Life Debt

How to Cope

~Draco~

I had never experienced heartbreak, so I had nothing to compare to my mother's death. My heart, though up to that point I wasn't sure I had one, tore in two as I watched her body fall. I didn't even register the fact that I reached out and caught her, falling to my knees in the process. I couldn't tear my eyes away from her, even if I'd wanted to. She felt so small, so light and fragile in my arms, it was hard to believe she'd been as strong as I remembered her. Even though I never strayed my gaze away from her, I knew immediately who it was that had walked up behind me.

Instinctively, I knew it was Granger's hand on my shoulder. She was the only one who would come up to me like this. Not even my father paused to mourn for his wife. Why was she comforting me? She knelt beside us, and I could see out of the corner of my eye as a stray tear rolled down her cheek. For the second time that night, she struck me as pure, her tear clearing a path along her bloodied cheek.

At the sound of my name, I'd wanted to strike her, only kept myself from doing so because I didn't want to drop my mother's body. She noticed my tension, calling to me again in a softer tone, using my given name.

"Draco…" I felt like a child in that moment, an orphaned child, alone in the world. I let the tears flow freely, for once not caring about the appearance I was supposed to maintain. In front of Granger, of all people, I allowed myself to break down. She restated the offer, but left before I even thought about it again. Voldemort's order to be back within the hour rang in my ears. That didn't give me much time to put my mother to rest. Once I was on my feet again, I saw what had sent him into that rage. My aunt Bella was dead, her limp form lay a few feet away from where Voldemort had stood only moments earlier.

I Apparated outside the grounds of the Manor, walking through the gates with my mother in my arms. As I made my way to where I knew Snape was buried, I couldn't help but think of Granger's offer. I had nothing left on this side of the war. My mother was all I had worth protecting, but she died protecting me instead. Voldemort clearly had no regard for his followers, none whatsoever. He demonstrated that clearly by killing Snape. If it hadn't been because Voldemort wanted to inspect his body afterwards, Snape would have rotted away wherever it was he'd died. I knew, if I hadn't taken up the task of my mother's burial, not even my father would have gone back for her body.

It was the early hours of the morning by now. I hadn't even realized how long the battle had taken. I stood before Snape's grave, lit by the weak light of the early morning. The only marker for his grave was a slab of stone, his name engraved in simple letters. I placed my mother beside the mound of earth covering Snape. With a few flicks of my wand, I made a decent opening in the ground, deep enough to fit the casket I conjured to place her in. Before finally closing the lid, I gave her a small kiss on the forehead, closing my eyes to keep the tears in.

"Good-bye mother." With another flick of my wand, the casket descended into the ground, dirt and grass covering it almost instantly. My mother was gone.

I knew I didn't have much time left, so I went back to Hogwarts soon after. No Death Eater even looked my way. I had too much emotion in me, I couldn't bear to sit alone, so I made my way to the Room of Requirement again.

"What happened?" The alarm in Snape's voice made me realize I hadn't even bothered to wipe and blood off.

"Diagon Alley. We attacked. The Order interrupted." I was sitting in my usual chair, face in my hands. The apprehension in his next question was clear.

"Are you alright?"

"Do I look ok?!" I couldn't help the glare I shot my former mentor. Once my anger was out, though, it was difficult to contain. "My mother is dead because of him. DEAD!" I hated the way Dumbledore's eyes softened, the way his face was filled with compassion and sympathy. "I don't want your pity…" My tone grew menacing, and I forced myself to look away from them.

Neither one of them spoke. For once, Snape was left speechless. We sat in silence for a few moments. I couldn't bear to let myself think about my mother for much longer. Every train of thought led to her, and it was all I could do from having another breakdown like I'd had in front of Granger. Without another word to either one of them, I walked out. I would have given anything to wake up from this nightmare.

~Hermione~

I've never seen anyone as broken as I'd seen Malfoy. To experience your mother's death, to see that she intercepted it for you, it would have been enough to drive me insane. I wanted to hold him, like I would Harry or Ron, but I'd been forced to settle on just placing a hand on his shoulder. I convinced myself that the need to comfort him stemmed from natural compassion, and not anything I could ever feel for him. With one last look at him, shoulders shaking, I left.

It wasn't until I'd reached Grimmauld place that I realized I'd been crying too. I did my best to stop the tears, wiping at my face to make the liquid seem like blood. That was a mistake, though, because a few shards of glass were still lodged in my skin. It stung, only provoking more tears. Steeling myself, I made my way to the door.

Everyone was scattered throughout the house, and the first to see me this time was Molly. She embraced me tightly, calling out to everyone that I was back and safe. Ron and Harry embraced me next, but I winced at the pressure, pain shooting everywhere. They apologized, but I smiled. Even that hurt, though, and I had to excuse myself to the bathroom. A terrifying sight looked back at me from the mirror. My face was completely covered in blood, small streaks running through it from my tears.

Pulling out my wand, I began extracting the glass shards. They clattered into the sink, unleashing new streams of blood. Despite how quickly I healed the cuts, much of the liquid managed to drip onto the porcelain surface. I washed my face, unwilling to look at any more of the blood.

"Scourgify." With the bathroom clean and my cuts healed, I went upstairs, where I knew Luna and Ginny were in our room. They were usually the ones to take care of the injured. I was sore all over, and I knew I was bleeding in more places than I could see. Once I was in our room, I stripped out of my cloak.

"Merlin, 'Mione…how did you manage that?" I could only imagine what my body looked like. My back definitely had to be beaten up pretty badly. A chill ran through me as she worked her healing magic.

"You're lucky to be alive…" Luna's dreamy voice trailed off for a moment before returning to earth. "I saw how that storefront collapsed onto you…these are mere scratches compared to what could have happened." Despite the usual dreamy quality of her voice, I sensed the question beneath it. How did you do it?

"Yeah…" I allowed my voice to trail off. Once Ginny was done, I thanked her, changing into a different set of clothes. I caught a glimpse of Dobby in the hall, and he gave me a significant look. Had Malfoy made a decision? I quickly excused myself, but didn't miss the look the two witches exchanged. I grabbed a book on the way out, making my way to the usually empty living room. Almost everyone should have been resting. Once we were alone, Dobby spoke.

"He said he would think about it, miss… Master Draco was very unsure." His eyes were laced with sympathy, but all I could think about was how much Malfoy would hate for anyone to pity him.

"I see. Has he said anything else?" Dobby shook his head.

"Dobby will go see him now, though miss. Narcissa Malfoy is dead, and Dobby has a duty to perform."

"Duty?" That struck me as extremely odd, considering that he hadn't served the Malfoy family in five years.

"Yes, miss. Lady Malfoy entrusted a secret to Dobby. She gave Dobby a job to do if she died. Master Dumbledore said Dobby must still perform this duty, even though Dobby no longer serves the Malfoys!" And with that final clarification, he left, leaving me more confused than ever. Dumbledore had told Dobby to follow a Malfoy's order?

~Draco~

A small pop brought me out of my wallowing. I was lying on Snape's old bed, unable to think of anything but my mother and, regrettably, Granger. I sat up, knowing I should expect Dobby at the doorway. It took me aback when I realized he was right in front of me.

"What do you want? I said I would think about it, didn't I?" Despite my clear tone of anger, the elf stood his ground, meeting my frustrated gaze with a determined one.

"Dobby has brought something for Draco Malfoy! Lady Malfoy instructed Dobby to deliver this upon her death…" He handed me a notebook, and I recognized the feminine script on the first page. It was my mother's writing.

Draco,

If you're reading this, son, it is because I am dead. Just know that I love you, and I always will.

This journal contains my secrets, Draco, secrets not even your father knows. I know that this is a lot to take in, but I want you to know that I've always had your best interest at heart. I don't want my baby boy to become a Death Eater.

Love,

Narcissa

My hands were trembling as I read her note. The journal itself wasn't much, simply a few pages. It seemed she only recorded once in a while. The first entry was Voldemort's fall.

I can't help but rejoice at the idea that the wretched Lord is finally gone! My baby won't be growing up in a time of war. He won't be forced to join the Death Eaters. Of course, Lucius is furious that his precious leader is gone. Doesn't he have any idea what that monster could do to our family?

The entry continued to talk about how happy she was, how great it was that Voldemort was gone for good. She marveled at how a baby no older than her own had been his demise. The next entry was not as cheerful.

He's back. He's back and he's killed a child barely older than my Draco. It could have been my child he killed! How can Lucius be so happy? That monster has returned, and I know he will tear apart what little family I have. Draco seems so…eager to follow in his father's footsteps. I pray to whatever deity watches over us that it never happens. I couldn't bear to see my son's skin marred by the same mark that brands his father and my sister.

This entry was considerably longer than the first, going on to contemplate how she could possibly escape with me. It seemed like she'd given up halfway through writing it, though, accepting her duty as wife of a Death Eater, and playing host to her 'master.' I remember being awed by the Dark Arts. Disgust was all I felt now. The rest of her entries were basically the same. I purposely didn't read her thoughts on my induction into the Death Eaters. After reading through the rest of her entries, I knew full well how she felt about it.

My mother had been against Voldemort this whole time. She'd stayed out of duty to her family. The thought that I was the reason she stayed was enough to send another bout of disgust through my nerves. Never once did she mention love for her husband, which I'd always assumed may have been present at some point. Judging by my father's reaction to her death, however, it probably wasn't there anymore. My mother was right. That monster tore our family, what little I had, to shreds.

I created a hole in the corner of the journal, and shrunk it. I slipped it onto a silver chain my mother had given me years ago. This notebook was never going to leave my side. I'd take my mothers secrets to the grave. When I looked up a the elf again, he looked back at me expectantly.

"Dobby is sorry for Master Draco's loss." Of everything I could have said, what came out of my mouth wasn't what I had intended.

"Why do you still call me master, Dobby? You don't serve my family anymore." He looked taken aback by my question, but answered it anyway.

"That is true, Dobby no longer serves the Malfoys, but Dumbledore. Dumbledore is dead, and left Dobby instructions, sir. Dobby's instructions were to help Master Harry, Miss Hermione, Master Weezy, and Master Draco!" He said this with pride, and I couldn't help but smirk at his pronunciation of Weasley's name. My momentary amusement quickly faded, however, when everything he said finally registered. Dumbledore had told him to help me? Was that why it had been so easy to communicate with Granger?

Without even stopping to address the elf, I fled the room. I needed answers. Dumbledore's face greeted me, nothing but serenity, while Snape looked surprised.

"What the hell did you have planned, Dumbledore?!"

"Draco, show some respect!" Snape was furious, but Dumbledore simply held up a hand to stop the inevitable tirade.

"It's alright, Severus. Mr. Malfoy requires explanations, and he is completely within his rights to ask. Now, Mr. Malfoy," He must have noticed the rage that flashed in my eyes at the name, "Draco, please understand the predicament we are in. Your mother never wanted you to become a Death Eater, as I am sure you've come to realize by now. Not to mention, you are in the perfect position to act as a Spy. You are gifted in Occlumency the same way Severus was. Everything I planned, how I made sure Dobby could also assist you, has been for your protection, your safety."

"You think it safe for me to become a spy? You're dafter than I thought!"

"At least as a spy you will also have the Order's protection." There was no arguing that. He made a good point. Besides, Granger still owed me.

At the thought of Hermione Granger interfering with my death, images of her limp body in my arms came to mind, replacing my mother's. In my mind's eye, I could see her strong body slacken in my grip, and I would collapse again, much like I had with my mother. If Granger died…I didn't know why the thought still bothered me so much. Whatever it was, it spurred me to act, yet again. My mother's death still fresh in my mind, I responded, "Fine. I'll do it."

~Hermione~

"Miss Hermione! Miss Hermione!" The small voice woke me from my sleep. I hadn't realized it, but I'd fallen asleep on the couch.

"What is it Dobby?"

"Come to your room, miss. We must talk in private." He placed a thin finger to his lips, communicating that we needed to be quite. There wasn't the slightest noise anywhere in the house. It was impossible to tell what time it was, but I was sure everyone was asleep. I wondered why Dobby would opt to talk in my room, instead of where Luna and Ginny wouldn't hear. I understood as soon as I walked in. Both their beds were still made, meaning they were with Ron and Harry. Battles tend to do that to people, drive home the idea that life isn't always a guarantee.

As I walked in, the door shut behind me, and I turned to meet a pair of eyes I never thought I'd ever see in this room. Draco Malfoy, tall and proud, stood before me. There wasn't even a trace of the child I'd seen holding his mother. In spite of myself, my heartbeat quickened.

"W-What are you doing here?" I wanted to kick myself for the tremble in my voice.

"Why do you think, Granger? I'm taking you up on your offer." In the minimal light, a thin chain around his neck caught my eye. Dangling on it was a book charm. I knew, from experience, that it was merely a shrunken book. He caught me staring and immediately tucked the charm into the neck of his black shirt. I turned to look at Dobby, but he simply nodded encouragingly. I turned my back to Malfoy and walked over to my bed. I motioned him to sit beside me.

"I'm sorry for your mother's death, Malfoy, but I do hope that isn't the only reason you've decided to help us." I didn't look at him, but I could feel the tension coming off him in waves. Dobby had already left us.

"It's not." My neck practically snapped when I looked up at him. He smirked, and I wondered how it was he could transition from the lost little boy to an arrogant man again. "We all have our reasons for what we do, Granger. I won't lie to you, my mother's death pushed me to the breaking point, but other factors played a part as well. Suffice it to say that I'm taking up Snape's vacant post. No one questioned him, so why should anyone question me?" I decided to respect his wishes. After all, I owed him my life.

"Fair enough, Malfoy." Almost immediately, I wanted to take back what I said. Again, as before, the mention of his surname produced nothing but frustration for him. His eyes flashed dangerously again, and this time he was free to hurt me if he wished. It looked like he was fighting the urge to do just that. He gripped my sheets tightly on either side of himself. "If you don't want to be called that, I could call you Draco, if you wish."

Hearing his first name come from me that easily was unnerving, but I pushed down the discomfort. He visibly relaxed again, and I took that as confirmation.

"Thank you, Granger." Words of gratitude seemed foreign in his voice.

"Hermione. If I'm calling you Draco, you should address me by my first name as well." He turned to look at me, a curious expression in his eyes.

"Fine. Hermione. I suppose this little rendezvous is over, then? It isn't wise for me to be gone from the castle for long." He stood to leave, and I followed suit. Dobby was back again, to take him to Hogwarts. Before he could reach the elf, though, I had to stop him. I had one more question. Judging by his change of heart, maybe he knew the answer.

"Wait," I placed my hand, tentatively, on his arm. "Draco, why did you save me? Have you found the answer to that yet?"

~Draco~

Her touch sent a weird sensation buzzing through me. I'd never felt that before, and it gave me pause before answering her questions. Leave it to Granger to always ask questions.

"No. I'm not quite sure of the answer to that yet." I had barely turned around before I spoke, looking at her over my shoulder, her eyes holding me in place more than her hand. "You could say I was acting on instinct. Something inside me compelled me to save you, I'm just not sure what it was." For the first time, I found myself comfortable speaking to her. My guards were down, and I could tell she saw right through me.

"I see." Her eyes betrayed her amazement, curiosity at my words. I could practically hear the cogs turning in her head.

"Make of that what you will, Hermione." I broke her hold on me, turning to face her before Dobby Apparated us away. "Just remember what I said before. I won't always be able to protect you."

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