Life Debt

Weighing the Options

Draco's POV

Even when they were alive, I never spent this much time with them. It was unnerving, to know that I was getting away with visiting with Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape right under Voldemort's nose. This couldn't bode well, but nothing could stop me from taking advantage of this opportunity. Dumbledore and Snape were confined to the portrait in the Room of Requirement, now that Voldemort had completely demolished the Headmaster's office. It was sick and twisted, imagining what Voldemort looked like seated at Dumbledore's desk. It just didn't feel right. I couldn't hope to understand where that sentiment came from, simply that is sickened me to the core.

I would go visit them from time to time, wondering out loud to them why it was that Voldemort was so quite. Not even his inner circle had heard from him since the day of the battle. Was he plotting something? Only time could tell, but I was becoming impatient. A week passed, and no one, not even Aunt Bella, his most loyal now that Severus was gone, had seen him. Once or twice my father had told me how she would complain endlessly to my mother about how she missed seeing her Dark Lord. It made me want to gag.

Every now and again I would come across others in the halls, dawdling about, exploring the castle they hadn't occupied since their youth. Absolutely no one knew why Voldemort was so quiet, but all of us could feel the rising tension, the apprehension, that something big was going to happen.

For the umpteenth time, I found myself in that small room, seated across from the portrait of Dumbledore and Snape, their eyes scanning my countenance. I linked my hands in front of me, leaning over as if I were to pray.

"What could he possibly be planning?" I muttered this mostly to myself, but it elicited a response from Snape.

"Does it really matter, Draco, if you're not going to do anything about it?" For the past week they have been hinting at me to join the Order. Like I would really swallow my pride and go ask themfor help? Clearly my mentor didn't know me as well as he thought. Snape continued to be insistent, but after a few days Dumbledore had stopped. That didn't make me feel much better, though. His hints at my switching sides were replaced by the unnerving, never ending twinkle in his eyes. Granted, that twinkle was ever present, but now it was intensified. It made me wonder. What does he know that I don't?

I glared at him in response to his question.

"Who says I won't?" I'm not sure what made me say it, but it was too late to take it back. Needless to say, I enjoyed the surprise on my mentor's face. I continued, "Just because I won't run to Potter for help doesn't mean I won't try to do something."

"I dare say, Mr. Malfoy, they need your help more than you need theirs." Dumbledore surprised us both, not by speaking, but by what he said. The Order needed myhelp? Help from the well-known and despised Draco Malfoy? Yeah, right.

"Dare indeed…What makes you think the Order needs his help, Albus? He is but a boy, he should be seeking refuge." My anger flared at his words.

"I am not a CHILD! Nor am I a coward, so I will not be seeking refuge with anybody, least of all Potter." I spit his name. For Snape, of all people, to suggest that I hide behind Potter was insulting. Simply the mention of the word coward was enough to set me off, triggering the memory of Granger. I still hadn't told them about my little escapade.

Keeping the secret was eating away at me. Someone had to know, but the only person I trusted enough to tell was dead, portrait notwithstanding. It didn't seem like I had a choice, though. Again, I had no control over my own actions.

"Last time I encountered Granger, she was nowhere near trusting, despite how she got away. What makes you think the others won't react in kind?" I couldn't bring myself to straight out tell them what happened. Let them ask questions for once.

"What do you mean, how she got away?" Snape was intrigued, I could tell by the quirk of his eyebrow. Dumbledore, on the other hand, gave me a faint smile. It made me shudder, since that smile was usually reserved for one of his Golden trio.

"I let her escape. More directly, I saved her life, got her out of the way of the Killing Curse." Dumbledore's smile simply grew more defined, while Snape stared at me. I went into a little more detail regarding the rest of her safe departure. By the end neither of their expressions had changed.

"Do you realize what this means, Draco?"

"Hermione Granger owes me her life. I know, and I made sure she remembered it." But there was no way in hell I was about to ask her to take me in as payment.

"This is your chance-!"

"No! I won't go groveling to her like some sick puppy! Especially not to her." He jumped back slightly, eyes widening in surprise at my outburst. He was about to speak again when Dumbledore held out his arm.

"No, Severus." He turned to look at me, "We can't force you into anything Mr. Malfoy, merely offer our guidance. Personally, I think it wise for you to collaborate with the Order, but that is not a choice we can make for you. As for their reactions, even if Ms. Granger didn't owe you her life, they would take you in. You can be sure of that." Despite the confidence and reassurance that was practically oozing from his words, I refused to believe him. For what felt like the hundredth time, I walked out of the room without looking at either of them.

Anyone who would have seen me in the halls in that moment would have steered clear of my path, just from the look on my face. I was fuming. There was no way this was my only option. I couldn't just go to Granger and ask to be taken in for protection. Not only that, but Dumbledore expected me to take Snape's place as spy for the Order.

At least I'm not a Slytherin coward. Her words echoed off the walls in my mind, the barriers I kept everyone out with. Her voice taunted me, even in my sleep. My fury was threatening to bubble over, so I stopped before going into Snape's old rooms. It seemed like I wouldn't be able to contain my ire. Without realizing it, I let out a low growl, punching the dungeon wall. Pain jolted me from my hypnotic anger, and I winced at my now bloody knuckles.

After a few deep breaths, I allowed myself to cross the threshold to the room. I almost didn't notice Dobby standing by the door to the bedroom. By the time I sat in the armchair, facing the fire, the house-elf cleared his throat.

"What do you want?" I made no effort to hide my foul mood.

"D-Dobby has a message for Master Draco…it's from Miss Hermione…" My head snapped up at the mention of Granger's name. She sent me a message? Why? Hand trembling, Dobby handed me the folded note.

Malfoy,

We need to talk. I know this is sudden, but I want to help you with whatever is bothering you. Clearly you can't be all bad, if you saved me, and I know that is part of what troubles you. Please, respond to this note, even if you reject my offer.

-Hermione

What was she playing at, offering me help? Did she think this would make us even? Better yet, what made her think the other two-thirds of the Golden Trio would take this in stride? As soon as the letter had processed in my mind, it went up in flames. Apparently Granger had given the house elf the same order I had. At least she knew secrecy was paramount. I was pretty sure Potter and Weasley had no idea about this either.

"Why?"

"Miss Hermione wants to help you Master Draco!" I scoffed at that.

"And why would she want to do that?" At this, the elf became apprehensive. He broke eye contact with me and began to walk around the room.

"Dobby has been…watching Master Draco. Dobby knows Master Draco has not been sleeping well." At his statement my mind froze, along with the rest of me. The house elf had been spying on me sleeping? The mere thought of it made me feel invaded. Not even my thoughts were private anymore! My mother always told me I had the habit of talking in my sleep. When I started to live at Hogwarts I had to place a silencing charm on my bed so my roommates didn't hear my thoughts. Now I had a house elf listening in.

The elf winced at what was probably a look of unbridled fury on my face. It wouldn't do for me to explode, though. Death Eater or not, I am a Malfoy, and Malfoys don't waste their energy losing their tempers in an outburst. Through gritted teeth, I responded.

"Why?"

"For Miss Hermione's protection, sir." I closed my eyes at the mention of her name. Of course, the elf would want to protect Granger. It calmed me somewhat that it wasn't on her orders that he spied on me. After a deep breath, I was calmer than before.

"And why does she want to rectify that?" Of course I noticed from the note that he'd told her of my mumbling her name. There was no denying it, really. In my nightmares and dreams, she was a recurring figure. It was only a matter of time before her name left my mouth in my sleep.

"I-It was Dobby's idea, sir. Dobby thought that perhaps Master Draco would switch sides! Miss Hermione thinks so as well. By helping the Order, Miss Hermione will help Master Draco…" So it looked like Dumbledore and Granger were on the same page. Unfortunately, this actually made me consider it. After all, it wouldn't be me begging, would it? But, as with everything I did, suspicions arose. How did I know she wouldn't just try to capture me and whisk me off to Azkaban?

She clearly already realized how easily the house elf could travel between locations. What if she was just luring me in to arrest me? Who's to say that even if she didn't, Potter and Weasley would share her sentiment?

I looked to Dobby. Large, hopeful eyes stared back at me. To think, this elf is decades older than me, and yet is so much like a child. Did he honestly think I would switch sides?

"What makes you think I'm going to help Granger, Dobby? My family has never given you reason to believe we could be good…why start believing it now?" A confident look on his face told me he had an answer ready for me.

"Master Draco is not like his father. Master Draco showed Dobby some compassion as a child. Dobby knows, sir, that Master Draco is pained, and would give anything to rid himself of that pain. Lucius Malfoy," Dobby spat the name, and I somehow had no inkling to correct him, "would never have let Miss Hermione escape. Master Draco is not evil, simply misguided." This was the first time I'd ever heard anyone say I'm not my father…

I couldn't help the way my eyes widened in surprise, or my lack of response at that. What was I supposed to say? Should I contradict him, when everything he said was spot on? How was it that a lowly house elf could see right through my carefully constructed mask, but I could hide my betrayal and doubts for Voldemort and the other Death Eaters?

Now it was my turn to break eye contact. I simply couldn't stand the innocence gleaming back at me. It reminded me of Granger's eyes, warm, scared…defiant. Did I really have it in me to betray the most dangerous wizard alive?

She said to respond to her note, even if my response was rejection. I had a feeling that if I simply sent her a note with the word 'no' on it, she would continue to insist. Then again, if I said nothing, she would simply send another message, wouldn't she? Not to mention that I was still debating my decision. It would seem the cosmos was working against me. First Dumbledore and Snape, now Granger and a house elf.

"Tell her I'll think about it…" I had too much on my mind to make a decision right there and then. Voldemort's lack of activity was still at the forefront of my mind. It unnerved me that he had yet to announce his next step. Lord Voldemort was not the type to dawdle, or laze about waiting for the other side to make a move.

"Yes sir. Please, Master Draco will consider the offer?" I had never had a house elf ask anything of me. Surprise etching on my features was inevitable. A nod was all I could offer him. After a faint smile, he disappeared. Just in time, too, because moments later my father burst into the room.

"Draco, we are attacking Diagon Alley, now." I couldn't help the way I reacted.

"What? When was the order given out?"

"Less than a minute ago."

"Why?" He looked at me with suspicion, but answered anyway. There wasn't any time to waste reprimanding me. We continued speaking as I shrugged my cloak on, grabbing the mask.

"The Dark Lord did not want to give any hint the was planning anything. He suspects a traitor in our midst." At this, I tried to keep myself from paling. There was no way he could suspect me. I haven't seen him in days! Trying to calm myself down, I nodded.

At the Apparition point, we parted ways. I didn't know what I was going to do. Part of me hoped Granger would be there, so I could perhaps rectify my slip up in the forest, but the other part of me hoped the Order wouldn't be there. I knew this was just a tactic to draw them out. What if I couldn't bring myself to attack her, after having saved her once? Not only that, but what if she interfered with one of her own attacking me?

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