He walks back through the path, which is shorter now. It takes him barely five steps before he's in Knockturn Alley again, clutching a package that smells like peppermint and thyme and blood. Professor Snape's waiting for him, familiar and oddly comforting.

"I see you found her," says Professor Snape.

"Is she always --" He hesitates, not knowing what he wants to say.

"Pushy? Odd? Half-dressed? Unnerving?" suggests Professor Snape.

He nods.

"Yes," said Professor Snape. "Let that be a lesson to you, Malfoy."

He doesn't say what the lesson should be and he doesn't ask. Away from the shop he wonders about the price he paid, why he agreed. He still doesn't regret it. He just doesn't know what he paid for. It's strange, now that he's away from her and the shop, that he paid without knowing what he would get, but he still believes her. He'll know what he paid for when he sees it.

Professor Snape walks off without warning him, and he follows behind, still carrying the package. He thinks of something. "Professor," he says. "The Witch said that she'd sell the Dark Lord something to defeat Potter if he came to her."

"Firstly," says Professor Snape, "the Dark Lord wishes to defeat Potter without aid. Secondly, I suggest you look up defensive wards in your father's library."

--

(He's got ... things ... around him, says Watanuki.

Yes, says Yuuko.

Why has he got things around him? They look like they want to eat him. Like the ones around me.

Because, says Yuuko, blowing out a long elegant line of smoke, He is a foolish boy.

What'd you sell him?

Nothing much, says Yuuko, tilting the prefect's badge so the little emeralds catch the light. Did you know in the West snakes are considered unlucky?

Watanuki considers this. Why?

No reason, says Yuuko. People are strange, is all.)

--

His father's libary is dark and cool and familiar to him. He spends an afternoon curled up in an leather armchair that smells old and a little musty. It's his favorite armchair and has adjusted to him over the years he's spent reading. He remembers before his father was taken away, he and his father would sit and read quietly, each complete in his own self, but together. The house-elves bring him tea and creep away again.

Defensive wards, he reads, are both very common and very hard to do correctly. The Manor wards, for instant, can be snapped around the house and occupants in a matter of seconds, but there's ways to get around them. There's always ways to get around them -- mostly from inside, because a fortress without an exit becomes a prison. The Fidelus charm can be broken as simply as someone breaking faith with the ones who made it. He knows all this, and pushes the books away impatiently, and prowls back to the shelves. Wards, protections, defenses.

Three hours later he finds it.

Persons without souls, or persons who have given up parts of their souls (see Mamoru Tamashi's work on Horcruces) are unable to pass certain types of wards. Any attempt by such beings will result in negative consequences including but not limited to disintergration of their physical forms. Wards of this variety are generally found in or around areas that take part or all of their existence in what has been refered to as alternate dimensions. This is not strictly accurate. They are in pockets of what the Japanese Wizarding community refers to as the Suspended World, a reality that exists and depends on the real world. They claim mythological creatures, such as kitsune, live in that reality and travel freely between that and the human world.

Unplotted areas of ground are not in the Suspended World but the theory is similar; if you know where an Unplotted area is, it exists for you.

The wards that make a connection between the Suspended World and reality possible are able to be passed by spirits and physical beings with souls, defined by Japanese Wizards as 'kokoro' (loosely translated, the heart or spirit), thus a cat will pass freely between the two worlds but a zombie or created being without a soul will disintergrate. The disintergration is rapid and violent.

The soul acts as an anchor between the change in realities; a constant around which a physical body can form. Without this anchor the physical body is ripped apart, and what is left of the being is set adrift.

He sets the book down. He's colder than he was before he started reading, and his hands are clammy. My God, Potter, he thinks, What have you got yourself into? What have I gotten myself into?

--

He remembers the Sorting Hat singing, the day he came to Hogwarts.

Those cunning Slytherins
Will use any means
To achieve their ends

But what was his end?

--

(Yuuko-san, for whatever, reason has a Bible, an old one bound with leather and heavy silver clasps at the corners. Watanuki thinks it was probably taken in payment because there is spidery writing all over the flyleaves, with dates of births and deaths and marriages, and Yuuko has no family that he's ever heard of.

She reads, her voice slow and languid, her voice lingering over each English syllable caressingly.

1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

What does that have to do with anything? he demands.

Yuuko-san looks at him reproachfully and reads,

14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.

Is that why snakes are unlucky in the West?

No, says Yuuko-san, pushing the Bible aside. Snakes are unlucky because they're venomous)
--

He wakes up at night and doesn't scream. Dumbledore's foolish old face. You aren't a killer, Malfoy, he said. Potter thought Draco could kill. Potter would be a killer. Death nauseates Draco. He doesn't even really want Potter to die. He hadn't realized it before. If someone's dead your victory is incomplete. They have to be alive to watch your triumph. Otherwise, what's the point?

You aren't a killer, Malfoy.

He'd got used to getting up at night and holding his prefect's badge. Someone had trusted him enough to give it to him and now it was gone. He'd paid for something sight unseen.

He wakes up at night and remembers the shop, the scent of green growing things and jasmine tea. The witch in her dress the color of blood, her hair piled on her head with things like butterflies, looking at him with mercy but without pity. The boy who looked like Potter watching him suspiciously. He was able to go through to the shop because he had a soul. She'd said that the Dark Lord might not be able to visit her shop.

Malfoys didn't do this. What they'd wanted was a world where they didn't have to fear. A small price to pay, his father had said. And here Draco lay, curled into himself, breathing as quietly as he could.

You aren't a killer, Malfoy, Dumbledore had said.

--

The ends justify the means but there's some ends that aren't even worth trying for. He's not a child now. Someday Potter's going to be there to fight the Dark Lord and he's going to be in Potter's path, because the Dark Lord will send him there, and it's up to him.

He doesn't know. He doesn't know if he's a killer or not, but he had the choice and he didn't do it. Does that mean something? Or everything?

He understands now, what he paid for. He'd always had the choice but he hadn't known it. When Potter comes, when they stand in front of each other, he can drop his wand and surrender, to live or die as other people please, or he can fight to the death, but it's his choice.

He's paid with his childhood to understand this; that no matter what happens he is the only one who can know if his end justified his means.

--

bible text from King James Version, Gen 3: 1-5, 14; public domain.

According to the voices in my head, that's the Read family Bible that Yuuko reads out of -- ie, Clow's family Bible. I just live here.

Title from Algernon Charles Swinburne's poem of the same name (PRETENSIOUS? ME? NEVER?).

I personally doubt the fact I wrote it for a friend who's finishing chemo excuses me from commiting this crossover again, but feedback would be nice.