't know if it would be a 'tea and tough talk' type meeting or a 'blustering and bloodloss' type meeting. However, her excitement at having someone to help her pass the time was quickly over stripped by her annoyance at Harry.

"You know pacing won't bring them back any faster, right?" she asked with an eye roll over her attempt at a charms essay.

"Yes, for the fifteenth time, I do. I just don't know what could be taking them so long," the still-pacing Harry asked Hermione, pushing his fingers through his messy hair with worry.

"They'll be back when they're back, Harry," she huffed, "There's no use in worrying yourself over something you can't control."

"You're right. You're right. I know you're right," he said nodding vehemently as he paced. She turned back to her essay for a second, but her head jerked up again when Harry suddenly turned around with renewed intensity. "At what point do we do something, though? Like, go to Dumbledore? Send out a search party? Go rescue them ourselves?"

"Harry. It's only been two hours. There have been times when Severus hasn't come home until past three am. You need to find something that distracts you."

"Like what? What could distract me from the fact that Draco's undergoing God knows what at the hands of an evil git on account of something we did? I mean, seriously, Hermione. We were the ones who broke Gabi out! Or you were, but you know what I mean! They could be torturing him right now!" Harry was now gesturing wildly as he spoke.

"Them," Hermione corrected pointedly.

"What?" Harry turned to face her again, the wind having been knocked out of his sails by her question.

"Them. Draco and Severus. They could be torturing them right now," Hermione said pointedly. Harry took a second to pause, but shook his head quickly, as if too worried to entertain the train of thought Hermione's comment would begin. However, before either could press the subject further, there was a rustling sound from behind the door that led to the outside world and soon a grumpy looking Severus and an even paler than normal Draco were gliding through the door. Before Hermione had even stood up from her essay, a streak of messy black hair streaked across the room to grab the blonde Slytherin into a startled embrace. For a second it looked like Draco didn't know whether to shove him off or hex him, but after a brief second he brought his arms up around the Gryffindor and gave him an awkward pat on the back. A surprised Severus and an amused Hermione looked on as both boys seemed to take solace from the embrace before Harry opened his eyes, remembered what he was doing, and quickly pulled back, looking embarrassed. Draco dusted off his robes while Harry made a show of cleaning his glasses, and Hermione finally turned to Severus to ask what happened.

"It seems young Draco has been given a task," Severus said, seriously worrying Hermione with his tone of voice.

"Would this be a task that would be better discussed over tea?" Hermione asked sagely, wandlessly and wordlessly summoning a pot of tea and four cups from the kitchen as she directed the three men into the sitting area. Draco nodded appreciatively at her as he took his cup, taking a brief but deep breath as he began talking.

"Well," Draco began, "the Dark Lord was not pleased at all about Macnair's attempts at securing a two-for-one deal on brides. Hermione, I don't know how you did it, but he viewed the memories of several people who had been at Parkinson manor and he had Macnair wreathing on the ground almost instantaneously and didn't even wait to perform a legilimency check of his side of the story before casting the avada."

Hermione winced slightly but nodded in approval at the end result. Pansy and Gabi would be safe. "So that's all wrapped up then. Good. But why did you get summoned for this?"

Draco winced as he spoke, "it seems the Dark Lord has been planning for a while to...indoctrinate the next generation. Since Pansy slipped out of his grasp, he decided it was time to bring me into the fold."

"He wants you to take the dark mark?" Harry asked, mouth agape with horror.

"No, and I actually have Hermione to thank for that. She suggested that Dumbledore perform a less-than-subtle Slytherin arm check a few times over the semester. I was able to show him memories of this and suggest that it would be unwise for me to take the mark until I'm out of school."

"And he bought it?" Harry's voice was still full of worry.

"Well, I'm still alive, so he believed me about the arm check, but in terms of taking the mark he just laughed and said that I wouldn't have to wait all the way to graduation," Draco said with a shudder.

"What does that mean?" Hermione's voice was stern, cold, and oddly maternal.

"It means that he gave me an assignment, and when I finish the assignment he will mark me as my 'reward'." Draco used heavy air quotes around reward, conveying his true feelings about being branded like a prize steer. "I have until the end of the year to repair a vanishing cabinet in the room of lost things here at Hogwarts. When I fix it, the Dark Lord is planning to take over the school."

A dead silence spread across the room. For a few heavy seconds all that could be heard was the crackling of the fire, until Harry's resolute voice cut through the silence.

"That can't happen."

"I'm sure we can-" Draco started, but Harry cut him off.

"No, that can't happen. This school is the only bloody home I've ever known and I'll be damned if I let that murdering bastard anywhere near it. No. Just no." He turned resolutely to face Hermione and Snape, who were watching him carefully.

"What do we do?" his voice was childlike in its sincerity but fully adult in its determination. Hermione looked at Severus as she answered.

"So I guess that's our deadline for the Horcruxes then? We have to let Draco repair the cabinet, or at least look to be making progress, but we have to be prepared so that when the Dark Lord comes through we're there and waiting, and more importantly ready to kill him."

Severus nodded sagely, obviously already plotting in his head when Draco spoke up again, "I can actually help out with that bit. After I was excused from the meeting, my mother took me to get the signet ring for the Black family. She said that now that Sirius been in a coma for over six months my coming of age will officially make me the youngest male in the Black family line, so she took me to get it tonight."

While Harry eyed Draco's ring with abject sadness at the mention of his still-unconscious godfather, Hermione was looking at Draco inquisitively, "what does that have to do with Horcruxes?"

At that point, Draco pulled a small golden cup out of his pocket and placed it on the table. Hermione and Severus both hissed and recoiled as if he had placed a live snake on the table, Harry doubled forward clutching his scar.

With almost no further contemplation, Severus slid between Hermione and the Horcrux, whipping out his wand. He muttered a strange incantation under his breath, pointed his wand at the cup, and a thin, needle-wide beam of red-orange fire connected the tip of his wand to the center of the cup. Harry began asking what he was doing but was swept back away from the table with a wordless flick of Severus' nondominant hand.

After ten seconds or so the cup started to shake and emit a high pitched whistling sound. After fifteen it was hissing and smoking as well. At twenty Harry had grabbed his scar again. At twenty-five Draco backed away from the table with his hands over his ears. Severus stood unmoved, sweat rolling down his forehead in concentration or heat from the fire or both, then suddenly there was an ear-splitting wail and the cup burst into momentary flames and emitted a blinding white flash of light. When the smoke cleared, a hunk of melted medal was all that remained on the table. All four stared at the smoking pile for a second before everyone spoke at once.

"Was that really what I-" Harry started.

"Are you serious bringing that thing into this-" Severus began.

Hermione's voice, however, was the only one directed at Severus instead of Draco, strongly enough that hers was the one which won over the din, "How did you do that?"

"Do what?" Severus asked, running his hand over his dark mark as he continued staring at the former cup.

"Use fiendfyre like that. I've only ever heard of it being used in giant spurts of flames. Sometimes really powerful wizards can manifest in in animal form, but that was...that should have been impossible," she said, still through focused and furrowed brows.

"Dumbledore and I have been experimenting. One of the only ways we've found to destroy one, well, other than a Basilisk fang," Harry shuddered involuntarily at the memory, "is fiendfyre. I guess I managed to manifest it a little more tactically than most. Why?"

Hermione had the look that Harry immediately recognized as the one she wore before she darted off to the library to prove a theory. True enough, it wasn't five seconds before she had Severus by the wrist and was dragging him into her apprentice rooms to cross-check something, leaving Harry and a now very tired looking Draco alone by the fire.

"Are you okay?" Harry asked softly after it became evident Draco was lost in his own thoughts.

"No," Draco said simply, shaking his head far longer than was necessary to match his words, almost as if his head continued of its own volition.

"You're not going to get marked. We won't let it get that far."

Draco snorted, "because you're the bloody chosen one and you forbid it?" he said with a small laugh.

"Yes," Harry replied, staring him straight in the eye, completely serious. Draco felt a panic rising in his chest that he hadn't felt since he was a small child, suddenly worried he was going to cry right there in his godfather's sitting rooms in front of the prospective savior of the wizarding world.

"What if we can't get them in time. Harry, I can't…" he trailed off, not knowing words enough to express his anguish. He suddenly froze when he felt Harry's hand on his arm. His eyes darted up from said hand to the green eyes to which it belonged.

"I won't let anything happen to you. You're one of us now." Draco swallowed fiercely, oddly nervous under Harry's intense stare. The Gryffindor's gaze averted at last after Draco nodded and finally let out a sigh of relief, letting his body finally relax out of its previously-stiff posture.

"You know what was truly weird?" Draco asked after a moment of listening to the crackling of the fire. Harry tipped his head in inquiry.

"My mother. When she took me to the vault, she kept saying strange things. About how she was proud of the tough choices I was making, or how she knew I would always do the right thing even if it was hard, or how there are always multiple ways to solve a problem. She even mentioned that I was more than just the heir to the Malfoy family. Nothing she said was out of line for her, but I could have sworn she was trying to tell me something."

"What do you think she was trying to say?" Harry inquired.

"I know this is going to sound crazy, but I think she was trying to tell me to change sides."

"This spell," Hermione said excitedly, pointing to her book. "Do you think you could manifest that spell in the same format, with the same precision you used with the fiendfyre?" She shoved the book at Severus. He raised an eyebrow at her, but bent down to read after receiving a forceful glare from the impatient young witch.

"I can't see why not. Why a healing spell? What does that have to do with Horcruxes?" he asked, still perusing the book.

"Because I know how to get the last one out of Harry's head."