Edited 8th June, 2014

Disclaimer: This is JK's 'verse, I'm just playing in it.

Content Warning

There is content throughout this fic that could possibly be triggering. In this fic, violence – both general violence and violence reminiscent of domestic abuse – is rife, and there are also threats of sexual violence. It deserves a hard M-rating in my opinion.

I also feel the need to point out that the main characters' thoughts, choices, actions, and the dynamic of relationships in this fic are not always healthy, and could be considered problematic to varying degrees of severity if they were to occur in real life. More specifically, this fic was intended to gratuitously explore an initially very adversarial relationship between Draco and Hermione. Therefore some of Draco and Hermione's behaviour toward each other, (especially at the beginning of the fic,) while understandable given the situation and characters, would not be acceptable in the lead up to, or during, a real life, healthy relationship – unless it were part of consensual activities.

Now, with all of that said, read on to revel in angst, violence, drama, eventual gratuitous smut, and the general exploration of what happens when two people who hate each other are thrown together :D

I hope you enjoy,

Liss xx

After nearly four long years of fighting, Draco Malfoy wants a way out of the damned war, for himself and his parents. He just wants to be left the fuck alone. And then Granger – and the horcrux she swallowed – suddenly fall into his lap. With his hands on a hostage from either side of the war Draco thinks he might have a chance to survive this after all…if he can survive living in close quarters with his hostages, which frankly looks doubtful from the outset. At the very least, his sanity is in real danger, if not his life.

Do Your Duty

"Kill him." The high, cold voice was perfectly calm and pleasant; utterly undisturbed by the prospect of murder. Being mad and evil tended to make one rather blasé about murder, Draco imagined. He gulped and met his mother's frightened blue eyes with his own panicked grey gaze, knowing full well who the Dark Lord was talking about. Draco Malfoy was not ready to die. He held his breath as his father spoke in carefully sycophantic tones.

"My Lord… You know I serve you faithfully in all things, but –"

"But what?" Voldemort probed with a cruel amusement, and Draco shuddered at the tone, his ear still pressed to the wall as was his mother's. They were both utterly silent; even their breathing was shallow and muffled as they listened to Lord Voldemort and Draco's father discuss the twenty-year-old's fate. Or rather, listened to Lucius grovel and beg in a way that disgusted Draco even as he acknowledged the need for it. The Malfoys' pride was long gone; they had been reduced to nothing more than boot-licking servants, and it grated on Draco's nerves terribly, as he knew it did his father's. His mother was a little more circumspect about the whole situation.

"He is my son, my Lord. He is my only heir, and he has been a loyal servant to you, always – regardless of his success or failure, he has always been devoted to you absolutely, I know this. I beg of you, my Lord, please, give my son another chance." There was a tremble to Lucius' voice and Narcissa was dead white, all the blood drained from her face at she pressed her ear against the garish paisley wallpaper. To question the Dark Lord, to ask such a favour of him… Well, it was a fine way to get oneself skinned at the dinner table and fed to that damned snake, as Draco had seen happen more than a handful of times over the past three long years. At first such occurrences had shaken him to his very bones with sick terror; by now he hid his horror and merely bemoaned the way it ruined his appetite for dinner.

There was no point in being horrified, no gain to it. Showing that kind of emotion would just get him killed or tortured, and even with the skills of Occlumency that Snape had taught Draco, just thinking about how repulsed he was could be dangerous. His Occlumency skills were not perfect, unlike the Hogwarts Headmaster's. Draco suspected Snape was hiding more from Voldemort than Voldemort realised, but he tried not to think about that. Voldemort's sharp rebuke dragged Draco's attention back to the voices in the library next door, and to his mother's hand squeezing his so tightly that the small bones in his fingers were grinding together.

"Do you question me, and my decisions, Lucius? Do you refuse to do as I request of you?" There was affront in the Dark Lord's voice; disbelief and the faintest hint of pleased sadism.

"Please, my Lord! I am your humble servant, but I beg of you, do not make me kill my son. Please, give him one last chance!"

Draco didn't hear the Dark Lord's answer to that; the sound of Aunt Bella's shrill, mad voice drifted down the corridor at that moment and Draco's mother was instantly tugging at his sleeve, pulling him away.

"Draco; darling – be quick. We cannot let the Dark Lord know we were listening."

Draco let his mother pull him away, feeling numbed and leaden – infuriatingly helpless. He was filled with the dread of the inevitable; the suffering certain to be visited on him one way or the other. His father was going to get himself tortured or killed for pressing Voldemort and questioning his decisions like this, and Draco would likely end up dead anyway. He was trapped in an untenable position and there was absolutely nothing he could do, unless by some miracle Voldemort decided to give Draco another chance – which would only buy him some more time, not solve the problem.

Because the problem was not that Draco kept failing, the problem was that he wanted to keep failing. So many times he had been sent out to perform tasks for the Dark Lord, and while he managed to commit lesser deeds, every mission that involved murder, Draco had failed in. He just couldn't bring himself to commit that one last act of evil. It was a weakness that his father berated and his mother praised him for – but both of them dreadfully afraid for him. Sometimes his father or Snape were able to complete the tasks set to Draco that involved murder, placating the Dark Lord enough to leave Draco alive, but it left Draco feeling even more useless. Making his father and godfather do his dirty work for him, hiding behind what protection they could give him; he disgusted himself.

And the Dark Lord had very quickly become aware of the fact that Draco was being sheltered by his father and Snape, and took great pleasure in toying with Draco – setting him missions to torture, maim, or kill whole families, or people he once knew at Hogwarts. Draco hated Voldemort for setting him the tasks, hated himself for being unable to complete the worst of them, hated his father and Snape for prolonging Draco's miserable life, and most of all, hated the people he was ordered to kill or hurt, precisely because he couldn't do it.

Draco spent a lot of time mired in hate, now he thought about it. Hating was easy, and satisfying, and it fuelled the anger that kept him going one awful day after another. It kept him alive; not that it was much of a life. And now it looked like the Dark Lord had tired of keeping Draco around as a toy, and was tossing him in the rubbish at last. Fuck.

Four years spent doing whatever had to be done – save murder – to keep himself alive. Four years spent in fear and anger and self-loathing, and now it was over and done. It had all been for nothing. And if Draco's father didn't shut the hell up, he'd get himself bloody well murdered too, and then where would his mother be? Alone in the world, and his mother didn't deserve that. She shouldn't lose both her husband and her son, leaving her with just that estranged sister who'd married a Muggleborn, and the dangerously psychotic Bella, who at this moment was calling out his mother's name shrilly. It wailed along the corridor and into the morning room as his mother opened the door, and Draco gritted his teeth.

Merlin, he wanted to kill that bitch so badly.

"Cissa! There you are. I was looking everywhere for you," Aunt Bella crooned as Draco and his mother slipped out of the morning room and into the corridor. Draco's mother gave her dishevelled, dark-haired sister a tight smile, smoothing her pale hands over her equally pale hair, all done up on her head neatly.

"Bella, sister-dear. How may I help you?"

"I don't like my room," Bella said petulantly like a child, tipping her nose up into the air and glaring down it at her sister. "I want it to be closer to the Dark Lord's quarters."

"I don't see what –" Narcissa began to placate her sister as Draco stood quietly just behind her to her right, staring at the floor and picturing all the different ways in which he could kill his dear Aunt Bellatrix. He thought that if he could bring himself to murder anyone, it would be that mad witch.

"Your room is closer. I want your room, Cissa," Bella demanded, still sounding like a toddler on the verge of tantrum, and Draco's mother rubbed at her temples with thin fingers and then sighed with defeat.

"Very well then, Bella. Come with me and we'll get the house elves to swap our belongings around."

"Mother?" Draco arched an eyebrow, not wanting to draw attention to himself but not sure what to do now, either. He had no idea if he was safe for now, or if Voldemort had already ordered his death. Or his father's death, for that matter. He wondered how his mother had stayed so strong with the constant threat of having her son or husband ripped away from her hanging over her head, day and night for the past 1,460 days, give or take a handful. It was a wonder her platinum hair hadn't gone genuine stark white from the strain of it all.

"Go to your room, Draco," his mother ordered stiffly as though he were a child and not a full-fucking-grown man of twenty. It grated, but it gave him a reason to get the hell out of Bellatrix's presence. She always eyed Draco like he was a piece of meat; tasty and edible, and he didn't like the way she smiled at him with her tongue flickering over her lips. It was a feral, anticipatory sort of expression. Draco always made sure to call her Aunt very pointedly, because he thought perhaps she needed the reminder. Her expression, whenever her eyes fell on him, was never very familial.

"Yes, mother. Aunt Bella." He acknowledged the witch reluctantly and coldly with an incline of his head, and then turned and hurried down the corridor toward his room with his fists clenched at his sides and his mind racing. So, Voldemort wanted Draco killed. It was hardly a surprise, but there wasn't much Draco could do about it either, if Voldemort had made up his mind.

Maybe he and his parents could defect? Swap sides? His lip curled. Not likely. Not only was he not so far gone that he would join the side that embraced mudbloods, but he doubted he and his parents would be welcomed with open arms. It would likely be the Kissfor his father and life in Azkaban for Draco, and if his mother was lucky she might get to live out her days as a pauper. No, defection wasn't an option at this point.

Which left Draco just hoping that his father had managed to convince Voldemort to give Draco one last chance. He hurried along the lushly carpeted corridors of his childhood home with his shoulders hunched and head bowed. For Salazar's sake, all he had to do was end the lives of a few worthless blood traitors, mudbloods or muggles – why did he find that so Merlin-damned difficult? It wasn't like he had any affection for them, any sympathy. So why couldn't he just damn well kill them? He slammed his door in a fury and sank onto his bed, bowing his head and running his hands through his hair. He was weak. Fucking weak, just like Voldemort said. And that weakness was going to get Draco killed. And he knew his parents wouldn't let that happen without trying to save Draco, so they'd get themselves killed too, and it would all be his fault.

He stood, and stared at himself in the full-length mirror set on his wall. For all that he was built like a man now and had the stubble and hard lines of a man, the grey eyes that stared back at him in the mirror were those of a frightened boy. A cowardly, pathetic loser, who was going to get his family killed and have his own miserable life ended. All because he couldn't kill people he cared nothing for and who meant nothing to him, who in some cases he selfishly hated for what they represented; his torment at being forced to hurt them. He frowned at himself in the mirror. It had been four years of nothing but torture and death, but rather than becoming inured to it, he was still sickened by what he did at Voldemort's order. Draco turned away from the mirror with a parting sneer of disgust for himself.

He didn't have the bollocks to be a proper Death Eater. He'd done too many good things – the polyjuice incident sprang to mind and he immediately thrust it from his thoughts – to be a proper bloody Death Eater. But he was too much of a cowardly, spineless, amoral fuck to be one the side of good. Either way Draco was screwed. He'd almost be thankful to go and live out his life with Muggles, if it meant he could get out of this fucking war and the trap he was stuck in. Merlin, he was so fucking pathetic.

But he didn't want to die.

"I'm sorry! I'm really, really sorry!" Harry was half-laughing, backing away from Hermione with his hands held up in surrender, his footing unsteady on the forest floor. He was obviously trying to stifle his laughter but it kept snorting out of him. His hilarity was not improving Hermione's mood, which currently hovered somewhere between 'furious' and 'horrified'. Ron was currently coughing up slugs somewhere behind her, still laughing even through his choking and attempts to apologise, the bastard. Hermione strode towards Harry with her lips pressed hard together, brows drawn down with anger and wand pointed dangerously at her bespectacled friend.

Harry had been giving Hermione a haircut, as per usual – every six months or so, she let one of the boys give her horrible, bushy hair a trim for her. Harry had just been stupidly teasing her about lopping it all off, hovering the scissors about two inches from her scalp around a large hank of hair, Hermione telling him irritably to 'stop it, before you really do cut it off you git!' And then Ron had apparated back from doing the grocery shopping, and the crack had startled Harry into snicking the scissors shut.

For a moment Harry and Hermione had both been frozen by a mutual horror, and then he'd squeaked: "Oh Christ, Hermione, I'm sorry! My hand slipped! Ron – it was Ron's fault! I didn't mean to!"

And Hermione had, predictably, exploded. She'd leaped up and spun around, and seen the drift of hair lying across the dead pine needles on the forest floor, grabbed at her head and felt a large empty, shorn patch, and shrieked. In her defence she had just started her period and the cramps were horrible, and she'd had to ask Ron to get tampons which was always embarrassing because he was so reluctant to get girls' things. They'd spent the last of their gainfully gotten money on the groceries today besides, and would have to resort to stealing to get any more, which Hermione hated having to do. And they still had no idea how to destroy the horcrux locket that they had just found – and which she was wearing right now. So yes, she was a little on edge, to put it lightly.

"My hair! Harry, how could you, you idiot, I told you to stop being silly and now look what you've done!" she had yelped, tears springing to her eyes, making her feel stupid and emotional and out of control. And then Ron had seen the big short patch at the back of her head and started laughing, and that had been the last straw. Hermione had spun around and hissed: "Slugulus Eructo!" and hexed Ron. It had been rather satisfying, actually, but it hadn't fixed her hair. So she'd whirled on Harry and now here she was, stalking him across the forest floor, boiling over with a seething rage and racking her brain to think of what curse would be appropriate.

"I'm sorry, Hermione! Honestly! It was an accident! Please!" But he was laughing even as he pleaded with her, and Hermione lost her patience, and just snarled at him and cast petrificus totalus, stalking away before she gave in to the growing urge to cast something worse. Wearing the locket could be a dangerous business it seemed, especially when one was angry, and not in proper control of oneself. Hermione knew enough to go and shut herself away until she calmed down, but she was fuming so violently that she half-expected to catch on fire from the force of her rage as she stalked toward the tent.

She had enough presence of mind to rip off the locket and fling it at Ron's head, before she burst into violent tears and ran into the tent, sobbing.

It wasn't funny, Hermione thought a while later; sequestered in the privacy of her little bedroom space in the tent and feeling mortified by her behaviour. Her anger had melted away to a miserable sort of dejection with the removal of the locket, and she'd cried until her eyes were red and her nose all snotted up and blocked, telling the boys to go away in no uncertain terms when they'd tentatively tried to gain access to her tiny room. She knew it was a dreadfully silly thing to be upset about considering pretty much everything else in their lives was more important than her vanity, but it was the last straw, in a way. If she was going to be stuck hunting horcruxes – and ways to destroy them – cut off from the rest of the wizarding world for god knew how many more years, the least she could do was not look like a maniac had taken to her hair with hedge clippers.

She enlarged her little pocket mirror and set it on her dresser, and stared at herself despondently. If only she knew some glamour charms she could hide the accident; but unfortunately Hermione had always prided herself on not indulging in the frivolous except on very special occasions, and not learnt any beauty charms. Her hair looked much the same from the front, and all of a sudden, Hermione hated it, and everything else about how she looked.

She stared at ordinary brown eyes that were bloodshot and red-rimmed, blotchy cheeks, a horribly reddened, snotty nose, and worst of all, bushy, awful brown hair that without access to Sleekeazy's Hair Potion was absolutely uncontrollable and looked like a wild animal had set up residence on her head. And she hadn't had any Sleekeazy's in years – not since she'd used up the last of it not long after her, Harry, and Ron had gone on the hunt for horcruxes four years ago. Since then, they'd not been able to have anything to do with the wizarding world – it was too dangerous. Oh, they'd had brief meetings with people in the Order every few months, but it would have been near impossible for Hermione to acquire Sleekeazy's – if indeed the company was still running, which Hermione rather doubted.

Hermione glared at herself, disdainful of her vanity when Diagon Alley was apparently mostly boarded up, people were dying horribly every week, Hogwarts was really no more than a prison for the students, all her friends and family who were still alive were scattered to the winds, and they were no closer to killing Voldemort. The Order knew of their mission searching for the horcruxes, but Harry was the only one who could sense them so there was no point in anyone searching but him. So the Order of the Phoenix was fighting the War, while she, Harry, and Ron went gallivanting about the countryside – the world, in fact – hunting horcruxes, stealing from Muggles, and generally failing to achieve anything.

They'd found the locket a year ago, but then Voldemort had managed to put a trace on Ron without their knowledge. They'd been running madly since then – without even a chance to try to figure out how to destroy the locket – until last month, when they'd finally discovered and removed the trace. Eleven months on the run, on top of three previous years of fruitless searching…well, it would leave anyone discouraged, Hermione thought.

The first year they'd wasted mostly just trying to figure out what to do – investigating the things Dumbledore had left them, and coming up with nothing but a hint about the Deathly Hallows that Ron – of all people! – had recognised in Hermione's Beedle the Bard book. They'd kept searching for horcruxes however, and come up with nothing but near-death experiences, iuncluding a close call with Nagini in Godric's Hollow.

Just over a year after Bill and Fleur's wedding – having only been in contact with their friends and family in the wizarding world via the occasional patronus message, much to Ron and Harry's frustration – in desperation to achieve something, Harry had decided Luna's father might be able to give them some information on the Hallows. Hermione had thought it was a wild goose chase. Hallows were not horcruxes.

And it had been a wild goose chase, in a way, because when they had gone to see Xenophilius Lovegood, they'd found his rotting corpse sprawled in the kitchen of his odd house. It had become clear then that The Quibbler – suddenly and suspiciously pro-Voldemort and anti-Harry – was being run by someone polyjuiced to look like Luna's father, because Xenophilius Lovegood himself had been at least a month dead.

Everything had only gotten worse for the trio and the wizarding world after that. They'd had word that the war was stepping up in viciousness but were told not to return – that whatever task Dumbledore had set them, it was more important. And then they heard a week later that Charlie Weasley had been killed. They hadn't been able to attend the funeral.

In their second year hunting for horcruxes, they'd been captured by Snatchers and tortured by that evil bitch Bellatrix Lestrange, with the whole Malfoy family looking on like pale, frightened mice. They had found Luna down in the Malfoy family dungeons during their stay. She had been dead long enough that the only way they had known it was her was because of the broken Spectrespecs she'd been clutching in her hand. They'd spent three days cramped in a cell with her decomposing body before Dobby – wonderful, dear Dobby, might his faithful little soul rest in peace, Hermione thought automatically – had rescued them.

In the meantime they'd been tortured mercilessly. The only thing that had saved them from immediate execution was that Voldemort was away in Europe, and that Hermione had cast a disfigurement hex on Harry to disguise him. And also Draco Malfoy hadn't identified him, even though he had obviously realised who Harry was. In fact that first night in the dungeon Draco Malfoy had appeared outside the bars of their cell, and muttered sullenly: "Here, polyjuice for Potter." He'd turned and left, ignoring their questions as to why he'd done it.

Hermione still had no idea why Malfoy had done it, and it irritated her, when she thought of it. She liked being able to put people into neat slots and label them, and that one event – with no rhyme or reason behind it, so out of character for Malfoy – had made it impossible for Hermione to lay final judgement on him. Of course the next day Malfoy had played his part in torturing the three of them when he'd been ordered to, but he hadn't seemed to take any pleasure in it. His curses had lacked power compared to Bellatrix's, his wand hand had been trembling and his face set in a stiff sort of horror. It had confused Hermione, even in the midst of her pain.

Was Malfoy an actively evil zealot, or just an amoral coward? Ron said that Malfoy was a nasty git one way or the other, because he was still on the wrong side, and Hermione knew Ron was right. After all, Malfoy had chosen his side and whether he regretted that choice or not, he hadn't changed it. Even now Hermione would occasionally hear news of Malfoy's antics, torturing or maiming Muggles, Muggleborns, and blood traitors.

Now and then Hermione had horrible nightmares of the three days they'd spent captured at the Malfoy Manor – like they all did – and she always ended up with Malfoy lingering in the corners of her mind for days afterwards. Like an irritating, horrid ghost that wouldn't go away, or a song stuck in her head, looping over and over. She puzzled over him unwillingly, because that incident had been a puzzle and Hermione couldn't help but be intrigued by puzzles. She would spend several days after a nightmare wondering why on earth Malfoy had done it. Why had he saved their lives, only to torture them?

She'd confided to Harry about her strange fixation, and he'd offered that maybe it was a kind of coping reflex to focus on Malfoy instead of the torture and horrors they'd endured in those three days. Sometimes, Harry made a lot of sense.

Hermione sighed and fished a pair of scissors out of her handy beaded bag, and a pair of nail clippers that she transfigured into a mirror that she set on the bed behind her, giving her a near total view of her head. She stared at her hair, casting her other thoughts aside as she assessed the damage. Harry certainly had taken out a fair chunk, she thought with a grimace, trying to be dispassionate about it. Hermione sighed again, frowned, picked up a lock of hair at the front, and feeling rather daring, decisively hacked it off. Half an hour later she was staring at herself in the mirror in mingled horror and awe.

Well, she certainly wouldn't have to worry about her hair being bushy – she hardly had any. And she wasn't at all certain if she liked it; she was hardly a salon-quality hairdresser, and even if she had been, the length was just so strange she imagined it would take quite some time to get used to. Well, it was done now, wasn't it, she thought, not allowing herself to regret it, whisking up her shorn hair into a pile and vanishing it, and then scourgifying away the little cut hairs that itched at her neck. Her head felt several pounds lighter, and extremely strange – it felt even stranger than it looked, and she ran a hand over her short hair, marvelling at the difference.

She grinned at herself, suddenly ecstatic with Harry and Ron for being the catalysts for this. She loved it. No more bothering with trying to tame her hopeless bush of hair, no more swearing at it, and trying to drag it back into a neat bun only to have it frizz out horribly. No more hour-long struggles to yank a brush through it, or failed attempts at smoothing it with Muggle products that they could ill-afford. Hermione now had terrifyingly-unfamiliar-but-rather-marvellous short hair, which she would barely even need to brush let alone spend ages wrestling with.

She bounced out into the living area of the tent and beamed at the rather cowed Harry and Ron, waiting for their gasps of shock. Instead Ron looked up from his mug of hot cocoa, looking miserable and apologetic, and faintly green and nauseous still, and said, "We're really sorry, 'Mione. We've learnt our lesson, promise. Just don't make me sick up slugs anymore, please."

She blinked, having expected shock over her haircut, but just smiled brightly at him. "It's fine, Ron. I'm just sorry that I may have, well, overreacted just a little bit. And it's worked out well in the end, so…no more slugs. I promise. I think that was probably the horcrux, more than anything. Horrid thing."

"I'm sorry, too, Hermione. I shouldn't have mucking around like that. I wasn't –" Harry broke off and squinted at her, tilting his head to one side and frowning. "Did you…do something with your hair?"

"Oh. My. God," Hermione exclaimed, huffing at the pair of them and shoving her hands on her hips. "I cut it all off, thanks to you." She had to remind herself that she was actually happy about that. "And actually, I rather like it. So thank you, for being a pair of bloody idiots." And then she stalked over to the stove to make herself a cup of cocoa, feeling the boys' nervous stares on her backs. If she heard so much as a whisper about 'irrational women' or it being 'that time of the month after all' then she would hex them both into next week.

But instead, Ron cleared his throat meekly, and Hermione glanced at him over his shoulder. "It looks really nice, 'Mione," he said timidly. "Really pretty. Kind of, um…"

"Modern," Harry offered, with a hopeful smile. "Very, er, fashionable?"

Hermione melted a little. As annoying as the two of them could be and as stressed as they all got at times, especially with the damned horcrux buzzing like an angry hornet in the background all the time, she loved her two boys. You had to love each other to spend four years crammed in a tent with no one but each other and random Muggles to associate with, or you'd go mad and commit a murder-suicide.

"Thank you," she said magnanimously. "And I am sorry I hexed you both."

"S'all right, Hermione. We've all hexed each other at some point. I think it was coming up on your turn to spit the dummy anyway," Ron grinned.

"Yeah, last one was me, when I tied your shoelaces together with that knotting hex," Harry said to Hermione, smirking a little. She frowned – it had only been a week ago, and it had not been funny to have been storming away from Harry only to trip over her own feet and go face first on the ground.

"And then me before that, when I set Harry's eyebrows on fire," Ron remembered, which made Hermione smile, and Harry frown and touch them absently – half-grown back now.

"Well then, I suppose it was my turn," Hermione said, nodding her newly shorn head and feeling nicely justified in her explosion. She brought her cocoa over to the low wood table and sat on the bench beside Harry with a sigh. "You really think my hair looks nice?"

"Mmm, course it does. Now, I hate to bring it up when we're all a happy family again, but –" Harry started, and Hermione sighed and Ron groaned and thumped his head on the table. "– We need to figure out a way to destroy this horcrux," Harry finished, apologetically. "We don't have any of the things that could destroy it – not that we know all of the things that could destroy it, most likely – and now that we've gotten rid of the trace on Ron, we should be focusing on getting one of the things that can."

"Fuck. Back to the bloody grind," Ron swore, forehead still resting on the table and voice muffled, and Hermione felt the heavy weight that had lifted off her for one blessed moment descend again.

"I'm afraid that Harry's right, Ron. We have to make a move while we can. We can't keep carrying the horcrux around forever; it's not good for us."

"Well, I've no bloody idea what to do," Ron admitted from his limp faceplant on the table, and Hermione smiled faintly at him.

"Neither do I," Harry chimed in, and then both boys looked hopefully at Hermione, sitting there with the cup of cocoa poised at her lips. She sighed and lowered it to the table, taking a moment to count to ten. She was sick of being the one in charge in most practical matters, the one both the boys turned to when they were stumped – the bloody mother of the group.

"Fine," she said at last, a little snippily. "I'll do some research, then – when I'm finished my cocoa." And then she picked up her drink and sipped at it slowly, deliberately tuning out the boys and enjoying the delicious, light feeling that her haircut had given her.

"He didn't kill you," Draco said dully as the door shut behind his father, and his mother quickly put up privacy charms and wards with delicate swoops and flicks of her wand. Draco had been sitting on his bed for the past two hours staring at the door and waiting to be taken away to be tortured and killed, or to hear that fate had already befallen his father – or, Merlin forbid, his mother. Instead his parents were both in his room, pale and frightened but obviously alive and unharmed, a secretive air hanging about them. Draco felt hope start to thread through him as his mother flashed him a small, pale smile. His father began to pace up and down in front of the door, his hands behind his back and his brows drawn together, deep in thought.

"I have managed to convince the Dark Lord to give you one last chance," Draco's father said abruptly, halting his pacing and staring at Draco sharply, his once immaculately groomed hair hanging lank and uncared for about his thin, stubbled face. Draco remembered a time when his father had looked younger than his years and positively stylish, but now he just looked ancient and haggard, his pale eyes half-crazed. Only Draco's mother could bring a bit of serenity back into those grey eyes, or make a smile cross his face.

Draco knew his father loved him – he wouldn't risk his life to save Draco's if that weren't the case – but he hadn't shown Draco any affection in years, which was why Draco wasn't hurt by the coldness in his father's face as he looked at him. Draco swallowed past the lump in his throat and sank his head, his brief hope turning sour in his mouth, turning leaden in his chest.

"What good is that? You know – you know I can't…" He was a failure. A disappointment to his father – the Mark on his arm was nothing but a charade, because Draco could never be a true Death Eater; he didn't even want to be. The whole thing sickened him. His mother sat beside him, soft and warm and smelling of violets and roses, her hand folding over her son's, and Draco stared at it. "I can't complete the sort of task the Dark Lord is likely to have set for me, and I don't imagine he'll be placated by you or Severus completing it in my stead, yet again." Draco met his father's cold, pale eyes, and couldn't think of anything to say but the truth. "I'm a fucking failure."

"Draco – language!" his mother chided, absurdly, and then, "You're not a failure. I will always be proud of you, my son. Always. No matter what. And I…love you very much." Draco's eyes widened. This was a…goodbye. He knew it. He'd heard enough of them over the years, between the Muggles and others that he'd had to torture, that he'd watched be killed.

"What's going on?" he demanded, casting off his mother's hand and shoving himself to his feet, staring down at her and then across at his father, waiting for some answers. Neither of them responded, a silent communication seeming to pass between them. "What's going on?" Draco demanded again, and his father sighed and rubbed a hand over his face, licked his lips and began.

"The Dark Lord has had word that Potter is back in Britain, in the north. He and his two companions, Weasley and Granger, have been spotted in Muggle villages by imperioed squibs. They've been seen in Dornoch, Golspie and Brora, in the Highlands, and from the pattern of their movement, it's safe to assume they'll probably be continuing up the coast to Helmsdale. The Dark Lord wishes you to go – alone – and capture them."

Draco stared at his father in disbelief, sinking back to the bed. This was ridiculous. He and he alone, against the three of them? Draco might be good at duelling, but he wasn't that bloody good. Perhaps there was a chance he could lay a trap, but it was a small, unlikely hope.

"If you bring back Potter, all will be forgiven and you shall be rewarded. If you bring back Granger and Weasley, but not Potter, then you shall be given another month in which to capture Potter. If you bring back Granger only, then the Dark Lord will kill me," his father continued calmly, and Draco's jaw clenched tight and his heart stopped. No. He knew what was coming next. It was typical of Voldemort's twisted humour.

"…if you only manage to capture Weasley, your mother will be killed."



"And if you manage to capture none of them at all, both your mother and I shall be killed, and you will have your wand taken from you, be blinded, and then be released in a Muggle town to their mercies." His father's voice was strangled despite his attempt at dispassion, and Draco heard his mother let out a soft sort of sobbing sound.

No. Oh fucking Merlin, no.

Draco felt sick. He felt sick and cold, and he was suddenly shivering all over, because there was no way that he could bring back the three of them, and Weasley and Granger would die for Potter before they allowed the bloody Boy-Who-Lived to be captured. Either his mother or his father were going to die, or both of them and Draco would get to wish he was dead, crippled and trapped without use of his magic amongst Muggles – if it didn't happen in actuality. Wonderful. He may as well kill his parents and then off himself now, painlessly and quickly, and if he wasn't such a fucking spineless coward, he really thought he might.

"So we're fucked, is that what you're trying to tell me?"

His father actually smiled at that, a dry, papery expression without any real humour. "Not quite."

Draco gulped. "Do you think – do you think the Dark Lord would agree to take my life in penance, if I fail in bringing back any of them?"

His father's humourless smile grew, and he shook his head slightly. "No."

"Of course not; that would be too fair," Draco choked out, not sure if he would have had the guts to ask it of Voldemort anyway, and feeling horribly ashamed about that fact. He buried his head in his hands. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Fuck." A hand rested on his shoulder, and he knew it was his mother's – his father never touched him.

"We want you to defect," she said quietly, and Draco's head jerked up, his eyes gluing to his mother's face.

"What? But then…you won't even have a chance…" He might not be able to take down the Trio fairly, but there could be some way to get his hands on all three of them. He had to try.

"You haven't killed anyone, Draco," his mother said, her periwinkle blue eyes soft on his face. "You have hurt people, but you have never killed anyone. If you turn yourself in, and cooperate with the Order, then you will live. You will probably get some years in Azkaban, but with the Dementors no longer there, it's not…" Her voice shook and failed at that, and Draco's father took over, clear and cold.

"Without the Dementors, it's only a cell. No worse than life here. And they won't give you life, not even close. If you act the role of the reluctant, terrified boy forced into the role of Death Eater, you may get off easily." His father's face darkened with the faintest contempt. "And really, you won't even have to act that, will you?"

"A fact for which I am very proud of him, Lucius, and so should you be," his mother said firmly, eyes snapping at his father, who immediately softened his gaze. Draco just stared at them both, bewildered, hollow grey eyes darting between their pale, grim figures.

"You can't be serious. You want me to turn traitor and be the cause of your deaths? Purposely? That's – that's fucking insane. You can't ask me to do that." Draco stared at his parents pleadingly. Surely that couldn't be their only option. Surely there were other possibilities, other ways out of this mess. He couldn't sentence his parents to death, to save his own pathetic life. That was too much, too awful. "Please."

"Voldemort has given you a month in which to retrieve Potter, or the other two. If you can come up with a better plan within that timeframe, then by all means try it, Draco. But if you have no other options to attempt, and cannot bring Potter or all three of them back, then defect. Save yourself, even if you think you can capture Granger or Weasley. Your mother and I have talked about it, and we do not wish to live without the other, so there will be nothing here for you to come back to, should you fail." His father bestowed an astonishingly tender look upon his mother, and walked to her, took her hand and drew her to her feet, and for a moment Draco felt like he was intruding, as Lucius laid a gentle kiss on Narcissa's forehead. And then the pale woman turned to look at her son.

"Save yourself, Draco. Please."

He nodded, not trusting his voice to speak, rage and tears seething up in him sickly. It took him a moment to regain control of himself, blinking hard against stinging hot tears. "When do I leave?" he asked shortly.

"As soon as you've packed," his father said crisply. "But we shall have to leave you now – we've already stayed too long. The Dark Lord will be suspecting us of trying to work out a way to aid you."

Draco sneered bitterly. "Yes, and we mustn't have that, must we? Wouldn't want me to actually succeed."

"Be safe, please," his mother said, cutting him off, and taking his head in her hands, and he bent obediently to let her place a kiss on his cheek. "Be safe, and careful, and for Merlin's sake, if you think you can't succeed, then defect. Don't risk your life. Please."

"Yes, mum," he said dutifully in a low, choked voice.

"I love you, Draco."

"Love you too, mum," he mumbled too quietly for even his father to hear. And then, shockingly, his father embraced him, awkwardly and brusquely, but tightly, his hand clapping against Draco's back.

"Do what you have to do, son," his father said, rather unhelpfully, Draco thought dazedly, because did that mean defect, or be willing to kill? It was impossible to know, and Draco had no fucking idea. But there was no time to ask, because his father patted Draco's cheek roughly, a last gesture of uncharacteristic affection, and then his parents silently slipped from the room, shutting the door behind them with a quiet click.

Draco stared at the door with wounded eyes for a moment, and then he gritted his teeth and accioed a small rucksack with an undetectable extension charm on it, turning to his drawers and beginning to pack, quickly. Draco didn't know what the fuck he was going to do, but he only had a month to do it in, so he'd best not waste any bloody time. He'd need all the time he had available to come up with some sort of plan that even had a chance of working.

Draco did decide one thing rather cold-bloodedly as he shoved his socks into his rucksack; if he got the chance to grab Granger and save his mother's life, he would. His parents' determination to live or die together could go get fucked, and their plan for him to defect could take a long walk off a short fucking plank – there was no way he was voluntarily locking himself up in Azkaban. No, Draco would aim to at least get Granger, if he couldn't come up with a better plan. And he really hoped he would. Not just for his father's sake, but because he really didn't want Voldemort to get his hands on Granger. She might be a know-it-all mudblood bitch, but Draco had tortured her and seen her tortured by others enough to last him a bloody lifetime, and he really didn't want to have to participate in hurting her anymore, or even bear witness to it.

Draco shoved the extra wand that Ollivander had made for him not long before the wandmaker died of malnutrition into the holster strapped to his calf, and hefted his rucksack to his back. He needed to head to a Muggle library and seek out maps and pictures of Brora to give him something to focus on, for the apparition. His lip curled at the thought of all the Muggles, pressing in around him while the Dark Mark burnt hidden on his arm. It was a horrible feeling, being in a crowd of those ignorant people milling about like cattle, all completely unaware that a marked predator walked in their midst. He was a monster amongst them, because even if he was a poor and pale fraud, he was still a wolf and not a sheep. Good, Draco told himself defiantly. Good. That was how it should be.

Reviews and concrit welcomed!The idea of using photographs in order to apparate to a place is not one I can take credit for, but is instead a concept that I've nicked from the fabulous everythursday. Thank you for reading! Liss xx