A/N: This story is told in two timelines: present and past, separated by a bar. It doesn't skip around, and there is only one division per chapter, save the last one. Many thanks to my betas, Shug, pokeystar, and elyaeru, for the excellent input and help.
Written in answer to a challenge presented by drcjsnider: Can Draco Be Saved From His DH Fate of Being a Sniveling Coward? This story has a prequel, a one-shot I wrote a couple of months ago called "The Other Side." (Available on my profile) It's not necessary to read it, but there are things from it mentioned in this story.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world belong to JK Rowling. I write to learn. No money is being made.
The Redemption of Draco Malfoy
Chapter 1 – Nothing But Pictures
Hogwarts was the center of activity in the days following the end of the war. In the Great Hall, funeral arrangements were made; friends and family reunited, and plans for the future were discussed with great alacrity. The dungeons of the castle were once again used for their original purpose; all of the remaining Death Eaters and those who had been captured from the Dark side were herded up and locked away until their arrests could be processed and the prisoners sent to Azkaban.
Hermione had done her part in the aftermath and she was exhausted, mentally and physically. Neither she, Ron, nor Harry had slept much since the great battle, sleeping in short shifts to let the others continue assisting in the work that everyone was doing.
That night, after dinner and most people had gone to bed, Hermione sought a bit of quiet solitude. She slowly climbed the steps to the Astronomy Tower, thinking about everything that had happened. Ron had been the most outspoken when it came to future plans; he had his life already mapped out from that moment onward. He, Harry, and Hermione would enter Auror training. Harry would marry Ginny, and though he didn't say it, she suspected he thought the two of them would also marry. Both couples would have large families, live next door to each other, and live happily ever after.
Hermione was beginning to regret the kiss she had given him. It had been done in a moment of haste, so thrilled had she been that Ron had finally, finally, understood where she was coming from. She didn't think he fully embraced her passion for the rights of all magical creatures, but at least he had been thinking about it. Still, it was impulsive and borne from years of fancying him.
Her feelings for him had started to fade after he abandoned Harry and her in the woods, though it had taken her time to recognize what was happening. When she needed him the most, he left without a care, and returned for Harry, only Harry. She really shouldn't have kissed him. Although, perhaps it was for the better. She could now say without a doubt that the feelings she had once felt for Ron were gone.
Hermione reached the door to the tower and pushed it open. After climbing out, she glanced around and saw that she hadn't found a place of solitude; someone else was there.
"Malfoy!" she said, letting go of the door and backing away from him.
He stood on the opposite side of the tower, leaning against the crenellations. His black robes billowed behind him in the wind and his pale, scarred face was drawn as he watched her.
With a great sigh, he turned around. "Granger."
Instinctively, Hermione's hand flew to the scar on her chest that he had healed. So much had happened since that night, when she had thought him truly incapable of harm. The truth had been a bitter pill to swallow.
"Wh-what are you doing here?" she asked, her other hand itching for her wand.
"What are you doing here?" he mimicked, his voice utterly flat and devoid of emotion.
"I … that's none of your business," she replied haughtily.
He shook his head. "No. I meant that whatever reason brought you here, it probably brought me here as well."
"I needed a place to think," she said automatically.
"See?" he said hollowly.
Hermione stared at Draco's back, frowning. He seemed so … lost, resigned, empty. So different from the young man who had risked everything to save her life just one year ago. She crossed the tower to stand a few feet from him. Despite everything she had heard about him, despite the one time she had seen him since that fateful night on this same tower, she did not fear him.
There was so much between them that hadn't been said; she didn't know where to start. "What are you thinking about?" she asked.
"The end of my life," he replied flatly.
Hermione's eyes widened as she considered where they were—the place Dumbledore had been killed—how high off the ground they were, and the way Malfoy was peering over the side. Without another thought, she rushed across the tower to his side, putting her hand on his arm. "Don't, don't jump, Malfoy."
He stared at her hand, so pale against his dark cloak, and then met her frightened eyes. "Why not?" he asked. "What do I have to live for?"
"Plenty," she said without thinking.
"Really?" He raised an eyebrow skeptically.
This time she thought about his question. Of course, he had the Dark Mark, had been responsible for Dumbledore's death, had used Unforgivables on at least two people, and she had no idea what else he had done since leaving the school with Snape. His future seemed set; he would go to Azkaban.
"Still, I don't think you should end your life," she protested, removing her hand.
He sighed. "I'm not going to jump off this tower, Granger. Too much a coward for such theatrics. But …" Did he really want to talk to her about all of this? "I turn eighteen in a few weeks. Eighteen and my life is over."
"You don't know that," Hermione said, not entirely sure of what she was trying to convince him. "I'll tell them what you did for me. They might be lenient."
Draco shook his head. "I don't want a reduced sentence; I want no sentence. Besides, what I did for you would be nothing compared to what else I've done, what I'm responsible for."
"That's not true," she continued. "Without me, Harry would have had a much harder go of things. There's no way to know the impact of your decision that night."
"It doesn't matter. Once, I thought it might, but now … the only person who can help me is dead."
Hermione frowned. "Who?"
"Doesn't matter," Draco replied. "No one would believe him anyway."
"You don't know that," Hermione said. "Snape … was many things but he was on our side. Harry just found out, maybe—"
Draco peered at her intensely, trying to discern if she was telling the truth. Then he said, angrily, "Wonderful. Even if that's true, there's absolutely no proof. All I have is my word, and I don't think it's worth much of anything to your lot. Just forget it."
"Tell me," she said.
"I said, forget it!" he snarled, anger flashing through his eyes for an instant. Then it was gone, and his eyes took on a lifeless, haunted look, dull and grey. His voice matched his dead eyes when he quietly asked, "Does it hurt, ever?"
Hermione knew he was referring to the cursed stab wound on her chest. "Sometimes. When I'm tired or have been expending a lot of magic." It occurred to her that she was standing there, having a conversation with Draco Malfoy. She had so many questions for him that she had thought up over the last year that she didn't know where to start. She didn't even know if she wanted to know the answers. Malfoy had done more to send her emotions in spirals than any other person alive.
"Thank you," he said, his voice nearly a whisper. "For not saying anything."
"I told you I wouldn't," she said.
"I know. I didn't really believe you." Draco gave her an apologetic smile.
"I don't understand you," Hermione said, shaking her head and turning away from him.
"Why do you want to?" he asked.
The question struck her like a bucket of cold water to the face. In the year since he had healed her, saved her life, she had tried to figure him out. After she had learned of the circumstances surrounding his task to kill Dumbledore, she had hoped he would turn himself over to the Order, that maybe he had experienced a change of heart on that tower that would carry over into the rest of his life.
When months passed and that didn't happen, she tried to understand why. None of her theories were consistent with what she would later learn about him; he never did what she expected him to do. She had enjoyed her little mystery, which she had spent many lonely nights puzzling out, but now it wasn't so amusing. He really would be sent to Azkaban and was likely to stay there the rest of his life. Hermione had no conclusions, and she probably would never know the answers to her questions. This might be her one chance, yet she couldn't bring herself to press him.
"I don't know," she whispered.
After a few minutes passed in strangely comfortable silence, Draco sighed and stood up. "Shouldn't you be off celebrating or something?"
"I've had enough of celebrating for the evening," she said with a chuckle.
"I'm going. My mother will wonder where I am. She gets herself in fits if I'm gone for too long." He rolled his eyes, but Hermione suspected he didn't mind all that much.
"Look, there's a cream I know of that you could use for that wound. It's called 'Delphine's' and it's for cursed wounds and scars. The recipe can be found in books for healing Dark magic."
Hermione nodded. "Thank you." She turned to face him without knowing what, if anything, she should say. This would probably be the last time she saw him. "I … I would like some answers," she said, trying to be assertive but failing in light of the scrutinizing look in his eyes.
"Wouldn't we all?" Draco reached his hand up and hesitantly tucked a stray lock of curls behind her ear. As he withdrew his hand, his eyes full of confusion and pain, he lightly traced the line of her jaw, pausing at her chin before dropping his arm.
Hermione stopped breathing at the sudden tender display. Malfoy stirred yet another emotion in her when she hoped, briefly, that he would kiss her. The desire surprised her, but before she could blink, he had moved toward the door.
"Malfoy," she called without thinking. He paused just before opening the hatch and looked at her expectantly. There were many things she wanted to say, but nothing would stay on her lips. It wouldn't matter, anyway. She settled on, "Good luck."
Draco nodded. "Take care, Granger."
Then he disappeared into the castle, leaving Hermione alone with her restless thoughts.
He ran as fast as he possibly could, faster than he had ever run before. He didn't need the encouragement of his professor to keep him going, nor the sounds of spells being fired behind him.
Just get past the gates!
Once he was through, Draco doubled over in pain, his side aching. No one was with him. The large blond Death Eater had pulled up to help Snape. Draco had a few moments to think and all he knew was that he wanted to keep running, until he couldn't move or until he was somewhere else, anywhere else.
He hobbled behind a large tree to catch his breath and heard Snape shouting at Potter. Only a few seconds were granted him to think, and he couldn't decide, just as he couldn't kill the old man.
Soon the others were running past: the blond, the brother and sister, Greyback, and finally Snape. Four loud pops of Disapparation were heard and Draco waited, holding his breath, for the fifth.
"Draco?" called Snape in a harsh whisper. "Where are you? I'm not leaving without you, and I know you can't Apparate."
In that moment, Draco's future flashed before his eyes. Kneeling before the Dark Lord, taking the punishment for failing his task, and if he survived, cementing his pledge of a lifetime of support. He'd barely meant it when he made it, his thoughts bent on revenge against Potter and his friends for getting his father sent to prison. Now … the thought of living his life in terrified service was unthinkable.
"Expelliarmus!" he shouted, jumping out from behind the tree, his wand aimed squarely at Snape's chest.
Snape hadn't been prepared for this, and the spell struck him hard, sending him flying backward into a bush and his wand into Draco's hand. Snape didn't move, so Draco approached him, wand trained on the dark space where he had disappeared, his hand shaking so badly he would never hit his target.
"Get up!" Draco whispered desperately. He couldn't have killed the man, not with a simple Disarming spell! "Up!"
Slowly Snape rose, a deep scowl on his face. "You fool! What are you doing? They'll be here any moment!"
"I-I'm not going with you. I can't go with you, I can't …" Draco's voice trailed off, silenced by sheer panic.
Snape breathed deeply and took a cautionary step toward Draco, keeping his hands visible. "You must, Draco. There is no choice."
"Don't say that!" Draco could hardly breathe he was so scared. "I-I do have a choice!"
"I'm afraid you've already made it," Snape said sternly, stepping closer.
Draco hitched his wand up threateningly.
"Think of your mother," Snape continued. "She will surely be killed for your desertion. Where would you go that you could hide from the Dark Lord? Running now would be futile. The only way to protect your mother now is to come with me."
Draco's hand was shaking violently. "I don't want to do this," he moaned. "I can't do it! You saw me, I-I don't belong with him."
"Draco, the only choice for you now is to return with me, and quickly. I assure you, I will do everything in my power to protect you, both immediately and in the future." Snape reached up and took the wand from the boy's hand.
Draco let him arm fall limply to his side, overcome with shame and fear.
"Come," commanded Snape. "We must go at once."
Snape grabbed his arm and pulled, but Draco resisted. The Professor rounded on him.
"Haven't I made myself clear?" he spat. "The longer we delay, the worse your punishment will be. You have no choice. I will help you, but you must trust me."
Draco felt his knees threaten to give way, and he nodded, feeling utterly defeated. Even if he wasn't killed, he would still be forced into a servitude he did not want, while his parents, whom he had been trying to save, continued to slave away for their master.
The celebration was already in motion when Snape and Draco arrived at the Dark Lord's hideout. No doubt the other Death Eaters were eager to be the one to impart the news. Snape stopped just outside the door and turned Draco to face him.
"Listen to me carefully. Be honest—he will know if you are otherwise. Admit your fear, your hesitation. If he wants to see your thoughts, you must not fight. Allow me to bear the brunt of his wrath, as it was I who ultimately removed the decision from you. Do you understand?"
Draco nodded blearily, his entire body numb. There would be no more freedom, no more sun, no more simple days of lounging about with his friends. From this moment on, he was just another insignificant soldier in the darkest army ever conceived.
Snape pushed open the door, and Draco followed, nearly running to keep up. The room quieted as Snape strode commandingly, unfrightened, into the room and to the place where the Dark Lord sat like a king. He dropped one knee to the ground, and Draco followed his lead a few feet behind him. Nagini hissed, and then the sound of Parseltongue could be heard as the Dark Lord calmed his pet.
"There, there, Nagini," he said finally, petting the snake on the head. "Why should you greet the hero of the hour with such … contempt?" His voice was dangerously smooth, and Draco could feel the bright feral red eyes burning the top of his head; he dared not look up.
"So," said Voldemort, rising fluidly from his chair to pace the length of the short stage on which he had been sitting. "So, the deed is done but not as planned."
Draco sensed him stop in front of him, though he dared not move his head to be certain. Then his mind was being invaded, and Draco cringed at the strange pain that accompanied the forced Legilimancy. It was as though his thoughts and memories were being torn apart. Soon the Dark Lord arrived at the tower and watched the scene unfold along with Draco. When he had seen enough, Voldemort pulled out of Draco's mind, sending a jolt of sharp pain through his head.
"Incompetent whelp," the Dark Lord spat, then he moved on.
Only then did Draco dare to glance up, and he saw the Dark Lord scanning the crowd. "Narcissa!" he bellowed.
"My Lord," said Draco's mother, bowing reverently before his master. Draco's heart leapt at seeing his mother alive and well, but then he panicked, pleading silently with the maniac that she would not be harmed.
"See that he is properly punished for his failings."
"Yes, my Lord." Narcissa bowed again.
"Bellatrix," purred the Dark Lord. "Assist your sister."
She cackled gleefully and nodded, anxious to carry out her master's orders. Draco's stomach dropped.
Then a sinister grin appeared on Voldemort's face, and he laughed, a sick, twisted shadow of joy. "The deed is done!" he shouted to the room. A cheer went up. "And Severus," he said, moving to stand before the professor, who hadn't so much as twitched. "Dear, loyal, Severus. Perhaps you can explain why you did not give the boy a chance to fulfill his duty."
"My Lord, there was simply no time. The Order was in the castle, and many students as well as teachers were fighting with them. The need for haste was imperative, if we were to make it out unscathed."
"I see," drawled the Dark Lord, his eyes drifting from Snape to Draco and back. Then he grinned again. "I am much too elated to want to punish you, Severus. However, you still disobeyed me, and I'm afraid that, despite the most excellent circumstances, that cannot be overlooked."
Draco saw Snape tense in preparation for the curse he knew would come at any second. Then Snape was writhing on the ground, his face contorted in agony. He only cried out a few times, and then the Dark Lord released him.
"This is a night of celebration!" he cried, and again the crowd cheered. "Narcissa! In return for your son's scheme which led to an invasion of the school, and then to the … untimely death of its Headmaster, I will have your husband released."
Narcissa gasped, and Bellatrix snapped her teeth. Draco's eyes widened; he wasn't sure if this was good news or bad.
"And from now on, my headquarters will be located in your welcoming, expansive home, Narcissa."
Draco saw his mother swallow hard, her face going from impassive to grateful.
"My Lord," she said. "It would be an honor."
Voldemort chuckled and leered at Bellatrix, who stood beside her sister and her husband. "Indeed. It is my desire that all of your family remains in the house."
"It will be as you wish," Narcissa replied, bowing.
"Excellent. It will begin tonight." The Dark Lord waited for no response and strode from the room, Bellatrix quick at his heels with her husband and brother-in-law.
The crowd emptied until only Draco, Snape, and Narcissa remained. Snape had not yet regained consciousness.
"Oh, Draco!" cried Narcissa, rushing across the room and flinging her arms around her son. She sobbed against his shoulder, clutching at his robes as though if she relaxed for one instant, he would be gone.
"Mother," he said, his voice cracking. He returned the hug, amazed at his fortune. The deed had been done, and not by him, his mother was perfectly well, and he hadn't even been punished for his failure. "Snape," he choked out.
"Yes," said Narcissa, finally releasing her son. "I will tend to him."
"You should go, he … he won't want to be kept waiting."
Narcissa hesitated, clearly unwilling to let Draco out of her sight now that she had him back safe and unharmed.
"Go, Mother," Draco insisted. "The chance has not passed for his anger to turn on us again."
She nodded, her beautiful face contorted with pain, and Disapparated.
Draco knelt beside his Professor's unconscious body, finally able to breathe deeply. He had survived one more day. "Professor," he said, gently shaking him. "Sir."
After a few moments, Snape stirred. Groggily he opened his eyes, wincing at the dim light. When his vision focused on Draco, he nodded. "Good. You're all right." Slowly he moved into a sitting position, then pulled out his wand and cast a strengthening spell on himself.
"Are you okay?" Draco asked.
"I will be fine," Snape replied. "What has happened?"
"H-He told my mum that he would release my father, and that he'll be using my home for his headquarters from now on. They've gone there now, to celebrate."
"Ah." Snape stood, pausing a moment to be sure his legs would support him. "Did you receive any punishment at the Dark Lord's hands?"
"No," replied Draco. "My mother is to do it." At Snape's raised eyebrow, Draco added, "With my aunt."
"Ah. We shouldn't delay."
"Sir," said Draco, his voice surprisingly commanding. He waited until Snape had given him his full attention. "You said that you would help me."
Snape sighed impatiently. "And I will. However, the less you know the better for you. I will contact you when I have something useful to share."
Draco nodded, numbness creeping into his mind. There was no plan. "What should I do until then? Sir?"
"Keep your head down, mouth shut, and ears open—wide open, Draco. I mean that above all. Any conversation you come upon, memorize it. Write down what you learn if you must, and keep it hidden. Is that clear?"
"Yes," Draco responded, feeling slightly better. Now he had something to do. "Should I seek out these conversations?"
"Only if you can do so without raising suspicion." Snape looked him over critically. "I believe you can manage well enough. Come, we must be going."
Draco stared as his Professor—former Professor, now—spun on his heel and strode through the room, his robes billowing in his wake.
"Let's go," Snape snapped.
Draco finally followed, not sure what he felt. His world had been turned on its end and then somehow, incredibly, righted again with his family still intact and no harm to him—yet. He knew he didn't deserve such luck, but for some reason, the fates had given it to him.
He didn't think about Hermione until much later, when he was finally tucked into his warm bed, after hugging his mother goodnight.
The celebration had nearly gone all night, and the sun would be rising in less than an hour. Despite being completely exhausted, Draco's mind wouldn't slow down to allow him sleep, and his thoughts turned to her. His chest tightened inexplicably, and he realized that he felt as though he had let her down. She didn't know a thing about his task, but she had hoped—the last thing she had said to him that night confirmed it—that he would turn out good, in the end.
He wished he could have told her that the world wasn't so black and white, that there was something between those who carried the Mark and those who didn't. Even more, not all those who had been branded wanted to remain that way. He was living proof of that. He had been given the chance to taste that life, the life he had grown up hearing about, which had been glorified and bemoaned for its absence. It simply didn't fit him; there was something that made him different from most of his family, and he only hoped Snape would be able to help sort him out.
As he looked out of his window, at the sky that was slowly turning to lighter shades of blue, Draco wondered what Hermione was doing right then. Probably sleeping, he thought. Had she cursed him? Hated him after learning what he had done … what he had almost done? Was she regretting, even for one moment, letting him into her life, as she had done the night he had saved her? He hadn't regretted it for an instant and would have gladly done so again. She had looked at him a few times since that night with respect, almost admiration in her eyes, and it had made his chest swell with pride.
Draco brought to mind the last time it had happened, just a few days before, in Potions. It had been quick, and he'd nearly missed it as he returned from the ingredients cabinet. Weasley had dropped something, making a loud noise, and he'd turned their direction, a biting remark forming on his tongue. His eyes had met hers for an instant, and the words had died in his mouth.
Draco yawned and felt his eyelids fighting to close. He drifted to sleep with the last words she had spoken to him replaying in his mind, whispered from her lips.
"I hope we both get to see the other side of this."
End Notes:Thanks for reading! Chapter title taken from Lewis Carroll's, "Alice in Wonderland."