"Absolute loyalty," Lucius muttered, looking at his son with an unholy gleam in his eyes, "dictates complete obedience to the Dark Lord."

Draco stared at him, his face clouded with thought. "There are some who might argue with that logic, Father."

"And there are some who thought they can satisfy him with half-services, but where are they now?" He smiled. "Banished. Dead. No, my son. I will not accept such things from you. And neither would the Dark Lord, though I doubt he would show you how much through word alone." Lucius poured himself a glass of wine from a decanter. "The dead can attest to that."

Draco rose from his seat, then walked to the window to look out into the darkness. "I have failed in my quest to destroy Dumbledore," he spoke softly, then looked at his father. "Is there any possibility that I may be forgiven? Given another chance to prove my worth?"

At this, there was a complete change in Lucius's mood. "You failed only because Severus robbed you of the opportunity," he said with absolute certainty and hatred. "Had he not, you would have succeeded." He swirled the cognac in his wine glass and visibly forced himself to resume a lighter disposition. "Doubtless, he is rotting in his grave right now. And indeed, you shall prove your worth. I'll not have a failure for a son."

The threat in his father's voice almost made Draco wince. "What should I do, then?"

"Sacrifice." Lucius smiled again, wider this time. "You have not yet killed, have you?" The casualness of his tone belied his intentions. At his son's silence, he continued. "Offer your first kill to him, for his honor. Granted, Dumbledore being your offering would have impressed him the most, but I say you could always improvise. Starting with – the Mudblood you love."

Draco glanced at his hands – they were both curled to fists. He refused to look at his father now. He refused to see the gloating on his face. He would not.

Lucius only chuckled. "Do you want to know how I knew?"

"You have your ways, Father," he answered blithely. "I'd be a fool to question you."

"A fool, hmm? How fitting that you should call yourself that. I should be disappointed, Draco," his father told him, mock affection in his voice. "I am. However, at a time like this she'll prove to be invaluable. The Dark Lord never overlooks a sacrifice… shall we say, from the heart. In this case, it will be from yours." Lucius rose also and approached him, laying a hand on Draco's shoulder as he neared. There was no warmth in his touch. Only warning. "Do it, and you can be assured of absolution from your failures in the past, and of a place near his side and mine. After all, you'll be doing us a favor by eliminating one of our pesky enemies as well." His grip tightened until it was almost unbearable. "This is the only way."

"You speak of sacrifices," Draco finally spoke, looking at his father in the eye – something he rarely did. "What have you given him, Father?"

And for a moment, just for a moment, Lucius regarded him with something akin to love. "You."


She was shelving books, arranging them to fit her chronological taste. Wiping the sweat from her forehead, she shifted her gaze to the floor – where unopened boxes filled with books still waited to be serviced. She yanked the tape off one box and grabbed a novel, then skimmed through its pages to freshen her memory of what it was about.

This was something she loved to do. She loved to read, fill her head with enough knowledge until she almost hurt. It was an odd discovery for her part, for a person whose past was as shady as hers. And she wouldn't have known that if he hadn't given her a book as a present.

Honestly, a lot of things wouldn't be possible if it weren't for him. When she opened her eyes it was his face that she saw, full of concern and fright for her. He tended to her wounds without her asking him to. He made sure she was safe and secure, made her laugh with his sardonic wit, made her feel comfortable with him. He was her savior in every way – which was why she couldn't understand how was it that she felt instant hatred and distrust towards him, when she first laid eyes on him.

"I-I don't know you," were her initial words to him, uttered with ragged and labored breaths. "I don't know if I can trust you."

"You will," he assured, touching her hand gently. "You can."

And she did.

Her past was a mystery to her, something that always gnawed at her to solve. She'd tried almost everything she could to regain what she had lost. Did she have parents, friends who might be looking for her? Did she have a home she'd left behind? Pets? A job? She was forever asking him if he knew anything about her before. He said he didn't, and that anyway, it didn't matter too much, as she was already safe.

Was she?

"No, no, you can't do this to me!"
"I need to... I don't want to lose you!"
"You never had me in the first place you bastard! Let me go! Let us--"

Her hands started shaking, making her drop the book. The voices were loud, insistent, repeating in her head. She was certain that hers was one of those she heard, but… why…?

"Let her go – and I'll do whatever you want."
"I need her to save you."
"Save me from what? What are you—"

"Hold on to me," he said, suddenly coming into her shop and to her aid without her noticing, too absorbed in the memory she was. The next thing she knew, she was lying down and he was holding her securely to him, her head tucked between his neck and shoulder. "It'll pass. It'll—"

"You'll be taking my life from me. You'll deprive me of everything I know, everything I've--"
"Will you believe me if I tell you I'm sorry? That I'm doing this for you?"
"No, damn you! I won't accept it! I'll hate you!"
"Not if you can't remember."

"No," she moaned. "No! I—"

"Drink this," he instructed sharply, pressing a bottle to her mouth. Warm liquid splashed against her tightly pressed lips. "It'll help. Drink it!"

"Let me go. Please." Sobbing. "I beg you."
"I will not lose you to him. Don't you understand? This is the only way."
"Don't! You… can't!"
"Watch me."

She did.

Eventually, he helped her rise to her feet, but remained close to her. The dizziness was slow to pass, but thankfully, it did. She cradled her face in her hands, overwhelmed with the whirl of emotions she experienced.

She felt drained, weak.


"Are you all right?"

She looked at him, surprised to find he was there. "I'm—I'm sorry," she stammered, frowning. "I don't—what happened?"

"You were unconscious when I saw you," he replied.

"I…was?" She couldn't remember. What was she doing before—

"Your color's coming back," he said, laying a hand against her cheek. "Good. I was really worried. How do you feel?"

Empty. "Fine, I guess."

"You should be fine now, luv. I'm here. You're safe." He took her in his arms. "You're safe with me."


"What did you do to her?" she asked, straining to free herself from her bonds. As usual, she was met with resistance and more bruises for her effort. "Answer me Malfoy!"

Draco glanced at her, irritation evident on his face. "She's safe," he answered. "That'll all you need to know." He took a potion from his robes and uncapped it.

Her eyes rounded as she saw the vial. "What are you--?" She swallowed nervously. "You're stupid if you think I'm going to drink that. You hear me? Don't even—"

"You think so?" Kneeling, he grabbed a fistful of her hair and yanked it backward. "For someone about to die, you say too much." And he smiled.

She kept her lips tightly shut, but he squeezed her cheeks hard enough until she was forced to open her mouth. Draco swiftly poured the contents in, then covered her nose and mouth with his palm. He waited a few seconds, waited until she was deprived of air, waited until she swallowed the liquid.

He let her breathe only after she did.

The effect was instantaneous – he had increased the dosage so that the potion's duration and results would be more believable, drastic. Immediately her appearance changed, until the person that was sprawled on the floor was not the woman he dragged in here moments before.

Something in him snapped as he stared at her, bound and bruised. Reminding himself that it wasn't her, he took a silk cloth then gagged her with it.

It's not her. It's not her.

But the hate and the tears on her face almost convinced him it was.

"Think of it this way," he spoke, not looking at her as he did. "You'll be giving your life – for hers. You'll be saving your friend, and in the end, don't all Gryffindors want to do just that?"

"Master Malfoy," a servant wheezed. "It's time." He opened the door.

"Hear that, luv?" Draco grinned. "It's time."

He dragged her, kicking and screaming, all the way to the room where Lucius and the Dark Lord were waiting. He dragged her to the very center of the room, where hundreds of Death Eater eyes also watched with glee. Draco executed a bow learned long ago from his father, then spoke reverently, "To you, my master, I present to you as proof of my quest for absolution, as sacrifice to prove my loyalty - Hermione Granger."

"Do it," the Dark Lord urged, his bony hands clutching his seat, a crazed, bloodlust expression on his face.

Draco looked at his father first, and sure enough, there was nothing but pride on his face. He lifted his wand, pointed it straight at her head. His voice was strong, his words uttered with complete conviction.

"Avada Kedavra."

When the deed was done, Draco graciously volunteered to dispose of the body himself, and Voldemort, pleased that the young Malfoy was proving to be an ingenious subject, agreed.

The next morning, Ginny Weasley was found dead in the Forbidden Forest.


It was an unbearably boring day. Customers were slow in coming, and those who did managed not to buy anything at all.

She had to force herself to smile when the small bell on her door chimed, signaling the arrival of either an onlooker or customer. But the smile became more genuine when she saw it was him.

"Hello," she greeted.

He smiled back. "Good morning," he said, all impeccable breeding and manners. He inspected the bookmarks that lined her counter. "How's your day, luv? Customers killing each other to get in your shop?"

She chuckled. "As you can see, no dead bodies. In fact, no bodies at all – except you and me, of course. Will you be interested," she segued, grabbing some things from beneath her table, "in reading five new novels from several delectable authors?"

He laughed. "I still have about thirty unread books lying in the house somewhere. I think I have to pass."

She opted for a wounded expression. "Pity. I so wanted to discuss Social Security with you. I have several of the author's points I wanted to contest and—"

"I have an idea." He reached for her hand. "Why don't we discuss his pathetic issues over lunch?"

"Lunch?" The thought of eating with him was so wonderful right now, but still, something held her back. "But my shop…"

"You said so yourself, business was slow these days."

"I didn't say that."

"Then—" He grinned. "I must've imagined it. Have lunch with me, and I'll make it worth your while. And, I'll not take no for an answer."

She bit back a smile. "All right, then, but don't think I'm doing this for you," she said, glaring at him. "I'm doing this because you so happen to make up ninety percent of my profit this month, and I always strive to make my customers happy."

He looked surprised. "Only ninety? Unacceptable. Hand me those five books," he ordered. "Better yet, give me all the titles you have that I don't."

Her eyes rounded. "All?"

"Yes. All."

She resisted the urge to throw her arms around him. "You, sir, are a miracle to me."

"And you, my lady, are a curse," he said with severity.

Instead of feeling insulted, she just laughed.


Draco always thought that, given his intellect and prowess the only man capable of catching him would be Harry Potter. It sickened him, then, that he was held captive by one pathetic Ron Weasley. "Give it up, Malfoy," the Gryffindor taunted him, his wand too close to Draco's face for comfort. "Your cronies are dead, and you're alone." He smiled grimly. "I have you now, you bastard." A movement behind Weasley made Draco pause, then smile sardonically. He shifted his gaze back to him. "Ah. I always knew you wouldn't be able to do this without help… but I'm surprised at who you took it from." Without breaking his stare, he addressed the third person. "Pansy. What's this? Finally showed the world you have a heart in that body of yours by siding with them?"

"Shut up, Draco," she snapped, also pointing her wand at his face. "You're surrounded. Just—"

"You killed Ginny, didn't you?" Weasley demanded quietly, gripping his wand with both hands. His face was screwed into a mask of indeterminable fury. "Didn't you?"

Just to spite him, Draco laughed. "It was remarkably easy to do," he jeered. "I always thought you Weasleys had nothing in you, and your pathetic sister proved it."

"Draco," Pansy whispered, half in horror, half in disgust.

It was a mistake to look at her, for Weasley took the opportunity to punch him brutally. He didn't even resort to magic; he allowed his strength to do his work for him.

Draco fought incessantly. But he lacked one thing Weasley had, and he recognized that that was why he lost.

He didn't have Weasley's extreme anger, hatred.

He didn't have a loved one's death to fuel him up.

And so he lay on the ground, battered and half-dead.

"Where's Hermione?"

Draco's head snapped up to look at him, but at that second, Weasley grabbed him by the robes and hauled him to his feet. "Where is she?"

He could taste his own blood as he opened his mouth to say, "Changing… your lines… now? How… utterly pathetic."

Weasley shook him, hard enough to make Draco's bones rattle. "Where is she?" he shouted.

"I'll… never tell. You'll… have to… kill me first," he managed to wheeze.

An intense, half-crazed look overcame Weasley's features. "I should, you know," he muttered viciously. "I should kill you right now."

"Ron," Pansy said softly. "Ron, please, let's just let Potter—"

"But you'd like that, huh? That'd be too easy for you, wouldn't it?" Weasley pulled one hand back and hit Draco hard enough to make him cry out. "I'll let you suffer first."


"Come again," she called half-heartedly to a customer who just walked out. She noticed the newspaper he'd left behind, and for once she didn't even bother returning it.

She'd been restless the whole morning, and well into the afternoon. The reason nagged at her, demanded to be acknowledged, but she refused. It was stupid, really, that she was bothered like this. It wasn't like they were… well… like that.

And yet the fact remained: he hadn't dropped by for a week already.

She knew it was stupid to worry, that it was pathetic to let his absence affect her like this. The fact that she was both worried and affected irritated her so. It wasn't like she loved him or anything. No, it was just that she was grateful for all he'd done to her, for saving and helping her regain her life, so to speak. This… feeling inside her was just that. Gratitude.

The bell chimed, and her spirits sunk when she saw it wasn't him.

She had to distract herself somehow. This was beyond stupidity! It was absurd already! She grabbed the newspaper and forced herself to concentrate.

Death Sentence Given to a Death Eater

Good riddance, she thought, scanning over the contents of the story. Thankfully, the war hadn't yet reached this side of the world, though everybody was on the alert for anything that could happen. Even she updated herself every now and then, lest those soulless bastards decide to invade this place.

And today, the world would be rid of one soulless bastard.

Draco Malfoy, son of Lucius Malfoy, was found guilty for the death of…

She paused.

Draco Malfoy?

The name was… familiar to her somehow. Eerily, terrifyingly so. Surely she'd encountered it before…

Dismissing the thought, she dropped the paper and stared at the door, hoping he would emerge from it.