A/N : Thank you all so much for the reviews. I love the response this story is getting. Please feel free to leave any suggestions you want to see in the story. =)
I made my way toward my study, my mind still processing the dialogue I had had with my Lord and commander. That particular exchange was definitely in league with the very few things that managed to truly surprise me. That the Dark Lord had agreed with my plan; had actually approved of it left me speechless.
I had gone into the meeting dreading that he would see right through me, preparing every possible counter-argument I would undoubtedly have to offer. The long pause that had followed my announcing my intentions had been nerve-wrecking to say the least. My knuckles had gripped my wand so tightly in preparation of self-defense that they still throbbed painfully.
However, when he did finally break his silence, the most feared wizard of all time had applauded my plan, and had praised me for being alert and prepared on all fronts. It seemed that he had actually taken my story at face value, hadn't thought to question it. Any other man might sigh in relief and be done with the situation. But years of combat and military thinking had hardened me, made me cynical and mistrustful. It wouldn't do to underestimate the level of understanding the Dark Lord had hidden behind his usual approving fascia toward me. That would be a rookie mistake, one I would never make.
On this note, I began assessing and altering the plans in my mind, making sure not to leave any loopholes. Paranoid was one of my mother's favorite words to use in regards to me, and she was to a large extent, correct. These were times of war, and it was my experience that paranoia saved your arse in even the most impossible of mêlées.
I entered the study only to find my mother calmly seated in front of the fire, exuding all the grace and dignity of old world royalty. There was a very powerful and aristocratic air about her, and as a child, I had on more than one occasion seen her scold one of the maids and imagined her command, "Off with her head!". In my defense, the scenario wasn't entirely impossible. My mother was one of the very, very few women who inspired a genuine awe in me – the other being one Ginevra Weasley, not that she would ever know that.
"Draco, I received your letter. Come, sit with me. We have much to discuss." She spoke with deliberate calm, as though discussing the weather.
"What is there to discuss mother? My letter already conveyed all there is to say, didn't it?" she merely raised an eyebrow and I shifted in my seat, suddenly feeling very much like the day she had caught me raiding my father's liquor cabinet.
"When do I get to meet her? Surely you were planning on introducing her to me before the ceremonies took place."
"Of course I was" I lied through my teeth, a sense of foreboding washing over me.
"Excellent! I shall see you later then. Your bride and I have much to discuss." I stood up as she rose to leave, mission – whatever it had been - apparently accomplished.
"Wait! Now? You are going to meet her now?" to say that I was horrified would be an understatement.
"Why yes Draco. Surely there isn't a problem?"
"No. Of course not Mother."
I sat back down as she left, suddenly very tired.
One glance at my watch assured me that by now, Severus Snape would have delivered the news to my wife-to-be. At least my mother wouldn't be meeting a bride who had not an inkling that she was to be married.
The unavoidable confrontation with Ginny would have been disastrous enough. But tackling her after my mother gave her the special Malfoy version of 'welcome to the family', was sure to be nothing short of catastrophic. I couldn't help the sigh that escaped me then. At this rate, I would be lucky if I remained alive to walk down the aisle. It would be an ironic end surely. Unbeaten by all of the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore himself, I would probably be slain by my spitfire of a bride.
With yet another sigh, I rose to go supervise the security detail of the castle. Yet another task on my to-do list for the day. Ginevra would have to wait. Severus was with her after all. Surely he would stop my mother and my fiancé from doing any permanent harm to each other.
I walked toward the security command center of the castle at a brisk pace. Even though the citadel was my own, and warded by my magic, allowing me to apparate if I so desired, it was something I rarely, if ever, did. I preferred to walk along its corridors and pathways so that my presence was imprinted in the castle's aura. It was rather affective at keeping my men on their toes.
I had barely reached the first guard tower looking over the gardens when Zabini caught up with me, winded and obviously distressed.
"My Prince! The Dark Lord commands your presence in the throne room immediately."
I felt a familiar chill surround me. Over the years I had perfected the art of ignoring my body's instinctive response whenever I came across what would undoubtedly be a dangerous situation. This time was no different. But my mind and my magic flew ahead of me, already reinforcing the castles' defenses and going over various protective measures. The Dark Lord never summoned me without sound cause. I had just reported to him, what had happened?
Turning on my heel, I apparated just outside the throne room; Zabini would just have to run again.
The Dark lord was pacing the length of the room when I entered, impatience and rage emanating out of him in waves, his robes billowing behind him, mirroring the black cloud that was his mood. He looked up at me and I felt the room ward itself, now completely impermeable until he decided otherwise.
"He has found it Draco. Helga Hufflepuff's cup. You must deal with this alone, my Prince, no other soul must know." Lord Voldemort was the closest to panicked or scared that I had ever seen him throughout the war. Everything became clear at once. Dumbledore getting his hands on even one of the horcruxes was a victory that could not be granted to the enemy. Not at any cost.
"Yes my Lord. I will take care of it." The Dark Lord nodded, satisfied, and the magic warding the room faded away.
Tipping my head in compliant leave-taking, I envisioned my old alma mater and let the familiar pull of apparation take me.
Apparating into what used to be the Great Hall; I took a moment to take in the sight of ruins. When the Dark army had won the battle of Hogwarts, all the protective wards surrounding the ancient castle had all but given away, thus enabling me to apparate right in. I had dementors and soldiers alike watching over the place randomly every few days, so the Order had never dared to infiltrate it. If Dumbledore had come here now, he must be getting really frustrated and impatient.
The castle that once was a monument of bewitching grandeur was but a shadow of its former self. The glass domes which held the gems which counted for house-points lay broken, the red, blue, green and amber jewels scattered across the stone floor. Walls and arches that once stood proudly were nearly destroyed, debris was everywhere.
I made my way towards the Hufflepuff den, shutting myself off from the bittersweet memories of a long forgotten life. I was almost at the now-abandoned portrait which had once watched over and sealed its house from the rest of the school when I caught a glimpse of the Astronomy Tower. The very place, where my entire being had been signed over to a cause that I hadn't even believed in; where I had been recruited to lead and fight somebody else's war.
That tower had stood witness to the most vulnerable and desperate moments of my life. It was there that I had sworn vengeance from the army that had slain what was left of my innocence. It was ironic really, that compared to the rest of the castle, the tower remained relatively unscathed, even as my own soul had been blackened and tarnished beyond repair since that fateful day.
Breaking through the rather complicated wards placed on the entrance, I stepped into the common room that had belonged to the badgers, wand raised and ready. My footfalls resonated across the room, and both the Boy Who Lived and his mentor turned to face the threat, wands drawn. As was his norm when in dangerous situations or even simply taken by surprise, Harry Potter yelled out his favorite spell; exactly the move I had been counting on. I silently mimicked him, secure in the knowledge that even though we were almost equally matched when it came to reflexes, my Elder wand would be superior to his.
His wand flew towards me and just as I caught it, the old headmaster who had been more or less frozen, sprang into action and immobilized his prize pupil. An overwhelming sense of déjà-vu overtook me.
"This is eerily familiar isn't it?"
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