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Paths

Draco Malfoy trembled as though ice were running through his blood. It was a hot, dry night, but he was as cold as if he had been submerged in arctic waters. Severus Snape stood tall behind him, a silent, brooding sentinel. The man who once was young Malfoy's favorite professor was now nothing more than an emotionless guard, preventing him from running, screaming, in the other direction.

Before them, a few feet away at the edge of a towering cliff, a brilliant fire raged, bright and foreboding. Standing around it, in a broken circle, were a group of silent men in black robes; there were several empty locations whose occupants and been killed in battle a few nights previous. The men were glaring in Malfoy's direction, boring holes through him as though he were a nasty, disgusting thing that had crawled from their trash. None of them, however, were of concern to Malfoy. The reason for Malfoy's unease was the being standing in the center, in front of the fire, his back to the shaking boy – the man who was barely a man at all, but more of a snake...a disquieting, evil thing.

The silence was horrifying. Each crack of the fire was like a spider running down Malfoy's spine - each lick of flame like a serpent, mocking him, laughing at him. The young wizard had never felt such terror in all his life.

"Severus!" came the vile hissing of the malevolent being.

Snape took a single step forward, his face unwavering, and in the back of his mind Malfoy wondered how he could possibly be so calm in the face of such an intimidating creature.

"Yes, my Lord."

The snake-man did not move, did not turn to face his servant, but continued speaking almost immediately, a great resonance of anger in it's voice. "I am extremely disappointed with your decision to make the Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa. I had given the task of Dumbledore's demise to young Draco; you knew of this. If you have an explanation, I would hear it now."

Snape barely missed a heartbeat in replying and again, Malfoy found himself experiencing a moment of awe for the former Hogwart's professor. "I apologize, my master. It was wrong of me to question your methods. I merely considered a scenario in which Draco was unable to complete his mission, and brought it upon myself to ensure that Dumbledore did not survive the attack. I had thought that the best interests of my Lord would be to ensure that his enemy did not live another night, and I used Narcissa's fear for her child to further those means."

Malfoy's breath caught in his throat and he found his fear subsiding to rage. How dare he?! To play on his mother's pain and steal his glorious moment; could it be possible that this was the man he had admired? The man he had looked up to throughout his wizarding education? How could he trivialize Draco's life like this?!

"It is true..." the hissing was thoughtful, almost amused, "...that one of my greatest and most powerful enemies has been eradicated, at long last..."

At this Snape continued to stand perfectly still, expressionless, as though the rage or pleasure of his master made no difference to him. Malfoy's own emotions were swirling like a whirlpool; he was trapped somewhere between rage for his professor's betrayal, and awe for his ability to stand tall in the face of terror.

"I'll except this, for now, Severus," the evil voice hissed again suddenly, "However, if I find you interfering in my plans again, believe that there will be a punishment the likes of which you can not even fathom..."

Snape did not falter, did not breath a sigh of relief; he simply bowed low once, and stepped back to his original position behind Malfoy.

There was another silence. In reality, it couldn't have been more than twenty or thirty seconds, but to Malfoy it felt as though hours were passing, his heart beating them away like a morbid drum. By the time the hissing voice came again, he had almost screamed aloud from the horrible anxiety.

"Draco..."

His eyes widened and he struggled to keep his hands from shaking. "Y-y-...Yes, Master?" One of the robed men let out a very slight snicker.

"Come to me..."

The calm manner of the voice was more frightening than if it had bellowed at him. For a moment, Malfoy staggered and found himself quite unable to take the first step, but suddenly there was a sharp jab in the center of his back as Snape shoved him unceremoniously forward. Malfoy nearly fell face first into the rocky surface, only barely managing to steady himself. The same robed man snickered again.

"I'll thank you not to assist him again, Severus..."

Snape merely lowered his head and kept his tongue.

"And you, Draco...closer, now..."

This time Malfoy picked up every ounce of courage he could muster and lunged himself forward. He took long strides and did not stop until he was within a foot of his greatest fear. He put everything he had into composure, standing tall and keeping his eyes forward, but all his attempts could not stay the terrified shaking of his limbs.

"Yes Master?" he did not stutter this time, but his voice was a mere squeak. Vaguely, somewhere in the back of his mind, Malfoy wondered how he had gotten himself into this situation...

It had all started with Harry Potter. Malfoy's sworn enemy, The Chosen One. If it weren't for that meddling Potter, Malfoy's father Lucius would never have been captured and sent to Azkaban prison. If not for that, young Malfoy would not have been chosen to replace Lucius as a Death Eater. When it had happened, Malfoy's mother, Narcissa, had gone mad insisting that the Dark Lord's intentions were set on revenge - that he had recruited her son and set him an impossible task as penance for Lucius' failures. At the time Malfoy had been furious with his mother for doubting his capabilities...now he was quite certain that she had been right...

Why hadn't he killed the damned old man? Why did he have to choke at such an important moment in his life? For Snape to come to his rescue like that...why hadn't he just killed the damned old man?!

"I was quite impressed with your plan to sneak my Death Eaters into Hogwarts using that two-way wardrobe."

Malfoy's heart skipped a beat. Impressed? Could it be that the Dark Lord had called him forth, not to punish him, but to congratulate him on a job well done?

"I was not, however, impressed with your failure to complete the task I set for you."

Malfoy's heart stopped and his whole body went numb. No...

"You had him in your grasps, weak and defenseless," the voice was diverting from calm to an indescribable loathing, "You had but to speak the spell and glory would have been yours. You could have brought worth back to your family name. Instead you faltered, you let your emotions bubble to the surface, and you failed your master."

Malfoy's eyes went wide as his Lord turned to face him. The features were more hideous than anything that had ever plagued his nightmares - a distorted, soulless phantom with sunken, evil eyes that could bore through your very thoughts. Malfoy found that every molecule of his being was screaming to look away, but he could not move, could not blink.

"You realize, of course, that I have no use for a Death Eater who allows his emotions to keep him from the kill?"

The only thing Malfoy could think to do was nod once, a few hot, terrified tears springing to the corners of his eyes.

"What, then, should I do to remedy this situation?"

It happened suddenly: the Dark Lord blinked and there was a flash and a woman's sob from the other side of the fire. In spite of himself, Malfoy leaned to one side, holding his breath all the while, to see what had appeared there, although he thought he already knew.

His worst fears were confirmed as his master grinned a grin that was far more than evil. Narcissa Malfoy knelt, wailing, amongst the dirt and ash and rock. Her expensive unicorn-skin gown was torn and filthy, her feet bare, her fingernails splintered. "Draco!" she cried painfully, "Draco, my baby!"

Malfoy tried to raise an arm toward his mother, but he found his Lord's gaze was again rooting him to his place.

"You now have a choice to make, young Draco Malfoy," the hiss was almost mocking, tormenting, and Malfoy cringed with every syllable, "If you wish to redeem yourself and continue your work as one of my noble Death Eaters, then you will swallow your emotions, destroy any remaining love in your heart, and kill Narcissa."

He knew it was coming, and yet there was no way he could have been prepared for the command. His heart sprung back to life, beating so hard that he thought it might break through his chest.

"If you refuse, then you shall watch her die, before sacrificing your own life to me."

"Draco!" Narcissa sobbed, her words barely understandable, "Please do it baby! I don't matter! Please, save yourself!"

His face was streaked in tears. How had it come to this point? How could he have ended up here, facing murder or death with no alternative? Was this the exciting life he had envisioned? Is this where his father had meant for him to come? Is this what it truly meant to be a pure-blood crusader?

Malfoy squeezed his eyes shut in a mad attempt to still the liquid streaming from them. His hands were still shaking.

"Make your decision Draco. My patience is wearing thin."

Malfoy opened his eyes and met his mother's. She stopped screaming and locked sights with her son. It seemed as though the two stared at each other for hours, tears falling from both miserable faces. Ever so slowly, Draco Malfoy raised one quaking arm. Narcissa closed her eyes.

"Avada -"


Author's Notes:

This was originally going to be chapter one of a full-blown fanfic version of the seventh Harry Potter book, but I ended up getting side-railed and the real book 7 came out before I could continue. lol I still like it a lot, so I thought I'd post it as a one-shot fic of Draco's fate immediately after book six. Hope you all enjoyed it! Comments are welcome and greatly appreciated!