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If Only We Could Smile

Chapter Text

The Hogwarts grounds were in chaos.

People wearing black robes and white masks were shooting off curses and hexes left and right, the colorful spells lighting up the dark night. They had been fighting for hours, students and teachers and members of the Order of the Phoenix, all of them banding together to protect their last sanctuary. Their home.

There were bodies littering the ground, some of them with the intestines' ripped open, others with their eyes wide in death without any visible wounds and even more with boils and cuts and bruises. Behind the battle stood the high castle of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, towering above them all like some terrible omen. The air was full of the rotting scent of the death and despair as people fought for their very lives.

As the Death Eaters did their best to mutilate and viciously murder their opponents, so too did their opponents do their best to stop them.

It was a clear night, not very suitable for the somber happenings.

The screams of sorrow and pain filled the air of the battlegrounds as people saw their loved ones fall, their breath taken from them in brutal curses. What had once been a beautiful school of magic and mystic was now reduced to the place of a crusade for a madman. In the middle of it all were the members of the famed Order of the Phoenix, protectors of the Light side, fighting against the Inner Circle of the Death Eaters.

The battle wasn't at a standstill, but they were evenly matched, both of the sides powerful and knowledgeable in magic, both obscure and not.

They fought, lights bursting from their wands, words of magic and might falling from their lips, as they fought a battle to the death. There would be no mercy, no pardon, no forgiveness. This was the second coming of Lord Voldemort and his feared followers and this time the Imperious Curse wouldn't be enough to get anyone off the hook. That was, if the Light side won.

It didn't seem like they would.

The Light side had power and knowledge and perseverance. But they were vastly outnumbered by people with far less morals and consciences to stop them from resorting to truly horrific things.

Harry James Potter, the Savior that had all the hope of the Light, was missing.

All hope seemed to be lost.

Draco Malfoy, traitor to his family and magic, cursed as he barely managed to duck a hex that would have turned his insides to stone.

This was a nightmare come true.

From his wand came a curse, barely legal, that snapped the bones of the victim. He didn't stop to see if it hit the target, nor did he look behind him to find out if he was followed. He was on the outer edges of the battle, hidden in the darkness, but his status as a traitor meant that people kept searching him out. And as an ex-Death Eater, he didn't doubt that if he killed anyone here tonight, whether they were on the Dark or Light side, he would be going to prison—if not have his soul just sucked out of his body—for a very long time.

He hadn't seen his parents so far.

He knew that they were present, they were still far too loyal to the Dark Lord not to be, but no matter where he fought his way, he couldn't find them. It was frustrating and annoying and with every body clad in black billowing robes and white masks that fell, a creeping fear that it might be his mother or father overwhelmed him.

This wasn't what he had ever wanted.

His life wasn't supposed to go this way.

He was supposed to serve the Dark Lord, a charismatic overwhelmingly powerful man. He was supposed to be at his parents' side, doing what was necessary to live up to his name. He was supposed to be a person to envy, at the top of his classes and wealthy. This was never supposed to be what his life amounted to.

He'd chosen to betray his family, his friends and his very magic. And now he was on the losing side.

There were so many things that he had wanted to do, wanted to learn, that he had never had the chance to and with every curse he just narrowly ducked, the more he suspected that he would never have the chance. It would be a fitting end, he supposed, for the last Malfoy to die in disgrace.

Draco fell and rolled on the ground in an effort to avoid more curses headed his way. Ah, he thought, if only I wasn't such a coward. If only…

A burst of pain, the shrill ringing of a bird and then—

nothing.

Chapter Text

He came to abruptly.

Blinking his eyes rapidly, Draco felt for his wand, cursing silently when he couldn't find it. He turned on the soft bed (not in a hospital, then), letting his hand feel for the bedside table as he was too scared to keep his eyes open. He wasn't sure what he would find.

He wasn't sure what he wanted to find.

He opened his eyes.

Sunlight streamed in through the high windows.

Draco stared out at his room, nearly just like he remembered it before he left. Shelves upon shelves filled with books lining a wall, the dresser and desk and the thick blue rug covering the floor. It was all as he remembered, not a thing out of place. There was the door to his private bathroom, the door to the adjourning study and the door to the hallway. Everything was correct.

The problem was, it was correct years ago.

It wasn't how he left his room the last time before he had left and never came back. It was the little things that were different, the paint on the walls, the candleholders on the tables, the couches in the middle of the large room that had been replaced three times. Draco sat up on the bed and noted that the covers were old as well.

They had been replaced a few months before he turned on the Dark side.

What was going on?

Stumbling out of the bed, he hurried towards his desk, taking a hold of the newspaper he could see laying there frantically. The date was all wrong.

It was, according to the paper, the year of 1994.

Fuck, fuck, fuck! What the hell was going on?

He crumbled the paper in his hands after he took in the front-page. The news was about the Death Eater attack on the Quidditch match. Which had happened what felt like ages ago. It was old news.

Certainly nothing worth reporting. But the only news article on his desk was always from the same day.

A flash of fire in the air behind him made him turn around hastily.

Draco breathed out deeply when he caught sight of Fawkes, Dumbledore's phoenix familiar, smaller than he remembered. The red bird was flying in the air in front of him, fire sprouting in its wake that soon dissipated. Well, he supposed it would be safe to assume the bird had had something to do with whatever was going on.

It made the most sense.

"Okay, Fawkes," he started, "tell me the truth. Am I dead?"

The flaming bird seemed to shake its head. Draco furrowed his brows. "So, what is this, time travel?"

Fawkes let out a victorious sound that he presumed meant yes.

Draco tilted his head to the side. "And I assume you had something to do with this, as you're here?"

The bird once again made the same shrill sound. Narrowing his eyes, Draco huffed and dragged his hands through his hair. "So, all that really happened? I wasn't just having a really bad dream?"

The bird appeared to nod.

"Again, let me make sure I got this right. I died, and you brought me back into the past?"

The bird shrilled highly and started flying around him in a dizzying rush. Draco groaned and sank down on one of the couches in the room, a comfortable black one. He buried his head in his hands and tried to make sense of it all. Well, there wasn't much to make sense of, he was in the past apparently. He was inclined to believe the words of a phoenix, they didn't have the tendency to lie. The question was why. Why did it send him back? What was so different about him that he deserved it?

Maybe it wasn't anything about him at all? Maybe it brought many people back when they died. Maybe it was an unknown quirk of phoenixes—but no that just sounded ridiculous.

Maybe it wasn't complicated at all. The phoenix had brought him back to a time when he was still in a good place with his family. When the Dark Lord was still building up his army, still making sordid plots and planning his moves. Perhaps he shouldn't be bothered by the why's and how's, but rather concentrate on what to do now.

If he was a better person, his immediate response would be to use this chance to get ahead of the Dark Lord, to use his knowledge to defeat him. To defeat the most fearsome and powerful Dark Lord this century.

It should be his immediate response. It was what a good person—a Light person—would do. It was undoubtedly what Harry Potter would do. Hell, it was what any sane person would do.

But Draco was selfish. He'd betrayed everything he had been raised to believe in once and it hadn't gone well. It hadn't led to a good or even a decent conclusion. It hadn't made a difference.

All it had made him into was an enemy of the people he loved.

He didn't want to be that again. He didn't want to be a person that would betray his loved ones, that would turn his back on his history, on his very sense of self. He had been there, done that and guess what? The ending sucked.

It was a horrible thing to even imagine, against everything he had decided when he went to the Light side in the first place. It was horrific and terrible, and he could barely believe he could even contemplate the idea, but… what other options did he truly have? It was a year, barely even that, before the Dark Lord would be back at full power, cursing everything and everyone that didn't agree with him. And there was nothing he could do about that.

Voldemort would be back, insane, disfigured and ready to kill.

Draco grunted when he felt the warmth of Fawkes on his neck. Sitting up properly, he stretched his legs out in front of him and took a deep breath. Now was no time to panic. He turned his gaze to the red bird that had climbed into his lap, staring at him with large soulful eyes filled with underserved sorrow.

Despite it all, he found himself smiling. "I'm okay, Fawkes. And I am thankful I'm not dead. It's just… a lot to take in."

What an understatement.

He spent the next hour just basking in being in the presence of a Phoenix. It was soothing in a way nothing else ever managed to be. He was pretty sure that if Fawkes wasn't here, he would be panicking right now, going over everything that had happened and doubting his sanity. But the presence of a Phoenix was a singular sensation that no mind, no matter how insane, could fake. Draco ran his hands down the back of the fire bird, letting the soft feathers split in his hands. It was odd, petting a mythic creature without it trying to maul him for it. He was used to animals not really liking him, which he could admit was partly his fault, but still... he didn't think there was anything about him that would make a Phoenix, a legendary being of Light, favor him. If anything, he'd thought it would bring back Harry Potter through time. He was, after all, the target of the prophecy to defeat Lord Voldemort.

Draco was just Draco. A spoiled kid with too big a head and dreams crushed by the harshness of reality. The reality that the man he had always expected to serve was insane and obsessed with a teenager. The reality that his father cared more for following his admired lord than protecting his son. The reality that no matter what he did, he was always going to be on the losing side.

He'd tried to make up for everything. He'd tried to choose a different path. He'd thought that if he could just prove himself, he would be accepted, would be given the sweetness of redemption. But there had been no such thing. Just some spying, some torture and some nightmares.

And when it was all over, when he'd done his part, there had been death.

He shouldn't even be considering it. The thought shouldn't even cross his mind. He should be making plans to contact Dumbledore, to get on, if not good, then adequate terms with Harry Potter. He should be trying to figure out a way to use this to help the Light side.

But he wasn't moving.

He wasn't writing any letters, wasn't packing any bags and wasn't determined to do the right thing. Instead he was petting a Phoenix, using it to keep calm and a clear head. Instead, he was sitting in a comfy sofa and contemplating the idea of calling for a house-elf to bring him a snack.

What was wrong with him?

The bird in his lap let out a small cry and Draco let his thoughts go in favor of staring down at the Phoenix in fascination. It had never even occurred to him that traveling back in time for years was possible. Even more, if he wasn't mistaken, this was his old body, not the one he'd died in. It was shorter that he remembered and his hair was slightly longer. That begged the question of what had happened to the old him. Had they merged? They were the same soul, so that was the most likely solution. Or maybe his soul hadn't gone back in time at all, and only his memories, what made him him, had.

Letting Fawkes cuddle into his side, Draco hesitated for a moment before he opened his mouth and said, "Fawkes... would you be... upset... with me if I don't take the same path this time? If I don't make the same choices?"

Fawkes popped his head out from where he had squeezed it in under Draco's arm. The bird gave him a stern look and let out a sound of something that vaguely resembled a no. Draco nodded and pretended that he had any idea of what it meant. "The thing is, I don't want to tell Dumbledore. At least not yet. The last time I did so, it didn't lead to a good thing. I thought he would save me, instead he asked me to spy for him. I don't want to do that again."

The bird sang a sorrowful song and gave Draco a calming look. Despite it all, Draco found himself laughing at it. There was just something about having a mythic bird in your lap trying to calm you down that was amusing. Or maybe he was just in shock. "So you won't tell anybody?"

Not that, as a bird, the Phoenix could really tell anyone, but he had no idea how the connection with Dumbledore or Hogwarts worked. He never had.

Fawkes seemed to give him a grave look and let out a loud shrill while nodding his head.

"Thank you," said Draco. "I owe you more than I can possibly express."

Fawkes jumped closer to him and nipped his ear slightly. The bird seemed to suddenly think it had done enough, because the next second, in a cloud of smoke and flame, it disappeared. Without it, Draco was left sitting on a black couch in his room at Malfoy Manor, three years in the past, and feeling hopelessly alone.

That snack would be a good idea right about now.

Before he could remember where—when—he was now, he called out, "Kreacher!"

To his astonishment, the house-elf appeared front of him.

When he caught sight of him, Kreacher's eyes widened to what must be painful levels. The elf immediately straightened his uniform and did his best to look presentable. Draco looked just as shocked. The house-elf got his bearings first. "What can Kreacher help Young Master Black with?"

Draco sat up straight in his seat. A slight smile spread across his lips.

He could work with this.

Leaning forwards, he stated, "The locket that Regulus gave you to destroy, I need it."

Immediately, the small elf gave a step back and gave him a suspicious look. "Why?"

A house-elf wasn't supposed to talk back, but considering what he knew about them, he would let it slide. A house-elf that disliked you would leave you to die, a house-elf that loved you would literally die for you. "I know how to destroy it."

The house-elf got a manic glare in his eyes and disappeared from his location. When he came back, he was carrying a golden locket with a large S shaped snake on the front of it with ruby eyes. It was a lovely piece of jewelry. Draco summoned a handkerchief and used it to grip the chain and take it from Kreacher's hands. He held it up in the air before him and studied it.

Bundling it up in his handkerchief, he grabbed a tight hold of it and told Kreacher, "In order to make sure it really gets destroyed, I am going to need everything you can find on Horcruxes and soul-slitting. Can you do that?"

"Will it help you destroy it?" Kreacher asked with a hopeful voice.

Draco smiled. "Yes."

Kreacher nodded fervently and stood straight. "I shall do as you order, Young Master Black."

With that, Draco was once again alone in his room.

He stood from the sofa and walked over to the door that lead to his study. Opening it, he entered the large room and made his way to the big window behind his desk. He nudged the office chair until it was just below the window and climbed up on it. Once he was steady, he felt along the edge of the window until he reached a small hatch and popped it open. He pulled it up and saw the small space carved into the wall, with runes lining every edge of it to make sure what was in there could never be felt outside it. Calmly, he carefully put the bundle he was carrying in it, making sure nothing poked out. When he was satisfied, he closed the hatch again and felt it close. Breathing easier as soon as he was no-longer carrying around a piece of the Dark Lord's soul, Draco stepped down from the chair and put it back in its place.

He didn't know what to do now.

Theoretically, he knew how to destroy the Horcrux. Fiendfyre or Basilisk venom would leave it without a chance of healing. It would, according to what he knew, destroy the soul piece in the object. Draco was a Malfoy, if he really tried, he could get his hands on some venom. It would be hard and take time, but he could. Until he tried out his magic skills, he wouldn't know if he could manage a Fiendfyre. But yes, he could destroy it.

He could destroy the Dark Lord's ties to immortality.

He knew where all the Horcruxes were. He knew how to get past the protections. He could collect them all before anyone realized it. And once he got his hands on the venom, he could destroy them all. Draco couldn't kill Lord Voldemort, but he could make sure that if someone else did, he'd stay dead.

He could, in part at least, defeat the Dark Lord.

It was a thought that was damn near terrifying.

If anyone found out the knowledge he held, he didn't doubt that all that would await his future was torture. Even Dumbledore would resort to it eventually. After all, his knowledge could help win the war.

Who wouldn't want to get their hands on the secret to Lord Voldemort's immortality?

Morals be damned.

Draco could help kill the Dark Lord. And he wouldn't.

This was a second chance, a chance to do right by his family and heritage. It was a chance to not disappoint everyone he ever knew or loved. Killing Lord Voldemort would make him enemy number one and that wasn't what he wanted.

Then again, he didn't have to decide right away. He could make some changes, collect the Horcruxes as a back-up plan, and wait to see how things played out. If there was a way out of this war that didn't involve fighting or spying or anyone betraying their family, he'd take it. His mind kept going around in circles, so he should just stop thinking about it. Make a list and start by small steps. Things that needed doing in order to not take the same path.

But first thing's first. Occlumency.

If he couldn't manage it, it was game over. Both the Dark Lord, Dumbledore and Severus were accomplished in the Art of Legilimency. A single look in his eyes and they'd know everything. He'd need to make sure everything worked as it should and strengthen all of his defenses.

Calling for a house-elf in service to the Malfoy family, he asked for a snack and ate it with relish. The food while at the Order's headquarters, and elsewhere, just wasn't what he was used to. The standard was significantly lower, which he could acknowledge was in part because of the lack of high quality ingredients, but it was also due to the fact that the people that cooked just weren't as good at his, as much as they would never admit it. Considering the fact that he had turned on his own family, he didn't think that good food were too much to ask for, but apparently no-one else agreed. They just thought him rude or spoiled when he made remarks about it.

It was, quite honestly, annoying.

Once he finished with the snack, he went back to his bed and settled himself on the covers comfortably, leaning back on a pile of pillows. This could take a while. It was better to make sure he was in a good position, so his neck or back wouldn't hurt later.

Closing his eyes and breathing deeply, he let all his worries and thoughts go. Despite his concern that it wouldn't work, he entered his mind-scape without a problem.

When he opened his eyes again, he was at the center of a large labyrinth.

The ground was covered in mist that was so thick that it couldn't be seen. The hedges of the labyrinth rose high above his head and there was a shimmering above them that signified a sticky net. If you tried to fly over it, you get stuck in it. Childish perhaps, but effective.

Now he just had to make it more so.

He started with the ground, turning it into thick ice, cold against your feet and impossible to get under. Far beneath it, he hid the memories of his life in the future. The mist covered it from being seen.

He turned the hedges into a mix between concrete and iron and added more dead ends. He also switched around the paths to the extent that many more ones would just take you out of the labyrinth again, rather than the center. There were trick passages and traps that would encase you in ice and fire respectively, chains that would drop from the sky and surround you. At the top of the labyrinth, together with the sticky net, he added thick hard chains that barely left room to squeeze between.

And then there were the creatures.

Sphinxes, Pixies, Basilisks and Acromantulas were just some of the ones he dropped all over the labyrinth, both outside it and inside it.

Surrounding the labyrinth were a giant lake that stretched all around it. There wasn't a clear edge where the labyrinth began and the lake ended, so if you ended up following a path that lead out of the labyrinth, at some point it would just end and suddenly you'd be standing on water. Moreover, the lake was filled with both bloodthirsty giant squids, merpeople and sharks. There weren't any bridges at all.

It wasn't meant to be easy.

When he was finally satisfied with his progress, Draco blinked his eyes and found himself back in his room in reality.

He was exhausted and when he looked outside, he could see why. It was dark, in the middle of the night.

Draco pushed himself up off of the bed and made his way to the bathroom to soak in a bath and just relish in the thought that he was back home. Watching the night sky from his window was a magical sight.

One that he had sorely missed.

The bath was like heaven. The warmth of the water was perfect, just the way he liked it and the large bathroom with marble tiles and a large gold-framed mirror above the sink was just as he remembered. It was stupid of him, most likely, to miss his bathroom this much, especially as since the age of eleven, he spent the majority of the year away from home, but he found that he couldn't help himself. It was like it was proof of all that he had once given up. And all that he had gotten back with the help of a Phoenix.

When he was finally finished with the bath, after what felt like hours, he worked his way out of it and finished his business in the bathroom. Stepping out of the room, back into his bedroom, he got the absurd urge to dance.

He was just so relieved.

Everything that had happened in his memories didn't feel like only a dream. It felt like it had happened, no doubts about it. He could remember the pain when he died.

He could remember it all.

It wasn't pleasant.

After the war both for and against Lord Voldemort had begun, there weren't really any pleasant or even decent memories that he had. There was just bad choice after bad choice in the name of what was right. But that was the thing. Good and Evil were subjective, everyone had different opinions of it. One man's redemption was another man's vengeance. One man's salvation was another man's damnation.

Contrary to popular opinion, it wasn't objective.

Maybe that was part of the problem.

Draco had tried to measure up to the Light side's view of Good. He'd done his best to get their forgiveness and become a true member of their side. And he'd done his best to forget what he'd turned his back on. So perhaps it was about time he tried to fit into his own image of Good.

Or maybe he should just stop concerning himself with Good and Evil all together.

If there was one thing he'd learned from this trip to the past, it was that life was terrifyingly fleeting. Putting a label on his nature meant choosing a side and conforming himself to it. Perhaps it was time to just be himself and pick whatever side which turns out to fit him best, no matter what that meant for this war. After all, Draco had no intention of sacrifying anything at all to save the pitiful people that made up the majority of the British Wizarding Community.

And if the world ended in the process, well he'd already died once. What did one more time matter?

Chapter Text

The next morning, Draco woke up feeling like he was about to emerge from a sweet dream into the cruel dredges of reality.

Just the act of opening his eyes was a battle.

The sunlight streamed in through the window, the view the same as the day before. Draco pushed himself off the bed and opened the window. The sound of birds singing in the morning, the smell of fresh clean air and the joy of the bright sun greeted him. It was funny, how when you weren't fighting for your life, everything seemed so much brighter.

There was only a week left until school started up again. He needed to start making his preparations.

Once he was dressed and had finished getting ready, he left his room. The manor was just as he remembered it. The hallways were long, with high ceilings and moving paintings lining the walls, both of people and landscapes. The light seemed to come from everywhere all at once and the closer he got to the dining hall where breakfast was waiting, the more nervous he became. He had to keep reminding himself that in this time, his parents weren't oath bound to capture him if they saw him.

In the dining hall, there was a long table in the middle of the room. Around the pale wooden table sat eight equally pale chairs. Two of which were occupied. Draco swallowed nervously and steeled his nerves. He couldn't afford to mess up now, even if he had to use his hard-earned skill at Occlumency to not give anything away. His mother sat at one end of the table, blond and grey-eyed like him, and his father at the other. They made a striking couple and when he was young, that was what he had wanted in a future spouse. Now, he just wanted someone that would never betray him, even if they didn't agree with his choices.

His mother smiled at him when he entered. Narcissa Malfoy nee Black was truly a beautiful woman, and Draco had taken after her more than his father, not that many people could tell, blinded as they were by the fact that he had his fathers hair.

His mother rose from her seat and kissed his cheek as soon as he was close enough. "Did you have a good night's sleep, Dragon?"

Flashing her a quick smile, Draco nodded. "Yes, it was very pleasant."

His mother dragged him to sit beside her and Draco started on his breakfast elegantly, as he had been taught. A Malfoy could never be seen as sloppy in public. It would not only be undignified, it would also damage their carefully selected reputation.

Of this, Draco was well aware.

After breakfast, during which he had managed to make smalltalk with his parents without bursting into tears of joy (not that he would ever lower himself to do something so low-class) Draco retired back to his room. He wasn't going to do something so foolish as to write his memories down, nor would he make a physical list of things that needed doing. But he did need to figure out a plan for the near future. After all, he only had a year long gap until his manor would be the headquarters of Lord Voldemort. He needed to conclude whatever plan he was going to do before that or he risked being caught. More than he already did, that was.

Setting himself down at his desk in his study, Draco sorted out his thoughts and made the bare bones of a plan.

The first step was the Horcruxes. At the very least, he hoped that if the time ever came, he could use them as leverage. It would be a last resort though. Undoubtedly, if it came out that he knew where they were, that he had some in his possession, the only thing to await him would be death and pain, not necessarily in that order.

The second step was securing his independence. In short, he needed money no-one else could touch, which meant getting in touch with Gringotts. He'd need to make sure to visit before going back to Hogwarts.

The third step was to train as much as time allowed him. He needed to find out where he was both magic-wise and psychically. As he had learned during the war, sometimes it was just faster to dodge than to cast some fancy shield.

The fourth step was a little more complicated. He needed knowledge. In reality, all he knew about Horcruxes was that it was an anchor to tie the rest of the soul to the land of the living in the event of death. He didn't know if all parts of the soul were splinted equally, or if they randomly broke off in fragments. He didn't know what happened in the event that the object the Horcrux was tied to was destroyed. Would it truly destroy the soul-piece? Or would it leave it wandering around the spirit realm, unable to move on? Or would the piece return automatically to the main soul?

A Horcrux was Dark Magic, of the highest difficulty and most forbidden kind. And it wasn't something that just anyone could do, or everybody would be immortal by now. But Draco didn't know what the requirements beyond murder was. He didn't know if it had side-effects, or if it could lead to loss of magic. After all, magic was tied to the soul, so if you split your soul, would that mean you split your magic as well?

If that was true, how powerful was Lord Voldemort that even after seven horcruxes, he was still one of the most powerful wizards alive?

There was too much that Draco didn't know and if there was anything he hated, it was not knowing something. He prided himself on being above anyone else his year both skill and knowledge wise, though he might not always show it. Even he knew that some cards just weren't meant to be shown. After all, Draco was the Prince of Slytherin. If he didn't know how to hide things from his own House, he never would have been given the title.

So knowledge on Horcruxes before he did anything other than acquire them was a must. Hopefully, Kreacher would come through on this.

When it came to collecting the Horcruxes themselves, as long as Kreacher was willing to help further, it would be easy. He couldn't touch the one in Bellatrix's vault, as that would set off way to many problems, but the one in Little Hanglinton and the one in the Room of Requirement at Hogwarts would be easy pickings. The diary was already destroyed, Nagini was a lost cause and Potter didn't even know what he was. He supposed that he could just kill Potter and that would be that, but he wasn't about to do anything so rash as to kill the target of the prophecy.

Who knew what trouble that would lead to?

Once he had, at least, an idea of what needed to be done, Draco penned a letter to Gringotts asking for a clandestine meeting in secret, without his parents knowledge. And while he was there, he might as well ask if they held any knowledge about Horcruxes. He had the feeling no-one had ever asked before. It would, after all, be quite a blow to the ego, if they knew more on the subject than wizards.

Draco sent the letter off with his owl, hoping his parents, if they even noticed, would just assume if was to one of his friends. Not that Draco really had friends. At least, not in the traditional sense. He had allies and confidants, but not something as mundane as friends.

It seemed like a terribly boring thing, too.

As the letter made the journey to the largest Wizarding Bank in Britain, Draco stood from his chair and wandered closer to the shelves full of books that covered every wall in the private study. He let his gaze slide from side to side, and his finger follow it. It had been so long since he had seen, much less read, these books. Most of them were on the subject of magic, but there was a few fiction books that his acquaintances had gifted him. Regardless, he found that he had stupidly missed even them.

Ah, he must have made such a pathetic picture when he turned his back on his family. When he became a traitor. No books, no knowledge that he valued so much, no allies or anyone at all that he even remotely trusted. Just people that wouldn't think twice about leaving him to die.

Whatever made him think it was a good idea?

Well, to be fair, he had been very much panicking at the time. The Dark Lord was terrifying and he had been living in the same place as Draco, his parents pressured him into taking the Dark Mark and all the people he knew were off preparing for war in the Dark Lord's name. He had been absolutely petrified. And he had caved to pressure and gone to relive the weight by spilling his guts.

And now, here he was, three years in the past.

What a bad joke.

Draco gave a bitter laugh and pulled out a book on runes from a shelf. He'd read it at least half-a-dozen times before. Shuffling between the pages, he saw his own notes staring him in the face.

That was the gist of this entire situation, wasn't it? Everything he had ever done, all the choices he had ever made, were staring him straight in the face. Well, more like glaring at him.

Finally getting enough of this disgusting self-pity, Draco put the book back where he found it, turned around resolutely and left the room. He had a private training room in the basement, surrounded by so many wards that whatever he did there would be a complete secret. Except for, of course, the Master of the wards. But as long as he stuck to the basics as he got a feel for his level, it would do just fine. As long as he didn't use any Dark Magic, he could practice higher level stuff at Hogwarts when he returned.

The training room was, as the rest of the manor, just as he remembered. Draco got reacquainted with it in minutes and took out his wand. In a place as heavily saturated in magic as the ancestral Malfoy Manor, the Trace was worse than useless.

He started easy.

Levitation, summoning and creating water all went off without a hitch. He had no trouble with the easier spells he knew, they were essentially the magic equivalent of muscle-memory, nor the ones that were a little harder. He let his magic flow through him, and it was just as powerful and beautiful as it had been when he died, if less constricted. It was no longer at odds with his mentality or desired wishes, so when it flowed through him in seemingly random patterns, it was a comfort, rather than the dread it had once been. The dread that he wouldn't be able to control it.

His magic was a part of him and the fact that he had even thought of denying it left him in a horrified state. How could he had ever tried to change his very magic's nature? That went against not only his beliefs, but also his very soul.

The training told him that magic-wise, he was at the same level as when he had died, though with a better connection with his magic, and that he hadn't lost any knowledge on how to perform spells. Even his power-levels were the same. The same, on the other hand, couldn't be said for his physical condition.

It, quite frankly, sucked.

Which was not surprising as before the war he had only ever trained as much as was needed for Quidditch. But it was now completely unacceptable. He would have to see what he could do with the Room of Requirement when he went back to school.

Aside from that, things seemed to be going well.

Leaving the training room, Draco made his way back to his room to take a nice warm bath. He felt he fully deserved it after the long training session. The bath relaxed his muscles and left him with a feeling of satisfaction of a job well done. There was no time to waste.

The following morning, he got a reply from Gringotts. They had set a meeting time at eleven in the morning with a goblin that dealt with the Malfoy vaults. Specifically, the one that dealt with his personal Trust Vault. Truth be told, there was no need for him to go so far for secrecy. The Malfoy family valued cleverness, intelligence and cunning, so each heir was encouraged to try making a fortune of their own. The earlier they succeeded, the more suited they were considered for the Lordship, but that mattered more when there was multiple heirs. As Draco was the last Malfoy, it was of no consequence to him.

But the point was, that even if his parents figured out was he was doing, they wouldn't interfere. They wouldn't even try to find out what he was dealing with. How he was making money. Still, in his opinion, it was always better to be safe than sorry.

He told his parents he would be visiting Diagon Alley that morning and his parents let him go without protests. They trusted him to take care of himself.

He wouldn't betray that trust again.

Gringotts looked as it always had. There was not a stone that had been changed and Draco had hardly bothered remember the difference between the individual goblins before. He wondered if now he should make the effort, as any advantage he could acquire would be probably be helpful.

Walking through the high doors, he made his way to a teller and cleared his throat. He frowned in annoyance when he realized he was once again too short to see over it comfortably, but at least he didn't have to stand on his toes. That would certainly be undignified.

The goblin behind the counter gave him a hard stare and barked out a gravelly, "Gornuk! Take Heir Malfoy to his account manager!"

A younger goblin hurried over as fast as his legs could carry him and if the goblin race hadn't been as dangerous and grudge-holding as they were, Draco would have laughed out loud. As it was, he contained his amusement at the sight inside of him and not a muscle on his face twitched to reveal his emotions. He followed along behind the goblin dutifully.

The goblin lead him to an office, past a series of hallways that were akin to a giant labyrinth until they reached the door. Draco had met with his account manager before, but to his memory, it had been a long time. At least two years. He gave the goblin that had shown him the way (no matter how many times he made the journey, he could never remember it. It was almost as if the corridors were moving.) a small smile and went up the door himself. It was made of metal, a flat grey color, and along the edges of it were runic inscriptions. When Draco put his hand on the doorhandles, a small tingle shot up his spine and the door creaked open. He knew enough to know that the door recognized his magical signature, otherwise it wouldn't have let him in.

The office he stepped into was a decent size, big enough that he could comfortably walk into the middle of the room and sit himself down in front of the huge desk behind which an older goblin sat. Draco had never understood why the desks were always so big, but supposed it might have something to do with all the paperwork that surely had to be kept in order.

Draco cleared his throat again and stated. "I am in need of more money."

The goblin rose an white eyebrow and asked, in a rather snarky tone, "And how would you like to acquire them?"

Draco just smiled. "Investments, in both the magical and muggle worlds. And for all the yearly profits, Gringotts will receive ten percent of the cut. I'm sure that will be plenty of motivation."

The goblin got a greedy look in his eyes and nodded. "You can count on us, Heir Malfoy."

"And I have a question." Draco said and kept his face from reveling anything at all. When the goblin gestured for him to continue, Draco inquired, "What do you know of Horcruxes?"

The goblin narrowed his eyes and answered. "It is soul-magic. Any more knowledge than that and you'll have to pay for it."

Draco smirked. "Take as much money as it costs out of my vault and give me all the information the goblin race has on it. In a language I can actually understand." It never hurt to be careful when making deals with goblins.

"Deal." the goblin grumbled and made a shooing motion.

Draco smiled, satisfied with his progress. "Great. Then I'll be taking out a thousand galleons from my vault and be on my way."

A trip down to his Trust Vault on the way out and Draco had refilled his pouch with money and was ready to go on a shopping spree. He needed everything he could find on magical theory, healing, runes and wards. While he could always send a house-elf to procure the items, he preferred looking them over himself first. Make sure they were actually useful.

He started off in Knockturn Alley.

There was a bookstore a deep ways in that probably had what he was interested in, the darker part of the spectrum. All Draco had to do to fit right in was walk as if he did. When you exuded confidence, even if it was totally baseless, it usually made people leave you alone. And Draco knew exactly where he was going and how to get there. There was no hesitation in his steps. His parents would surely be mad at him if they knew he visited the alley alone, but that was only if they found out.

After buying every book that seemed even remotely useful (and that he didn't already own), Draco left Knockturn for Horizont Alley. This alley was of much higher standing and catered to those of more money and respectable heritage.

Finding his way to the bookstore located in this Alley, Draco spent hour in it, scouring it for anything that caught his eye. When he finally had a collection that he was satisfied with, he left the store to make his way to another, smaller one. After that, he got some more quills and ink as well as notebooks that would automatically add more pages if they ran out. They all had a thousand page limit, though.

As he was already there, he figured that it couldn't hurt and found his way to a tailor shop, one that catered to people of his standing. His sense of style had changed slightly during the years and he would feel more comfortable in the clothes he now favored. He even bought a new pair of shoes, black leather boots with a small heel.

His last stop was Flourish and Blotts in Diagon Alley where he grabbed the new (old) books for the school year. Potions supplies had already been taken care of.

He returned to his home with a trunk full of books that he needed to read as soon as he could get an opportunity to. His hands itched to try out his skills at Potions, to see if they stayed consistent as well, but he decided that he would leave that for Hogwarts. Which reminded him of his Godfather.

Severus was a spy, everybody had known that during the war. But no-one had known for what side. That was how good he was at it. But at the end of the war, leading up to the battle at Hogwarts, Draco had gotten his answer. Severus had made an Unbreakable Vow to protect Harry Potter, which placed him at whatever side Potter took. Not to mention that he owed James Potter a life-debt.

Unbreakable Vows could only be broken with death. It didn't matter if Severus regretted his actions or if he changed his mind, there was no way out. Draco had never found out if that meant that he was only loyal to Dumbledore because Potter was, or if that was his own choice as well, but in the end he supposed it didn't matter. He couldn't go to Severus with any of his concerns, because his Godfather wasn't on Draco's side. Potter would always take precedence, if only because of the Vow. And he knew now that even if he changed sides of this war, Potter and him would always be at odds.

That couldn't be changed.

Draco left the trunk in his study and changed his clothes, doing away with the robe he had been wearing to just a pair of comfortable pants and shirt. In his own room, there was no need to dress fancily.

He returned to the dining hall in time for dinner, this time much calmer now that he had a plan of what to do. Draco answered his parents as truthfully as possible and when it came to things he didn't want them to know, he just didn't mention them. Spending over a year with people that would just mock and taunt him for his weakness even worse than his own family would have, had made Draco very adept at hiding things. Even more adept than he already was.

His parents knew him well enough that they had probably already figured out that something was wrong, but they wouldn't mention it unless he did first.

And Draco had no intention of mentioning it at all.

After dinner, he made his way to the training room. He had many more spells to try out and there was no reason to wait until he was back at Hogwarts to begin his physical practice. A couple of more days and he would hardly have much privacy.

He needed to take advantage of anything he could.

Once he was finished with his training for the day (exhausted and more than ready to spend an eternity sleeping), Draco returned to his room where he once again took advantage of the bath that he had sorely missed. It was a useless comfort yes, but it was also incredibly relaxing. And right now, with the sheer mess that his life had turned into, relaxing was what he needed most.

Draco breathed out deeply, his breath fogging in the air in front of him. The bath was warm, his muscles feeling like they were turning into goo in it. The tense lining of his shoulders disappeared as he let himself wallow in the comfort he was currently experiencing. He leaned his head back on the soft fluffy towel that he had laid on the edge of the tub, and closed his eyes in bliss. There was nothing that quite measured up to the feeling of a warm bath, nothing that could quite make the feeling worse. He was worried and anxious over what the future would bring, but in the warm water, those worries slipped away from him.

It was heaven.

He didn't leave the bath until he was on the edge of falling asleep, and then it was only to move himself to his actual bed.

Draco wandered over to his trunk and picked up one of the newly purchased books, turning it over in his hands. The leather cover was smooth against his skin and when he opened it, it had that old smell that he loved. One thing he'd learned on the Light side was that they placed shockingly little value on books. They had nothing against burning books if they didn't like what they said or didn't agree, and they treated them like useless objects that served no purpose. The only one who respected them properly was the mud-blood, Granger.

Hell, if he had to choose the only person he actually held any feeling about besides dislike of the Light side, it was Granger. Unlike her friends, she was actually intelligent and she treasured books almost as much as Draco did. If she hadn't been a muggleborn, he might have even befriended (allied) her.

She, unlike the idiots she constantly surrounded herself with, actually held some value.

But then again, if there was something he had learned while fighting for the Light, it was exactly how powerful muggles were. They might not have magic, but they had technology that more then made up for it. Not even wizards had ever gone to the moon and the muggles had managed it without even a lick of the superior force known as magic. Not to mention their sheer amount of numbers.

And a lot of magical families had perished entirely in the magical wars of the last century. New blood might be necessary, lest all their offspring might become squibs.

He'd have to wait and observe to find out if Granger might have a place in his plans. If she did, the fact that she had muggle parents might be possible to be... overlooked.

Draco settled himself down on his bed with his book and started reading. Things were starting soon and once he went back to Hogwarts, he could lay down the bones of his plans. And hopefully, once this was all over, he and his parents would still be alive. If not, Draco just have to make sure to take as many people as possible down with him.

He wondered what Lord Voldemort was doing right now. He knew he was somewhere in Little Hanglinton, setting the pieces in order for the Triwizard Tournament and in the company of Wormtail and Barty, but he didn't have much more knowledge than that. Draco knew much more about what would happen when the Dark Lord was finally formally resurrected, rather than the events leading up to it. The thought of what was to come—the war, the death, the utter despair—was enough to make him stop thinking about it. He was doing all he could. The rest would be up to fate.

Draco dragged the thin covers over himself and burrowed down further with his book. It was all up to chance now. Let's see how this version turns out, eh?

He fell asleep reading.

Chapter Text

"...Harry Potter!"

The silence in the Great Hall at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was deafening after Dumbledore called out the name of the supposed Fourth Champion of the Triwizard Tournament. People turned in their seats to catch a glimpse of Potter at the Gryffindor table, looking as shocked as everyone else.

Whispers soon started spreading, as people pointed and gossiped and unanimously decided that he had done it on purpose.

Draco wasn't sure where this selective blindness had come from, but he had started to realize it had always been there. Potter had never been, nor would he ever be, an actor, and you could tell just by looking at his face that he had had nothing to do with this. Yet, everyone decided in moments, without even speaking to him, that he done it. Like they had all expected him to do it.

He watched as Potter was urged up by his friends and walked towards the teachers, who all looked very disappointed in him, rather than concerned that someone was trying to kill him like they should be. Honestly, the fact that it had occurred to nobody that anyone older then seventeen could throw in any name in the cup, he would never understand. In the original version, he had had an upperclassman throw in the name Rose Croquett to see if it worked.

There was no student at Hogwarts with that name.

The only reason Draco hadn't had anyone throw in his name was that he wasn't a fool, despite what people apparently thought of him. He had no desire to risk his life for a price as paltry as 1000 Galleons.

That was literally pocket money to him.

(Saying that the Malfoy family was extremely rich was a severe understatement.)

It was Halloween and the Triwizard Tournament's Champions had just been decided. Draco wasn't sure if it was a comfort or not that the same people as he remembered had all been chosen again, but at least it proved that he hadn't made too many changes yet. Still, he had no intention of not making changes.

(If he didn't change things until the future he knew was but a memory, what was even the point of coming back in time?)

Once Potter and a few teachers including Dumbledore had left the hall, the whispers disappeared and was replaced by people arguing. The Gryffindors were insanely pleased that one of their own had been chosen, the Hufflepuffs were on the edge of murder, the Ravenclaws couldn't care less and the Slytherins were just pissed that Potter had been selected. Meanwhile, the students from the other schools were rightfully pissed off that Hogwarts now had two Champions, which meant that the contest was blatantly unfair and biased.

If Potter and Diggory worked together, they had a far bigger chance of winning and then it didn't really matter who won, because Hogwarts would still be the victor. Luckily for them, the plainly unhealthy house rivalry of Hogwarts prevented that from ever happening.

Honestly, if even Draco admitted that it was over the top, it was downright ridiculous. And a large part of it was simply due to the House Cup that everyone made a ludicrous big deal of, despite the fact that it offered no reward but pride.

Maybe he hadn't thought this way before, but now pride was utterly useless to him.

After all, it didn't help him survive.

While everyone else was muttering about revenge at his table, or complaining about all of the bullshit that Potter got away with with nothing but a slap on the wrist, Draco went back to eating his dessert.

The following month was filled with increasing tensions between the different schools and Hufflepuff and Gryffindor. It didn't help that Quidditch practice had been suspended the full year so there wasn't at least a somewhat healthy way to take out the mutual resentment. It always sounded funny to him, when people said that only Slytherin and Gryffindor were rivals. No House liked each other or were on permanent good terms. The Ravenclaws were seen as know-it-alls by Gryffindor, Gryffindors were seen as rowdy bully's by both Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, Hufflepuff was looked down on by everyone and Slytherin were seen as evil by everybody and their mother. Ravenclaw and Slytherin might be on amicable terms, but they weren't rooting for each other either.

During his months at Hogwarts, the Room of Requirement had been a life-saver. It gave him a room to his own, that nobody else knew about, to practice in and get away from what he now considered to be immature children.

His physical abilities had already showed a marked improvement from before his return to Hogwarts and his magic was coming along nicely. Wishing for all of the books that the Room of Requirement had at the same time worked wonders. There was an insane number of books that had been hidden or forgotten in there, some of them very valuable nowadays.

A lot of them were books on the Dark Arts or forbidden magic that had been banned by the Ministry.

In short, it was a treasure trove.

November 24th rolled around with winter and cold on its heels. Perhaps it was fitting then, that the First Task involved deadly fire-breathing dragons.

This was the only task Draco was actually interested in, because it was the only one where the audience could actually see anything. In the others, they had to guess what was happening the whole way through. Talk about a waste of money.

Also, it was hilarious, watching Potter get chased around by a dragon.

The first to attempt to get passed a dragon was Cedric Diggory, the pride of Hufflepuff. The cheers when he went out were absurdly loud and Draco winced slightly in annoyance. People were so undignified on public occasions. The messes they created only got bigger each year.

It was curious, but Diggory's attempt went exactly as he remembered. If he wasn't wrong, he even managed to get the egg a little faster this time around. Well, it wasn't as if Draco had really done anything this time. He had been far too busy with training to bother with Potter, but he wasn't the only that disliked the brat and it showed when the pins were still transformed.

Really, Potter always acted like everything was solely his fault, as if he had forced others to participate—even when they had been technically fighting on the same side—when in reality there were plenty of people who hated Potter and would love to take him dow a peg or ten.

Maybe Potter didn't mean it, but he came off as arrogant.

His friends were limited to Granger and the Weasley's and when someone else attempted to befriend him, he just brushed them off as if they weren't even there. Even his dorm mates suffered the same fate. Everything he did wrong was rewarded (unless it was Snape who caught him) and his skill at Quidditch was almost unnatural, but it was the fact that he had been made a Seeker in his first year that drove the nail it. It was blatant favoritism that hadn't been done once before in Hogwarts entire history, no matter how skilled they were. Potter wasn't the only genius Seeker, no matter what the majority seemed to think.

There was also the fact that despite the fact that he was the celebrated Boy-Who-Lived, his grades were average or below. The only think he excelled at—or put effort into—was DADA. If he was a normal person, it wouldn't be a big deal. But he wasn't and so all that people saw was someone so sure of their power (so arrogant) that he believed he didn't need to study or do well in school. Like everything would fall into his lap just because he wished for it.

So yes, there were plenty of people—even Light Wizards—who disliked him.

After Diggory, it was Delacour's turn. This time she managed to get through without being burned at all and got the egg in a timely manner. Draco anticipated that with her scores she was currently in the lead and might even manage to win this whole thing, unless she got caught up in the Lake again. Then again, the winner would be whisked away by the Cup turned portkey, so maybe she shouldn't. She might have married a Weasley, but unlike them, she hadn't had an irrational hatred for him.

Draco looked down on the Weasley's. He didn't hate them. There was a marked difference there, though most people refused to see it.

Krum performed the way he had the first time around, but one more egg survived this time. Better than last time as well.

Then it was Potter's turn.

Facing off against the Hungarian Horntail, the fourteen year old looked tiny. Whatever sense of rivalry Draco had felt in regards to Potter had disappeared when he went back in time and realized that it didn't matter at all. Potter was amazingly powerful, but that was all. He wasn't smart, wasn't studious, wasn't especially skilled and had absolutely no sense of ambition. He wasn't even necessarily that kind.

As Potter had done before, he summoned his broom and proceeded to fly around on it. All it accomplished was telling people how talented he was at flying. He still got nowhere near the egg.

And then, of course, the dragon got loose.

Panic erupted instantly.

The dragon chased after Potter furiously and got disturbingly close multiple times while Potter executed maneuvers flawlessly, one after another. The dragon handlers emerged onto the stage and started shooting at the dragon, but it was too fast to make a difference. And in the middle of this mess, Potter was still so determined as to grab the egg.

Like he said, arrogance.

After all, only a fatal combination of arrogance and stupidity would let a person go against a loose fully-grown dragon.

The First Task ended to resounding cheers. In first place was Potter and Delacour, in second was Diggory and in fourth was Krum. The Hogwarts students were already lording their superiority over the other schools as proof that Hogwarts was the best magical school there was in the world. In his boredom, Draco had done some research after he had switched sides and discovered that that was really not true.

To the rest of the world, Hogwarts was nothing but a joke.

The Ministry even more so.

Heck, there was a disturbing number of countries that had been rooting for Lord Voldemort to win the war, just so they wouldn't have to deal with the sheer incompetency of the British Ministry of Magic.

After the end of the First Task, the school year went back to the standard. Draco continued his studying and training, while being careful to keep his grades at the same levels they had always been at. He improved his Occlumency and spent most of his time in the Room of Requirement. The school was still abuzz with the actions of Potter during the First Task and it seemed like Weasley had managed to weasel his way back into Potter's good graces. On the other hand, during these several months, Draco had been spending time with Granger in the library, for about an hour a week.

All they did together was study and at the beginning, they only sat at the same table. They didn't say so much as a word to each other. But as time passed, Draco found that Granger was agreeable company. It helped that none of the many things he had done to her or her friends had happened yet. And if things went according to plan, they never would.

Now, that wasn't to say that Draco would consider her a friend. But she was edging into the ally zone and when she actually showcased her intelligence instead of just spending it helping Potter and Weasley study, she was actually quite smart.

She was a know-it-all, but at least she was a tolerable one.

And well, if he could nudge her in the direction of Krum instead of Weasley, that would be a bonus. Honestly, he had never understood what she had seen in Weasley that she left someone like Krum for him. It wouldn't surprise him if there had been love potions involved.

Strong ones.

Due to the fact that there would be a ball held during the winter break, Draco wouldn't be returning home this year as he always had. Instead, he would take the opportunity of no classes to train harder and take amusement in Potter and Weasley's misery when they made fools of themselves during the ball. Those two could not dance. Potter could at least manage to not step on his partner's toes, but he still looked like a tree flailing his arms about with how stiff he was. Weasley was a jealous dick that stepped on everybody's toes.

Yeah, he was looking forwards to the ball.

With winter break came a relief from the stress of exams and homework that plagued the whole castle.

The night of the Yule Ball, Draco got dressed up in a new fancy robe he had bought on his shopping spree the week before Hogwarts began. He styled his slightly longer hair back and admired himself in the mirror. This him didn't have that ragged, exhausted look to him that he was used to seeing when he looked in the mirror. There were no dark circles under his eyes, his cheeks weren't sunken and hollow and his hair still had that luster to it. He looked like an aristocrat, the way he was supposed to, not yet burdened with a war and betrayal and death.

As his date to ball, he invited Pansy Parkinson, because he saw no reason not to. As much as he didn't enjoy her company, he was used to her and knew what would happen if he brought her along. Whatever drama she might feel like starting, he could deal with it easily. Sometimes, a bad known variable beat an unknown one.

When the Champions and their dates entered the Great Hall where the ball was taking place, the rest of the student body already arrived. Basically, the whole ball was an excuse to show off the Champions and nothing more. After all, Hogwarts didn't even celebrate Yule, no they celebrated Christmas as if they were muggles. It was nothing but a farce and it pissed him off just as much now as it had done the first time around.

The Champions danced the first dance and, as expected, Potter made a fool of himself, though he didn't seem to know it. He obviously knew nothing of dancing etiquette or any other dance than the waltz he was dancing currently. Again, it made it seem like he thought he was too good to put in proper effort to the rest of the people there. Those that weren't blinded by his status, that was.

After watching him making a fool of himself and realizing, once again, that he no longer felt any urge to compete with him or try to get his attention, Draco turned back to his own date.

Still, despite his personal objections, he had to admit that they had done a great job decorating the hall.

It was a few hours later, as the ball was winding down and people were starting to leave, that Draco came across a scene outside of the hall. He had left to get some air and get away from Pansy, because she talked way too much about way too little and he didn't have the patience to deal with her now that he no longer wanted to sleep with her.

The Golden Trio were in the middle of an argument and if he was right, it all boiled down to, once more, Weasley's jealousy.

It ended with both Granger and Weasley storming off in different directions.

Normally, Draco would never interfere. Well, he would taunt Weasley and make him erupt, but no more than that. But he felt like he had been making real headway to getting Granger to realize some things and if he went after her now, while she was vulnerable, he thought he might manage to increase the trust she had for him. In the end, in the future, Granger had been responsible for saving both Weasley and Potter a number of times. If they no longer had her by their side, he wondered how far they would go.

They seemed to depend on her for anything that required actual thinking.

Draco wanted to see just how crucial Granger was to them and the best way to do that was to remove her from them suddenly and leave them floundering about on their own.

He followed after Granger to an abandoned classroom. There were a lot of them in the castle, as Dumbledore alone had halved the amount of available classes. Now, no-one would ever believe that once upon a time, Hogwarts had taught the Dark Arts without prejudice.

He closed the door behind him when he entered.

Draco stared at the sad picture Granger made, despite the fact that objectively speaking, she was quite pretty. "Are you alright?"

She startled and stared at him. "Ma-Malfoy? What are you doing here?"

She used her hands to rub at her eyes, trying to remove the evidence of tears and Draco felt himself rise an eyebrow. "I followed you. Now, are you alright? I heard what Weasley said to you."

"Yes. Yes, I'm perfectly fine." Granger blatantly lied and smiled a slightly crooked smile at him. "You followed me? Why would you do that? You don't even like me."

Draco wondered how he should answer that. In the end, he decided to go for honesty. "You're brilliant and I would rather have you with me than against me. Liking you has nothing to do with it."

She stared at him for a few silent seconds before she slipped down onto a chair. She leaned forwards and hugged her knees and started crying again. Draco had no idea what to do. He had never been around crying women. His mother never cried and the members of the Order of the Phoenix would never lower themselves to show vulnerability around him. They had always considered him to be an enemy, even when he had betrayed his family. Amazing, isn't it, how childish rivalries can influence someone for so long? Especially when they are supposed to be the Good Guys. Yet, they couldn't get passed some child rivalry?

Draco sat himself down on a chair next to her. He didn't know how close she was to Potter currently, so he didn't mention him, but he did say, "Weasley doesn't deserve you, you know."

"He's just- he's always so mean!" Granger burst out and looked up at Draco. "He always blames me for everything and he expects me to do his homework for him and he stops talking to me for months at a time due to so many silly things! Every time I do something for them because I'm worried or, or scared or concerned, they tell me I'm wrong and blame me when it goes wrong! They still haven't forgiven me for when I told Professor McGonagall about the broom Sirius sent Harry! When I woke up after being frozen by the Basilisk, I had to ask Neville for help to catch up in my studies, because none of them thought to take notes for me!"

She breathed deeply after she finished, apparently having used up all of her air to say it all. Draco had admit that he hadn't expected her to just come out and say all of those things straight out, he had thought he would have to nudge her to realizing it on her own. She always seemed like she would forgive Potter and Weasley no matter how badly they treated her.

Even Draco, who didn't have any friends, knew that that was wrong.

He let his eyes drift and thought of something to say. There weren't really any inspiring words he could give her, because he didn't honestly care, but he thought that he should see this through now that he had started this mess. "It's only jealousy."

"Jealousy isn't an excuse. It doesn't give him a free pass to treat me like that." Granger hissed out. "And he expected me to be happy when he asked me to the ball, when I was the last person he wanted to take! He expected that nobody would ask me! Like I'm not worth it!"

"Well, you proved him wrong, Granger. Nobody could have missed how stunning you and Krum looked together." Draco offered in lieu of anything else to say.

She hugged her knees again. "I just... I don't understand why nothing I do is ever good enough? Why isn't it ever enough?"

"Do you want my honest answer?" Draco asked her, staring at the wall across from him. He saw her nod in the corner of his eye.

"You intimidate him. You intimidate a lot of people. You're intelligent, Granger, in a way a lot of people just aren't. You skip ahead before other people can catch up and it makes them wary. It comes down to survival instinct. Anybody smarter than you can kill you. So most people stick with those that are on their level, even if they don't know it. And when you showcase knowledge that Weasley doesn't know, it makes him feel humiliated and embarrassed, because you're a muggleborn and as much as he might preach differently, that does effect how he thinks of you." Draco let his speech go and and watched as Granger seemed to fold in on herself even more.

She muttered into her knees, "But the Weasley's don't have anything against muggles. They respect them."

Draco couldn't quite manage to smother his laughter at that. "The Weasley's—and the majority of the Light Side—think of muggles as adorable pets that can do no harm. Anything is forgivable, because they are simply not intelligent enough to know better. Dumbledore sees them as sheep that must be guided. There is no respect of any kind involved."

At that, Granger peeked out, looking interested. "And the Dark Side?"

"The Dark Side sees them as barbarians that use sticks and stones to fight. They look down on them as if they're ants." Draco shrugged.

Granger stood up. Her face was now enraged rather than wet with tears and Draco counted that as a job well done. She started pacing.

"It just... it makes me so mad! They don't ever take me seriously, or support my choices! They just complain and complain and complain!" she dragged her hand through her hair, messing up the hairstyle that she must have spent hours perfecting, if the usual state of her hair was anything to go by.

Draco leaned back in his chair and let her rant.

With any luck, he hadn't done all of this for nothing.

The winter months leading up to the Second Task were nothing extraordinary. Draco's training progressed even further and the tentative friendship (on her end) with Granger were getting more and Moore stable. It helped that neither Weasley nor Potter had yet to apologize for Weasley's actions at the Yule Ball and so she was still pissed at both of them. All they had to do was let her down once or twice more and he would be there instead. Then, the good impression she had been getting from him would be solidified.

As time passed, Gryffindor had been betting more and more rosy, likely from the high of being in the lead of the Triwizard Tournament. It seemed like everybody and their mother forgot that Delacour was in first place too.

As would be expected in February, the day of the Second Task was bitingly cold.

The Great Lake was a mass of black in a sea of white and it looked gloomy even on the surface. Nobody had been getting near that thing in months as the temperature had steadily been dropping and now four kids—one of which was part Veela—were asked to go down to the bottom of it. In huge stands, the audience were sitting on the edge of the seats, while Draco had grabbed a few books to pass the time.

As he anticipated, once the four Champions had jumped into the lake, the boredom set in like a heavy stone. The gossip started up again and people were coming up with all kinds of crazy theories abut what was happening down there. The speculation were getting wilder by the minute and the worry was starting to set in as people realized they had paid for literally nothing.

Even those with premier seats like Draco couldn't see a thing in those dark depths.

The first one to resurface wasn't Diggory, as he expected, but Krum with Granger flailing and spluttering as soon as she woke up. Only a few minutes after, Diggory rose up with that Ravenclaw that had been hanging onto him.

Delacour surfaced third and without her sister.

While people were trying to get her out of the freezing water—already she was looking paler and sick—she was desperately trying to get back in. It was highly possible that staying to long in the cold water cold be deadly for the younger sister. While nobody had thought to question that, he couldn't understand. They should have taken it into account and at least picked another hostage. Delacour surely wasn't without friends.

The last to resurface, just a few minutes before he ran out of time, was Potter, carrying both Weasley and Delacour's younger sister.

The cheers rose around the lake like a passing storm.

Chapter Text

With the Third Task came the return of Lord Voldemort.

The labyrinth was a massively complex creation of the cooperation of multiple highly trained wizards and witches. Its hedges rose high where the Quidditch pitch had once been, even the goalposts removed. All that was left of the original structure were the stands that sat high up.

It was there where Draco was currently sitting, his hands clenched in his lap and a feeling of anticipation curling in his stomach.

Everything was in place. All of his preparation were complete. With the help of Kreacher, he had gotten his hands on all of the Horcruxes he could, and Kreacher was still out there in the world, looking for all of the information he could on soul-splitting. His monthly status updates from Gringotts revealed that his investments were doing well and the money was increasing, and they had informed him that they had a book waiting for him when school let out. There was no way he was going to risk reading about Horcruxes in Hogwarts.

Regardless, it was the 24th of June and the day of the Third Task of the Triwizard Tournament. The rest of the audience were all sitting on the edge of their seats as the Champions ran into the labyrinth, one by one.

There was only hours left now, and then Lord Voldemort would rise again.

Draco breathed in deeply and unclenched his hands. He concentrated on that feeling that said that things were finally going to change. He wouldn't betray his family again, wouldn't turn his back on his magic and beliefs just because of some fear. The future he came from wouldn't happen again.

Cracking open a fairly harmless book, he ignored the people around him with the help of a charm that muffled the sounds around him and started reading. He couldn't quite remember how long it took until Potter returned with the help of the Cup, and a corpse at his feet. Instead of sitting there worrying if everything was going the way it was supposed to, it was much better to distract himself.

The last couple of months had passed quickly. With Potter's showing at the Second Task, he had regained the popularity he had lost earlier in the year, and he was now as beloved as always. Once again, he could do no wrong. As was customary of the Weasley family, Potter's friend was more stubborn than a troll following the scent of marble, and he had yet to apologize to Granger. As a result, Potter was staying away from Granger as well. Which gave Draco an excellent opportunity to get closer to her that he didn't waste. He also took the chance to subtly encourage her affection for Krum. Which wasn't difficult when the man was clearly smitten with her.

They now met at the library to study together at least twice a week, and they actually had intelligent conversations, though it was mostly on the topics of magic.

Which she should be studying.

Along with getting closer to Granger, he had distanced himself slowly from his godfather, Severus Snape. While it hurt to do so as the man was like a second father to him, it had to be done, and he wouldn't let him get in the way of his family's happiness. He was doing all of this for his family and he wasn't going to let Snape ruin it.

Red sparks were shot into the air above the maze at least half-an-hour after the start of the task, and Draco watched with half an eye as the people around him panicked, wondering what had gone wrong. Surely, they were aware of the death toll? Someone always died in the Triwizard Tournament. Merlin, the last time the Tournament happened, all of the Champions had died before reaching the Cup. One died in every challenge and the last one didn't even reach the goal. The contest was discontinued after that. The fact that the Ministry had honestly worked hard for this Tournament to happen just showed how incompetent they were. There was a reason it had been stopped.

Because it was a death sentence, and eventually the schools got tired of losing their best and brightest to it.

The time after that passed unbearably slowly.

Draco finished the book he had started with and was half-way through another one when the Cup finally dumped Potter in the middle of the pitch, in front of the labyrinth. Only, there was no Diggory with him. Did that mean the boy had survived? The most probable possibility was that Potter had simply reached the Cup first, and without anyone else there to fill him with doubt and guilt, had touched it alone. He would find out the full story from his father later.

For now, it was time to start the game.

As the people rose in their seats and used enchanted binoculars to see Potter, the boy was whisked away by Moody along with Dumbledore, Snape and McGonagall in close behind. They all appeared serious in their bearing.

Of course, as always, Dumbledore's complete lack of fashion sense kept anyone from taking it too seriously. It wouldn't surprise Draco to learn that the man was colorblind.

Or maybe just senile.

Draco closed his book and stuffed it in his satchel. He didn't wait for anyone to make room, instead he simply walked between people. He was a master at forcing people out of his way without them realizing they were doing it. He had it down to an art form.

He went straight to the Slytherin dorms in the dungeons. There was no use trying to skulk around for information, not when he already had a basic idea of what had gone down. He knew that Voldemort had returned and he knew that Barty was probably spilling the beans right now. He also knew that there was nothing more he could learn that would be vital to know.

The following week up to the end of the year wasn't nearly as somber as it had been the last time. With Diggory alive and well, nobody was going around mourning anybody and rather, despite the confusion of Potter's return, the students of Hogwarts were just pleased to have won the Tournament.

As such, when Dumbledore announced the return of Lord Voldemort at the end of the year feast, it didn't cause as much of a stir for the students as last time. Surely, the Daily Prophet were already up in arms to dispel the rumors, but with no death to set the tone, the students didn't take it as seriously. Weren't as shaken. Especially as very few of them actually remembered living in a world with Voldemort running free, at the height of his reign. Granted, because it was Dumbledore, most students still believed him, but the sad truth was that people didn't want to believe that Lord Voldemort was back. Nobody wanted to go back to those times, except his followers.

Nobody wanted to remember those times.

So they told themselves that Dumbledore was lying, mistaken or deceived by Potter. And when the Prophet started claiming the same, they took it as the truth and denied the obvious in an effort to deceive themselves.

Most of the time, they succeed. Nobody could lie quite like people to themselves.

At the train, riding away from Hogwarts and the sanctuary it still gave him despite everything, Draco spent the whole time ensuring that his Occlumency worked as it was supposed to. It needed to be as strong as possible and it would honestly be preferable that Lord Voldemort tore his mind to pieces instead of finding his knowledge of the future. He had no idea what the Dark Lord would do with him if that was the case.

Killing him would be the best option, but the Dark Lord was rarely so merciful.

Before he knew it, he was back at the train station and he could see his mother. His father wasn't present and he hadn't expected him to be. Undoubtedly, he had far more important things to do, what with the Dark Lord being back.

Last time, due to the fiasco in with the prophecy, they had lost the Dark Lord's favor. Draco would ensure that that didn't happen again.

One way or another.

Returning to Malfoy Manor was an odd feeling. Even before he entered, by the look on his mother's face, he could tell that the Dark Lord was there. Somewhere in the middle of the place where he grew up, Lord Voldemort had set up base and was preparing for his return to the public. The whole place had a far more bleak feel to it than he was used to.

Draco breathed in deeply and ignored his mounting panic that his Occlumency shields wouldn't hold up. That Lord Voldemort would figure out he was a traitor to both his magic, his family and the Dark Lord himself. That he would find out what Draco had done. What he had been a part of. And how it had all ended. There was a feeling in the pit of his stomach that he thought was fear or anxiety, but he couldn't afford to think about it.

Thankfully, despite living in the same place the Dark Lord, it took a full two weeks before Draco actually met the wizard. During those two weeks, Draco practiced his Occlumency with an almost manic fervor, holed up in his room with his single book on Horcruxes and a perpetual fear that the Dark Lord would take one look at him and know the truth.

It was irrational, he knew, but he had been raised knowing that Lord Voldemort was a master at magic, far more powerful then Dumbledore, and the war the Light Side lost had only cemented those thoughts in his mind. He could barely stomach the idea that he was about to attempt to lie to such a powerful person, and straight to their face at that. He might have betrayed the wizard once, but there was a whole different feeling of horror rising in his chest right now.

And it wasn't just him at risk. If the Dark Lord figured out that Draco was lying, his whole family, the very people he wanted to protect, would be punished as well.

The combination of it all was enough to make him physically ill.

Regardless, once the time came when he was finally summoned for his first meeting with Lord Voldemort, Draco steeled his nerves the best he could and determined that if he was going out, he would do so in style. He dressed in his finest clothes, combed back his hair from his face and stared at himself in the mirror, until he managed to banish the look of abject horror from his expression. Even his grey eyes were rather expressionless.

It was better that he showed too little emotion than too much.

Taking deep breaths to keep his calm, Draco followed after his father to the study next to the library. Behind the heavy doors, he knew, was the Dark Lord.  It took everything he had to stay still and keep his rising panic from showing. Still, for all his faults, he was a Slytherin. His emotions only showed as much as he allowed them. The doors opened and his father stepped back. This was one place his father could neither follow him to or save him from. 

Draco stepped through the doorway and found himself in a surprisingly cosy study. There was a fireplace in one of the walls, bookcases covering almost all of them. The ones that weren't covered had paintings hung on them, but no portraits. He supposed his father didn't want them spying on him or distracting him. There was a couple of armchairs in dark green spaced out on a soft looking carpet around a low wooden table. At the other side of the room was a large desk that Draco had never been allowed to approach. And behind the desk sat the existence that brought fear to the hearts of the entire British Wizarding World.

He swallowed, the only outwardly sign of his nervousness, and walked further in. Despite his tumultuous thoughts, his body was steady and his face was calm.

The first thing to catch his attention of Lord Voldemort were the burning red eyes. 

Draco sat down carefully and unbearably slowly on one of the armchairs. He never took his eyes away from the pale visage that was the Dark Lord, though similarly, his eyes never met the other wizard's. He controlled his breathing and kept his heart-rate down through sheer force of will. All of his planning would be useless if he didn't pass this point of inspection. Any inclination from him now that he wasn't loyal, and Lord Voldemort would kill him without a second thought.

The Dark Lord's magic filled the study and a sensation of snakes crawling along his skin rolled over him. The heaviness in the air and the coldness was all due to the overwhelming magical power the Dark Lord held and though Draco knew better, he couldn't quite stop himself from leaning back a little into the armchair, as if to remove himself from the suffocating sensation. Somehow, it was worse than his memory of the first time this had happened. There was more at risk now, he supposed, more then just himself and his own life and sanity. 

As the oppressive magic bore down on him heavily, he kept his Occlumency shields up and withdrew behind them entirely. He didn't care if Lord Voldemort knew they were there, if he knew that he was hiding something from him, just that it wasn't found. Hopefully, the terrifying wizard in front of him would just assume that it was typical teenage stuff.

Finally, the sensation of death crawling along his spine ceased and Draco took a relieved breath before he could stop himself. He stared down at his lap, his hands clasped tightly together and squeezing so harshly they were both bone-white. He suddenly felt so very small. What did it matter, that he had gone back in time and gotten a second chance, in the face of Lord Voldemort's overwhelming magical might? There was no way that Draco could ever even begin to compare.

What did he think he could accomplish, by doing all of this?

But no, as much as he wanted to sink into all of his old and new insecurities and drown in them, he couldn't afford to. He didn't have some noble goal of winning the war, of saving Britain or going against Lord Voldemort. This wasn't about a war and it wasn't about the destiny of some prophecy he had never even heard. This was Draco and his family and the fate of those that he loved and yet, had somehow managed to betray.

This wasn't about anything grand like happy endings, or revenge, or becoming a hero. This was simply a matter of a selfish wish to save his family. What happened to the rest of the world wasn't his responsibility, and if anybody thought differently, they were downright delusional.

Draco was a lot of things, but a martyr wasn't one of them.

Nor was he a hero. And not once had Draco claimed otherwise.

"Draco Malfoy." it felt like his soul trembled in fear at the sound of that voice, a dark smooth silkiness with an undertone of hissing. He felt himself shiver and cursed his weakness, but he had no time to answer what he had an inkling was a statement rather than a question before the Dark Lord continued.

He closed his eyes involuntarily as the wizard stated, "Your father has been quite adamant of your intelligence. He has also maintained the annoying opinion that you are too young to join me officially."

"Tell me," Lord Voldemort's voice got both softer and darker with an edge of danger, and Draco felt a sliver of fear pool in his stomach. "what do you think?"

His nails bit into his hands and he stared down at them. How could he possibly answer that without angering the wizard in front of him? What could he possibly say to talk his way out of becoming one of his followers? Nothing. There was no way around it. Last time, he had wasted whatever positive feelings the Dark Lord had had for his family by being both visibly dissatisfied and useless. He couldn't do it again.

He rose his eyes a little higher, not anywhere near the other wizard's frightening eyes, and said, "Whatever you decide, my lord."

Draco was proud of himself when his voice didn't tremble, the way it felt like his magic did, and instead stayed steady and sure. His eyes, however, couldn't resist straying back down to his lap. 

He heard the chair behind the desk move a little and he hoped and prayed that it wasn't Lord Voldemort going for his wand to kill him at the same time as he knew how useless both actions were. Prayers went unanswered in times of need and hope was a crutch that ultimately couldn't function without something to fuel it. He had neither.

The Dark Lord's voice interrupted the silence of the study. "I see."

What did that mean? Had he answered correctly or not?

"You are dismissed."

Draco breathed out in a rush of relief so heavy it felt like his head had started spinning. The loss of the constant fear of doom that had been hanging over him for weeks now finally dissipated and he rose from the armchair without waiting for anymore to be said. He bowed to the Dark Lord and then he walked as fast as he dared in the direction of the doors. He  wasn't going to wait around for the wizard to change his mind.

Just as he was about to open the doors, the Dark Lord's voice sounded from behind him, strong and sure. "Call in your father for me."

"Of course, my lord." 

With no more interruptions, he left the study feeling significantly lighter than he had when he entered it. He just hoped he hadn't inadvertently given anything away. On his way out, he caught sight of his father pacing near the other side of the hallway, and with a faint smile, he waved for his father to enter it.

He was just so relieved. It was as if a stone had been removed from his stomach.

The rest of the day, he spent in a sort of daze. His thoughts were preoccupied by the encounter with Lord Voldemort and he couldn't bring himself to stop the feeling of elation in his chest. The fact that he was still alive suggested that he had done something right, even if he wasn't sure what. Nonetheless, that didn't matter. The only important part was that his father had emerged from the study without visible injuries not even an hour after he went in. If Draco hadn't succeeded, that wouldn't have been the image he would have seen when his father came back.

By the time it was evening and he was back in his room, he settled down on his bed with an ease that he hadn't felt in years. Things had started moving now, and there was no longer a way out that didn't involve bloodshed and torture, but he was feeling good. His plans had so far succeeded and although he didn't believe that he had managed to fool Lord Voldemort, he hoped that he had at least misdirected him.

Lying outright to such a master of deceit and magic was a fool's dream, but pointing him in another direction should be possible, as long as he was subtle about it. And thanks to all of his public interactions with Potter, nobody ever associated Draco with subtle.

Not even Snape.

Smirking to himself, he picked up the book on Horcruxes Gringotts had gotten him. It was written in Old English, so although he had had it for a while now, he hadn't gotten very far in. Not to mention the sections that were entirely in Celtic. Draco knew Gaelic, and he knew some simple Celtic, but not enough to decipher those parts of the book. And asking for help was out of the question, so he had gotten dictionaries from the library and was going through it at a snail's pace.

At the very least, he was making some progress, it was just incredibly frustrating when the answers he was seeking took so long to find. It wasn't that he had thought that they would just fall out of the sky, but he could admit to having thought it would go faster. Stupid of him, he knew now.

After spending next to an hour in his bed trying to make sense of the book—he had resorted to just translating it in modern English in another notebook—he finally called it a night and settled it back in its proper hiding place, at the back of the bedside table. There were a lot of small niches in the mansion to hide things that they shouldn't have in their possession.

Draco then waved his hand and all of the lights in the room went out at the same time. 

Sleep came so much easier when he no longer had a sword hanging over his neck.

After his not-a-failure meeting with the Dark Lord, things picked up the pace. The unsavory people coming in and out of the mansion no longer took any pains to hide from him and meetings were held with increasing regularity. Teenagers in close age to himself, including some of his classmates, came to the mansion for their own meetings with Lord Voldemort. Some of them did not come back out.

Draco himself spent his evenings working on the translation of the book, and the days amusing himself with the little things—riding a broom or cozying up in front of a fireplace with a good book—that he had lost with his desertion. For a few days, things were calm and easy in a way he hadn't experienced in years.

Then news come with the Daily Prophet that Potter had only barely managed to avoid expulsion from Hogwarts for underage magic in the presence of a muggle. With the news also came even more frequent meetings and his father made increasing trips to Gringotts, presumably for funds to give to the Dark Lord for the war efforts or to bribe the Ministry with, while his mother just became more obsessed with looking perfect. The Ministry were up in arms in their plans to discredit both Dumbledore and Potter, and the sad part was that they were succeeding. Draco had reread the part about Potter three times, as well as his startled picture, before he finally felt satisfied.

Considering that Potter was the Savior, the one that was fated to vanquish the Dark Lord, the fact that Draco and him had never gotten along even when they were presumably on the same side should say something. And it wasn't like Draco hadn't made efforts, even if they weren't as sincere as they could have been. No, it was just that Potter seemed determined to take everything Draco said as an insult and a lie.

Draco didn't even really know why. It wasn't like he had ever done something truly horrible or unforgivable to him. He had never tried to kill him or his friends. Yet, Potter persisted in his efforts to claim that Draco was an unspeakable evil.

To be honest, it got old fast.

At least Granger had an actual head on her shoulders and knew how to use it.

He kept up his correspondence with his allies as well as Granger as summer neared its inevitable end. From the letters he got from her, he could see that her fondness for Krum were increasing and she had been very pleased with a few beginners books on wizarding traditions that he had gotten her. He had had to smuggle them out of his family's library, but it wasn't as if anyone ever actually bothered to read them.

They were just sitting there, collecting dust.

Unfortunately, that wasn't his only meeting with the Dark Lord. Despite his wishes, Draco had found himself eating dinner with Lord Voldemort and his parents two times during the time that passed. Nothing exciting—thankfully—happened during them, it was just stiff small-talk and insincere inquiries about people's health. But every second in the presence of Lord Voldemort was another chance for him to make a mistake, and he couldn't never really get that idea out of his thoughts. Worse, he was sure Lord Voldemort could tell.

Once ot twice, he had felt the Dark Lord's gaze on him. There was no other sensation quite like it and it took everything he had not to meet the wizard's eyes. If he did that, his mind would be an open book for the Dark Lord.

Draco had no way of knowing what was going through the Dark Lord's eyes as he watched him, and he didn't dare to presume. But it was distracting enough that he usually missed whatever it was they were talking about during dinner. If they had made plans to kill Potter, he wouldn't know.

It was during one such dinner, during which his mother stiffly talked about the latest fashion as if Lord Voldemort was actually interested in it and not just humoring her, and his father was attempting to steer the topic away from Draco's future, that he made his first mistake. Really, it was only a matter of time and the fact that he survived it suggested that he didn't give too much away, but it still caused him to very silently and discreetly panic. 

He met Lord Voldemort's eyes.

It was for barely a moment, not even long enough to blink, but Lord Voldemort turned towards him and the magic that was always surrounding the wizard like a heady drug, suddenly gained an impression of interest. No wait, that was wrong. It was amusement.

Draco didn't know what the wizard had seen in his mind, and he honestly didn't want to know. If he knew, he would have to do something about it and there was just no way that would end well for him. He had had too many traitorous thoughts, made too many back-up plans and oh god, what if he found the information about his Horcruxes? If that was the case, Draco was already dead. He just didn't know it yet.

As much as he would like to brag about how he had found things that not even Dumbledore had, that would be the very height of folly. And the fact that the Dark Lord had won the war while being essentially insane and obsessed with a teenage boy, who was really very overrated, should say something about his power. And for everything else that Draco was, suicidal wasn't one of them.

It was not until the following evening, after a whole day's worth of useless worrying, that he was summoned to meet with Lord Voldemort again.

Chapter Text

Draco sat still on an armchair, back in the study that Lord Voldemort seemed to have made into his temporary base. He was sitting at the very edge of the seat, as if he could get up and run if given the opportunity, and his hands were gripping each other tightly in his lap, so tightly that they were starting to hurt.

It had been more than ten minutes already, and Lord Voldemort hadn't said a word.

Draco had kept his sight on his lap since the moment he had stepped in and was given permission to sit down, and he had no idea what was going through the Dark Lord's head. He had no idea how he was supposed to act, what he was supposed to say, because this had never happened the last time around. He had had one meeting (the first and last one) alone with the Dark Lord and then never been in the man's presence on his own again. He barely saw the wizard at all until he was marked after the end of fifth year and his father's failed mission in the ministry.

Silence suffocated the office, while the wizard's overwhelming magic was in the process of drowning him. Draco kept his breathing even and his fear from showing on his face through sheer force of will, and he never, not even once, tried to lift his head to get a view of Lord Voldemort. He had already given away something in his mind, he had no intention of doing so again.

From the fireplace, the sound of flames eating up wood sparked occasionally, and Draco made conscious effort to keep from flinching every time something snapped. The suspense was practically killing him.

He breathed out calmly in a controlled manner and continued to wait for the other wizard to say something.

He was not about to speak out of turn and possibly interrupt the man's thinking.

"As you know..."

The harsh, raspy voice came from the other end of the office and it made shivers run down his spine and goosebumps rise on his skin. Draco swallowed and kept his eyes determinedly down.

The Dark Lord continued, "Harry Potter was responsible for my banishment all these years."

Draco wasn't sure what the pause was for. Was he supposed to nod and show he agreed? But he couldn't make his neck move. He was frozen from the raw terror that was clawing its way through his chest. He bit down on his lower-lip and did nothing.

"In your mind..." the Dark Lord said and Draco felt fear paralyze him, even more then it already had. Why did the wizard insist on speaking so slowly? It wasn't good for his soul. "I saw a curious thing."

This time, Draco managed to squeeze out a nod.

"I saw... genuine dislike of Harry Potter." Lord Voldemort stated and Draco had to force himself to keep breathing. The Dark Lord continued, in a weirdly amused tone, to say, "From all of the letters you've sent to your parents, I would have assumed that you were in love with him."

"What?! No!" in his shock at the unexpected sentence, Draco couldn't keep the disrespectful words from erupting.

"No?" the wizard's voice got lower and slower, somehow managing to sound both menacing and amused at the same time.

Draco shook his head and clenched his eyes shut from the fear. He couldn't believe how stupid he was. Why couldn't he ever keep his mouth shut? Why did he have to keep being so impulsive, so quick to say such stupid, useless things? But there was no going back. He had already said it, if he tried to talk his way out of it, around the subject or in any way lie, he would lose what little respect the Dark Lord may have of him, if he had any at all, which Draco seriously doubted. But he didn't—couldn't—lose his goodwill. It was the only reason his family was still alive, despite claiming the Imperious to get out of Azkaban.

He took a deep breath and forced his voice out of his mouth at the same time as he bent his head further down in a show of submission to the wizard. "I apologize for my tone, my lord. I was merely shocked at the idea that I could feel anything other then hatred for Potter."

He couldn't help it. He sneered out of habit when he said Potter's name.

He kept his head down, his eyes staring at his lap and his hands still gripping tightly, the blue of his veins standing out among the pale skin. Even as the overwhelming aura of Lord Voldemort's magic only increased in potency, he stayed as still as a statue.

Finally, the Dark Lord said, "I see..."

Draco could taste blood as he bit through his lip and not even the pain could make him move so much as a muscle.

"Raise your head. Look at me." Lord Voldemort demanded, his dark voice heavy with meaning that Draco couldn't understand.

He raised his head and moved his eyes somewhere to the vicinity of the other wizard. Despite it all, his breath stayed steady and his heart stayed at a normal, if slightly elevated, pace.

"Your classmates don't quite agree with your negative opinion of Potter. They consider him to be much less of a threat to me. But you... you seem to think he could actually kill me. Tell me why." 

There was no room for disagreement in the Dark Lord's tone. Draco felt the overwhelming urge to run away, to keep running and never turning back, but he had made a promise to himself. He wasn't going to do that again, no matter what the consequences were. He steeled his nerves and stated, "Potter might not be very smart, but there's something to be said for his raw power and ability to make others want to follow him. He's an complete idiot, but he would sacrifice himself and make himself an martyr if he thought he had to."

The feeling of death surrounded him, but Draco continued speaking. "I don't think he could kill you. I think he could inspire others to."

Hopefully, that was a vague enough statement that nobody would think he had knowledge of the future from it. For several minutes, Draco kept sitting still on the armchair as he waited for the Dark Lord to say something.

His heart was sitting heavy in his chest, blood still staining his lips from his own actions and he had marks from his nails on his hands. He couldn't make his hands let go of each other, and he couldn't help sitting with a straight back, and he didn't dare move his eyes from staring at the Dark Lord's desk. Finally, finally, the heavy feeling in the air, the pressure from the other wizard's magic, dissipated, little by little.

Finally, Draco could breathe in easier.

He breathed in deeply, feeling his lungs expand in his chest, his heart starting to beat a little slower as he calmed down and his fear lessened, just ever so slightly.

"Do you now?" it sounded like the Dark Lord was musing, but that couldn't be right, so Draco promptly erased that thought from his head. Instead of answering, he simply nodded in response.

A low, harsh laugh filled the room and Draco felt his heart stop in his chest as the Dark Lord said, "I understand."

He wondered what the man understood.

Draco waited and waited, but the Dark Lord didn't say another word. His fear kept him rooted in his spot on the armchair and he was no longer ashamed of it. The last time, he had been. He had hated the fact that his family were forced to bend their heads to a being as overwhelmingly powerful and insane as the Dark Lord, but now he knew better. This was a choice that his family had made. They hadn't been tricked (though most likely manipulated), no they had been well aware of what this was about. They believed in the Dark Lord's cause. His parents had never felt ashamed for bowing to the wizard. Fear? Most definitely. But they were never anything less than proud.

Minutes ticked by, as he waited with trepidation for the Dark Lord to dismiss him and send him on his way. He didn't dare to utter a word untold, and it would be pure stupidity to try to leave without permission, as much as this was his home.

Undoubtedly, if he tried, he would get crucio'd faster than he could blink.

And that really was not a sensation he was looking forwards to feeling again.

In his head, he counted the seconds as they passed on by. The numbers had risen well into the hundreds by the time Lord Voldemort's voice cut through the silence like a burning knife.

"You can leave."

Draco swallowed a deep breath of air in and couldn't keep himself from showing a tiny smile, just a simple quirking of his lips, at his staunch relief. He rose from his seat, ignored the stiffness of his muscles, and bowed deeply to the wizard. "Thank you, my lord."

When he rose from his bow, he stood straight with his head held high and left the study, once more in one piece.

Once on the other side of the door with it closed behind him, it was as if all of the tension left him at once. Suddenly, he couldn't resist smiling, and he couldn't stop himself from laughing for a precious few seconds before he slammed his hands over his mouth. There was just so much relief, and he wasn't sure what to feel in the absence of all of that tension and fear. He walked all the way back to his room with his hands over his mouth, to keep anyone from hearing the occasional laughter he couldn't contain.

For some reason, he felt like crying. It didn't make any sense, but he felt like he had just passed some great wall, some ingenious test, some point that couldn't be taken back. He felt like all of this was suddenly so very real, despite the fact that he had been back in the past for almost a whole year.

It just suddenly hit him, for a reason he couldn't figure out, that this wasn't a dream.

In his room, being in no mood to learn anything, he grabbed a fiction book that he had probably already read a dozen times before and settled down on one of the sofas with it. He got a cup of hot chocolate from Kreacher and just emerged himself in that wonderful sense of opportunity, that he hadn't felt for so long.

It wasn't hope, he was no idiot, but it was a chance. And that was all he needed.

Draco was going to make this work. He had to.

He read well into the night, somehow having way too much energy to go to sleep at a reasonable hour.

The next morning, Draco slept in, a predictable result of staying up too late. When he finally finished making himself look presentable (a subject that could now not be avoided any time he left his room, courtesy of all of the guests staying at the manor) he made his way down to the family dining-room and avoided eye-contact with any Death Eater that he passed in the hallways.

His family had evidently already eaten, as he was alone in the dining-room during his breakfast. There was a different, much bigger, dining-hall meant for guests and balls. Because the Malfoy's didn't throw parties. They organized elegant and glamorous balls, during which only the finest of food and drinks would be served and people would wear their most expense clothes and cloyingly sweet-smelling perfume while laughing with faces they had practiced in front of the mirror, all in an effort to show-off to everyone else in some demented contest of who lived the most luxurious life.

Since the decline of the Blacks, the Malfoy's usually won, as those few rich families on the Light Side considered themselves too good to compete.

Once he had eaten his fill of the breakfast, Draco stood up and wandered off into the mansion, in search of something to do. 

He knew very well that he should be training, and he was going to, but first he wanted to just get a look at the manor. He hadn't had time to take it properly in since coming back, and he wanted to capture it in his memory before he lost his chance. It was, very soon, after all going to be turned into a veritable dungeon for prisoners of the Light Side, as the ministry couldn't touch the place.

Before it was tainted by death and torture and just general misery, he wanted to remember it as it was. He had never done this before, and he had always regretted it.

Draco spent hours wandering through the halls of his childhood home, using his Occlumency to make sure he would remember it, before he finally went down to his private training room. Another, much bigger one, was being used by different Death Eaters, as they polished their skills in a safe environment.

He began by doing his physical exercises, and then moved on to magical ones. He went through his entire repertoire of spells, even the seemingly harmless ones. One thing he had learned from Granger was that all magic—no matter how small—was lethal, it was all a matter of how it was used.

His warding skills were... passable, in the simplest sense. 

For some reason, he was much, much better at healing magic, though he had no idea why. He was limited to working on himself, on his own injuries, and he supposed it helped that he couldn't go to Madam Pomfrey without being asked some very uncomfortable questions that he wouldn't be able to answer. In addition, the repeated practice of dodging when balls came flying at him (he had spelled them himself) had increased his reflexes exponentially. 

Potions was always a subject that he had excelled in, partly because he was talented at it and partly because Snape had been tutoring him in the subject since before his Hogwarts years. Once, he had even enjoyed toying with the idea of becoming a Potions Master, instead of going into politics, but he always knew it was just a silly dream.

Regardless, his skills at the subject had grown by leaps and bounds in the last year as he practiced and made what he already knew in his head muscle memory.

It took him hours to get rid of the excess energy.

Finally, Draco felt so tired that he doubted he would be able to walk back to his room, and he panted where he laid on the floor, the most exhausted he had felt since before his death. His breaths were coming out in pants, his whole body covered in a level of disgusting sweat that he really wanted to wash off, if only he could summon up the energy to move. 

It was, however, nowhere to be found.

After minutes of lazying about, he pushed himself up to his hands and leaned back on them. He felt spent, like he had used up every inch of energy he had had, and it wasn't a sensation he was used to. He usually trained with more moderation in mind, so he would have the energy to walk up all of those stairs all over Hogwarts, but he had needed this. His head felt so much clearer now.

Puffing out a breath of air, he finally managed to push himself to his feet. Draco dragged his hand through his hair, grimacing a little at the greasy feel of it, and resolved to go and take a long bath as soon as he got back to his room. 

His hair was getting longer. It was starting to reach towards his shoulders, and he didn't think he was going to get it cut. His life was now a whirlwind of choices, both his and others, but regardless, so much of it was outside of his control. So much depended on others moving as he thought, and it was honestly a little nerve-wreaking. To be honest, he had never done this before. He knew how, obviously, or he would be doing a lot poorer, but he hadn't used this skillset in his last life. He hadn't thought it necessary, and by the time he did, it was too late to join the game. There wasn't a lot things under his direct control right now, but his hair was one of them. So purely to remind himself that this was a new chance, when he woke up in the morning and still thought that all of this was a dream, he was going to grow his hair out.

It would be a much more effective wake-up call then just staring at the ceiling until his thoughts made sense again. He cursed how long it took him to wake up in the morning, but the different hair-length was something that he would notice right away, especially the longer it grew. And it was also a painless solution that wouldn't bring him much scrutiny, except for maybe his changing fashion choices, which made it the best option that he had found so far.

Back in his room, he stripped out of his clothes as soon as the door closed and locked behind him. He left the thin clothes on the floor and walked directly into the bathroom, where he sat down in the tub while the water was still filling up.

He leaned his head back on a white towel against the edge of the tub and closed his eyes, as the sensation of the water rose at a slow pace.

The water was warm and soothed muscles he hadn't even realized were sore. Draco blinked lazily at the ceiling while the water filled up, as he took the chance to reinforce his Occlumency shields while he was relaxed and basically deadweight. 

Of course, there was no guarantee that the Dark Lord had only seen his dislike of Potter in his mind, but he thought that it was the most likely scenario right now. When the Dark Lord found traitors, he didn't sit around waiting to punish them, he caught them immediately and tortured them for daring to betray him, most often in public to discourage others from following their example. 

Draco was well aware that he was in no way special in the Dark Lord's eyes, so that was the probable ending of him if his traitorous thoughts were to be discovered. He had never stood out to anybody as anything other than Lucius Malfoy's son or a complete brat, and that had been his own choice.

A choice he was still making.

At this point, he couldn't afford to get any more attention than he already did, his changes in behavior and personality (trauma like going through a war was funny like that) would be too hard to hide without causing suspicion. Suspicion that he didn't need, Potter was already way too likely to start stalking him if he saw something weird. It had happened before, though Draco still didn't understand why.

Like he said, Potter was an idiot, and he was an idiot that was determined to blame everything bad that happened on him for some reason.

For over an hour, Draco just lazed about in the warm water. Thanks to magic, it didn't cool down, and instead stayed at a pleasant warmth the entire time. By the time he was finally ready to get out of the tub, he was feeling much, much better.

He dried himself off with a fluffy towel and dressed himself in a cozy, long bathrobe after he had let the water go down the drain. He exited the bathroom feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, and with hunger curling in his stomach. Yawning, he pushed his damp hair out his face and walked out into his bedroom, where he then stopped abruptly and felt his heart stop beating in his chest at the sight of the Dark Lord sitting on his sofa, looking for all the world as if he belonged.

He blinked and couldn't stop himself from pressing his hands over his eyes, his body still loose and relaxed against his better judgement, and the sight that met him when he brought them down again was the same.

Lord Voldemort's red eyes were staring at him with amusement.

Draco's gaze swept all over the room and he felt like swearing when he saw that his clothes were still on the floor—damn those house-elves—and the messy state of his books, spread out over different surfaces. Biting his bottom-lip, he sat down on the sofa across from Lord Voldemort, absurdly grateful for the coffee table separating them.

"My lord..." he began and frowned. He felt practically naked, sitting there in just a bathrobe, his hair still dripping with water. "What brings you here?"

"I thought to continue our conversation." the Dark Lord stated, his voice again having that dark and slithering quality to it that made him sound more insane then he was.

Draco redirected his eyesight over the Dark Lord's shoulder and said, "Yes, my lord."

He sat uncomfortably straight on his seat, his hands laying by his sides as he wondered what this was about. Had Lord Voldemort truly seen something more in his mind? But this wasn't the reaction he had in those cases. He kept his eye from straying to looking at the Dark Lord, no matter how curious he knew that he was. He had already seen him, he knew what he looked like, and the sight made him uncomfortable. He wasn't ashamed to admit that he usually looked to peoples appearances first. It was a good indicator if they cared what other people thought of them, if they put in the effort to look good.

He didn't know what could have caused the Dark Lord's appearance to become so inhuman, though he had heard plenty of theories while fighting for the Light Side, and he didn't particularly care. The point was that it was disconcerting to look at.

Alien, almost.

"Did you know that your grandfather was one of my first followers?" Lord Voldemort asked, his voice sounding strangely soft. It was far more terrifying then when it was hard and unyielding.

Draco nodded. He had certainly heard about it a lot growing up.

"You look nothing like him." and then the Dark Lord's voice was dark and dangerous again, having flipped like a switch. Draco swallowed nervously and hoped Lord Voldemort hadn't already lost his mind like he did in the later part of the second war. If so, he might actually kill him for not looking like his grandfather.

The Dark Lord continued, "You take far more after your the Black's. I imagine as you grow older, it will only be more and more apparent."

Draco said nothing as Lord Voldemort descended into silence again. After all, the wizard was right. He took far more after his mother and her family then he did the Malfoy's.

"With Sirius Black's incarnation, you're the only male Black left." Draco knew what the wizard was referring to as soon as he said it, but he had no proper response.

He had never actually learned who the Black Lordship was left with. He knew that Sirius left everything he had to Potter, but he didn't know if that included the lordship or not. After all, the man had been both disowned and thrown into Azkaban, which doubtless screwed with his sanity. When he got out, he was in no shape to run a family as influential and rich as the Blacks, not to mention their businesses. He had never heard a peep about the lordship from anybody, whether before or after he joined the Light Side.

In addition, in this time, Sirius wasn't dead yet. But if he had had access to the Black Ancestral Manor, he couldn't imagine that the man would have willingly stayed at Grimmauld Place. The place was not only a complete dump, it also housed—he had been informed by Potter many times when he was perceived to be insensitive—painful memories for his cousin.

In this situation, the only thing he could say was the truth. It was only too easy for the wizard to figure out if he was lying or not. "I apologize, my lord, but I don't know who is next in line for the lordship."

"A shame." Lord Voldemort stated. "You will find out."

Draco nodded urgently. "Yes, my lord. Of course."

"Good."

The magical pressure in the room rose as Lord Voldemort rose from his seat and stood straight. The wizard didn't spare Draco another glance as he exited the room, the wards around it snapping shut behind him as the door closed and locked. Draco breathed out deeply and leaned back on his sofa, relived that he—once more—was not dead and had managed to get through a meeting with Lord Voldemort in one piece.

He wondered what was different. What it was that he had done that had caused the Dark Lord to order him to do this. He hadn't last time, in fact, there had never even been a mention of the subject. 

Was it something he had seen in his mind? Something about the way he talked now, walked? Or was it just a whim of the Dark Lord that had nothing to with him?

He supposed that there was no way to know. 

As such, it was better not to dwell on it.

It was merely a waste of time.

Draco closed his eyes for several minutes as he just calmed down. Finally, he called, "Libby!"

Immediately, a pop sounded to inform him that Libby had arrived. 

"What can Libby be doing for the young master?"

He opened one of his eyes and looked at the young house-elf by his feat. She was much younger then Debby had been for as long as Draco had known the house-elf, and she was dressed better too, a recent development. She had been born a house-elf in servitude of the Malfoy family, and knew nothing else.

Draco smiled a little at her and ordered, "Take the used clothes to be cleaned and send me my dinner here, thank you."

Like always, she blushed all the way up to the tip of her long ears when he said thank you

Draco rose an eyebrow in amusement at the sight and then sighed when she nodded almost faster then his eyes could follow and promptly disappeared again with his used clothes. If there was one thing that he was now taking shameless advantage of, it was being nice and pleasant to house-elves. Slowly but surely, all of the elves in his family's employment would be more loyal to him than his father and mother. He was using the same strategy with the Hogwarts house-elves, but it was slower going, as Dumbledore actually treated them decently, unlike his parents cruel treatment of them.

When Libby returned with his food, Draco smiled at her and once again said, "Thank you, Libby."

She blushed again, and twisted her hands around with the clean fabric of the small dress she was wearing, made of recycled curtains that his mother had been planning on throwing out anyway, because they were 'no longer in style'.

Libby's eyes were sparkling as she happily announced, "You be welcome, young master!"

Draco wasn't going to pretend to understand how house-elves worked, but it seemed to make her ridiculously happy, just saying those words to him every time he thanked her with her name.

Libby stayed and watched as he ate the food, still dressed in the bathrobe. Thankfully, he didn't spill anything, because he had more class than that.

Once he was finished with the meal, he smiled at Libby. "I'm done. Thank you for the food, Libby."

Her face was so red that he wondered if she was alright when she left along with the dishes. If Potter could see him, he would undoubtedly tear into him about manipulating house-elves like this, calling him evil and a monster for using them for his own ends, like he didn't do the same thing. Maybe Potter didn't do it knowingly, but the end result was the same, as evidenced by Dobby's stubborn protecting of the boy, despite having only met him a few times.

Summoning one of his many books, he stayed still on the sofa in his fluffy bathrobe until it was starting to darken outside of the large windows.

Once night fell, Draco rose from his seat at last and stretched his back, feeling it stretch to his satisfaction. He left the book on the coffee table and went over to his bed to drag out his pajamas from between the covers, changing into it easily. 

He left the bathrobe hanging over the back of the sofa and once his business in the bathroom was concluded, he turned off all of the lights.

For several wonderful moments, he just stared out the window, up at the full moon above him and the starry sky. There wasn't a cloud in sight, and he gazed easily out over his family's grounds. With his hand on the glass, he leaned his forehead against the window's coldness and forced his mind to file away the image properly, while contentment curled in his belly.

Smiling, Draco slowly stood up straight and removed his head from the window. His hand lingered for a few moments longer before he removed it, too. He turned his body around and went to his bed, where he climbed in between the comfy sheets and burrowed down into the familiar warmth. Closing his eyes, it didn't take him long to fall into the tempting embrace of Morpheus.

War was coming, and Draco couldn't be happier.

Chapter Text

"You won't believe what happened!" Granger swept into his compartment on the Hogwarts Express like a whirlwind. She sneered, her frizzy hair standing on end and a look of pure fury on her face.

Draco sighed and closed his book. "What, Granger?"

She frowned at him, obviously displeased with his attitude, but he didn't have the patience to care for it. Finally, she dropped down on the seat across from him and huffed angrily, already in her Hogwarts robes. Draco, on the other hand, had yet to change into them.

"That sham of a trial! Didn't you read about it?" she waved her hands as she spoke, as if she was about to throttle someone.

"Oh, you mean Potter not getting expelled." Draco nodded with feigned compassion. "And I had really gotten my hopes up, too."

She rolled her eyes. "Don't be mean! Didn't you read about it? They pulled him in front of the entire Wizengamot! For a case of underage magic! I mean, disregarding the fact that Harry only did magic in front of his cousin anyway, which means that the law didn't even apply to it, it was still only underage magic. Not even anything harmful! Besides, muggles have tons of objects that can create light, handheld and otherwise, so it wasn't even like anyone was going to think, "Oh wow, magic! I need to gather the townsfolk and round up our pitchforks"!"

She crossed her arms as she huffed in anger. Draco rose an eyebrow at her and noted, "This is something you're upset about, then?"

"Of course I am!" she sank deeper into the seat and blew away the stray hairs that covered her eyes. "They completely blew it out of proportion! I can't believe all of the adults, even the politicians, actually went along with it!"

"Maybe it's because they are politicians that they went along with it." Draco offered and looked back down to get get back to his book.

"I still can't believe it!" Granger complained and sneered to herself. "What a waste of time. And in the end, after that whole farce, they didn't even expel him."

Draco smiled at her. "Careful, Granger. People are going to say that I'm corrupting you."

She just stared back at him with furious eyes.

Draco smiled at her, a perfectly fake one, and went back to his book.

Some time later, he heard the sound of the door banging shut behind her as she left, undoubtedly to go bother Potter and the weasel. Draco didn't even bother to look up, but instead continued to read his potions textbook.

"There you are, we've been looking all over for you!" Pansy Parkinson entered the compartment with a bang.

Draco sighed and put down his book again, having the unsettling feeling that he wouldn't be getting back to it anytime soon. It had already been over an hour into the journey to Hogwarts, so he had gotten his hopes up that no-one else would bother him, but evidently, that was all for naught. Blaise and Pansy sat down next to him on the long seat, Greg and Vince thundering after them to sit across from him.

Blaise chided, "You could have at least told us you didn't want to sit with us."

Draco sat up straighter, his arm held up by the window edge and his head leaning on his hand. He stated, "I don't want to sit with you."

"Come on, Draco, don't be mean!" Pansy leaned further against him, her eyes wide in what was probably supposed to pass for innocence.

Draco rolled his eyes. "Excuse me for wanting some time to myself after spending a whole summer in the same house as the Dark Lord."

"Whatever." Blaise said and pulled out a chessboard from his trunk. "Are we playing or not?"

Draco rose an eyebrow at him and asked, "Why wouldn't we? Move across from me."

"Demanding brat." Blaise mumbled under his breath, undoubtedly meaning Draco to hear him. Blaise, after all, was too well raised for him to make such comments in the victims hearing, unless that was the point. Draco didn't dignify it with a response.

Blaise settled the chessboard on the table between them and moved across from, sitting next to the window like him. While Draco watched, the chess pieces took their places on the board, giving them both judging eyes, as if they didn't think they knew how to play. Please. Draco had been playing chess for as long as he could remember. It was a crucial game for learning strategy and the importance of planning ahead, while taking other people's plans into consideration.

"Here. You go first." Blaise said and waved his arm theatrically.

Draco smirked, but didn't disagree. If Blaise was willing to let him go first, it could only be for one reason. He had a new strategy that he wanted to try out.

Half-an-hour later, and he had lost the game.

Draco watched as Blaise smirked at him, a hint of malicious pleasure in his eyes. He sighed and picked up his book, asking, "Can I return to this now?"

"Potions?" Pansy asked, leaning over his shoulder to watch as he opened it up the to bookmarks location. "Don't you already know all this stuff?"

"Yes, but Snape demands perfection, so double-checking never hurts." Draco murmured.

"Hmm." Pansy hummed out. "You sure you don't want to play a game with me?"

Draco didn't bother responding, but instead simply went back to reading. He heard her huff next to him, then he saw her cross her arms from the corner of his eye, but he didn't give her any more attention. Pretty soon, her attention was diverted to Blaise's tale of his adventures in Italy, and she asked about a million questions on the subject, wanting to know absolutely everything about the trip.

Blaise, ever so weak against women, indulged her far too much, in Draco's opinion. Not that anyone ever asked him of it.

Despite his fervent wishes, they spent the rest of journey in the same compartment, and he had to listen to them gossip like old ladies, about fashion and who was cheating on who, and which people had just gotten engaged, even which people had ran away from their marriages. Not that this wasn't valuable information that he could use when blackmailing people, but did they have to sound so interested in it, when they were discussing such things? In fact, why did they feel the need to discuss such things in his presence anyway? He was pretty sure that they considered him to be too much of a boor to be interested.

Well, regardless of his misgivings, when he heard any interesting and possibly valuable intel, he filed it away in his head, and he would have look into the authenticity and accuracy of it some other time, to make sure it was actually useful information. No matter how dishonorable, or how embarrassing, if the person of the gossip wasn't affected by it, it wouldn't be of any use in blackmail anyway.

When the train finally rolled to a stop at Hogsmeade Station, night had already fallen.

Draco blinked out through the window, seeing the lights from the carriages, and the large form of Hagrid standing by, waiting for the new first years to lead them to the lake. He stood up and swept out of the compartment, followed by the others.

The thestrals were just as easy to see as last year, and he swallowed down the slight sense of unsettledness that they gave him. With the desire to get some time to himself, he walked up to a carriage that he had seen someone else already enter, and didn't do more than raise an eyebrow at the peep of fear Longbottom let out at seeing him. Behind him, Greg and Vince thundered into the carriage, filling it to capacity. If nothing else, they knew how to be quiet when he didn't feel like talking.

The ride to the castle was hardly bumpy at all, thanks to the wonders of magic. Still, Draco imagined that he could feel the rough path underneath him.

Once Hogwarts Castle finally entered his line of sight, Draco found himself staring at it.

Every time that he saw it, no matter how recently he'd seen it, he was always hit by how old it was, how full of ancient magic it was. The warding that had been used had been outlawed centuries ago, when it'd become considered to be Dark Magic.

Not that anyone seemed to know this.

It seemed more like such information had been erased.

But really, Hogwarts was nearly fully sentient, capable of moving rooms and protecting its students by revealing secret passages during critical moments or setting off traps. And yes, some of that had to do with the overabundance of magic users for so long ad the ambient magic, but it wouldn't be possible if the groundwork wasn't done by the founders. And sentience by inanimate objects could only be accomplished through what was thought of as Dark Magic—simply because it required raw emotions to work.

Eventually, the carriages rolled to a stop and Draco climbed down the stairs outside, to step foot on the ground. Greg and Vince took up their usual place by his sides, and Longbottom ran away as fast as he could in blatant fear.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of bright red. Following it, he saw Potter, Weasley and Granger all standing by the side, together with Lovegood.

He rose an eyebrow.

Up the large stairs and through the entrance doors, and they were in the castle proper.

Draco quirked his lips in what could probably be interpreted as a smile, and felt his muscles relax, now that he was back in the relative safety of the castle. Despite his best wishes and his attempts to push it away, living so close to so many Death Eaters—not to mention the Dark Lord himself—for a whole summer had worn on his nerves.

The cacophony of voices rose high above the hundreds of students, as they lined up and entered the Great Hall together. Draco took his usual place at the Slytherin table, settling himself down with ease on the bench, after so many years of practice. He was joined on his sides by Vince and Greg—he did not want to sit across from them when they were eating, although even they had better table manners than Weasley.

Across from him, Blaise, Pansy and Theo took their seats, with Pansy pouting at him for not saving her one next to him. Soon, however, she was distracted by whatever new gossip it was Blaise was recounting, and she switched focus.

The Sorting Hat started singing his iconic songs, this one technically a new one, but one that Draco had heard before. After that, the general sorting of the new students went by quickly, as there were no celebrities in the mix to make people stop and stare in awe. And then came the moment that he had been dreading since getting on the carriage drawn by the thestrals.

Dolores Umbridge stood up and made the most stupid speech that he had ever heard.

Unfortunately, as much as he disliked her and everything that she stood for, he would have to play in her corner of the current game.

He had absolutely no intention of putting himself, or his goals, in danger just because he couldn't stand one woman. She was a tool to be used, albeit a slightly powerful one, but still just a tool and he intended to use her well. Like all people, she had her part to play.

He smirked and could see Theo giving him a look across from him. Undoubtedly, he would soon be interrogated about his new plans, but he had no intention of sharing. Things would go so much smoothly if no-one knew about them. Then he could at least partially predict their actions, and whatever reactions they had, they'd be genuine.

Umbridge finished her creepy speech, and Dumbledore made a small one, with some more words that were not in the English language.

Eventually, the feast finished and they could retire to their beds. Draco had been up since early in the morning, waking up from a bad dream and unable to go back to sleep, and so he was in desperate need of rest. Not to mention that he was still reeling from the information that he had gotten from Gringotts, and needed time alone to process it. Peace and quiet of his own bed plus a muffling spell and he would be all set.

Pansy hang onto his arm the entire way to the dorm, but Draco was too tired and exhausted to deal with her.

As soon as he settled down onto his bed and pulled the curtains closed, he fell into his mind with Occlumency. It wasn't as scattered as he had feared, but there was still a bit of a mess that would need to be fixed, and he needed to strengthen his defenses. 

"Nothing else to it, I guess."

He smirked and hid the new piece of information that he had gotten, the piece that he had yet to let the Dark Lord know. Truly, he was still of half a mind that it was a mistake, and he planned to confirm it during yule break, so until then he had no intention of letting anyone know. 

The fact that he would be the next Lord Black was not something he wanted to be common knowledge.

In particular, he did not want anyone on the Light Side getting a hold of this information until he decided otherwise. If Snape figured it out, he would blab about it Sirius and Dumbledore, both of whom would then try to contest it. And technically, Sirius had never been convicted of anything, and he was the last male Black carrying the name. He could make a strong case, and if the Ministry decided to interfere, they might actually get somewhere. Draco simply couldn't take that chance.

The Black lordship would make him valuable

Whether to the Light Side or to Lord Voldemort, it was a safety card that he could use to buy his family's safety with.

The Black family was old, over a thousand years older than the Malfoy family, and it carried much more weight internationally. In Britain, they were generally looked down upon as a family of insane idiots with undue ambitions and no moral code, but internationally, they actually commanded respect. 

Internationally, they were a family with power, and now that Draco had a hold of it, he had no intention of letting go.

He wondered if his father knew about it. It wouldn't surprise him it he did, what with his endless ambitions, but the question was, why did he never use it? It wasn't difficult for Draco to imagine that his father had known for a long time, just never said anything. But why? No, if he had a chance at more power but didn't say anything, it was because of the Dark Lord. For some reason, he hadn't been given permission in his last life.

Frowning, Draco watched on as his mind's defenses were fortified, and his new knowledge hidden.

Feeling his need for sleep threatening to overwhelm him, he yawned and exited his mind, falling asleep almost instantly.

Some weeks later, and he was yawning in the library, half-heartedly writing an essay in homework for History of Magic, once more about the goblin wars. Honestly, he didn't know wha Dumbledore was thinking, hiring such an objectively bad teacher and keeping him hired, despite the countless complains he got. Disregarding the fact that the professor was a ghost who only taught about goblin wars, he was seriously bad at teaching. He had absolutely no presence, inspired no will to learn in his students, and his voice was so droning and monotonous, he actually put students to sleep in every single class. 

Hogwarts' students grades in History of Magic, both in OWLs and NEWTs, were notoriously bad, some of the worst results worldwide. It was so bad, that if a British historian traveled to another country, they would ridiculed. Nobody could take people with such low scores seriously.

On the other hand, Hogwarts produced some of the best Masters of Herbology in the whole world, in a surprising turn of events. It still didn't change the fact that Hogwarts students were looked down upon badly, though.

There was only so much you could understand, when your education sucked so badly.

He sighed, and finished up the last line of his homework, signing his name on it fluently. Theo looked up from his seat across the table and asked, "Done?"

Draco nodded and Theo inquired, "Want me to look it over for you?"

"No." Draco shook his head and let out a mocking laugh. "No need."

"Okay. If you say so."

Theo returned to his own homework, and Draco gathered up the materials he had been using, walking around the library to put them back from where he took them. He had a good enough memory that this was no difficult task.

As he walked around, he could see other students taking peeks at him when they thought that he wasn't looking. He didn't really understand why they would, but he was in no way above taking advantage of it. He made sure that he looked appropriately serious, as if he considered this task to be of utmost importance, and heard them whispering to each other. Out of the corner of his eyes, he could see them pointing and gossiping, and he supposed that might have to do with his hair or something.

He had stuck with one hairstyle for so long after, practically made it his trademark, that they might just not be used to this one yet. Even though it had been weeks since school started again, and they really should have by now.

Once he was sure that he had made a decent impression on them by seriously putting back the books in their proper places, Draco returned to the table that he shared with Theo.

They didn't say anything to each, instead, Draco sat down and went through some information in his head.It had been about a month since school started, and it was now October, which meant that any day now, Potter and his crew would be creating that Dumbledore's Army thing. He didn't understand why they would actually name it that, Defense Association sounded so much better to him, and much more accurate. And also safer. 

But whatever, Potter had a notoriously bad naming sense, and Granger and Weasley tended to just go with them, no matter how bad it sounded. Or how much of a horrific image it gave off. Just think about it. A bunch of school children, not even legal adults, creating an army and naming it after the Headmaster, not to mention the obvious prejudice by not including Slytherins. It just reeked of favoritism and grooming tiny kids into playing his own personal war. One could argue that he had influenced them unduly with his position, and was abusing his power by making students fight his battles, grooming them into his own personal minions.

Draco smirked.

He could use that.

Really, it wasn't even as if he was wrong. Morally speaking, it was wrong for a Headmaster to take such advantage of his position and power, even using his own students for his nefarious schemes. And Potter and Dumbledore's names were already in the trash thanks to the Daily Prophet. Really, it wouldn't take much for this to blow up and become a scandal.

He could already imagine the articles, the head titles, the bad press. It would hit Dumbledore with a blow that hadn't come last time around, but this time... of this time, things would be different.

He wondered how big of an impact it would have.

Realistically speaking, probably not much. At this point, Dumbledore was a master at using the media and his students—not to mention his precious Order—to steer his public image in the way that he wanted it. But if he made sure that the Muggleborns and half-bloods' parents got copies of all of the papers and articles... well, they didn't worship the ground that Dumbledore walked on, now did they?

Statistically, there were more Muggleborns and half-bloods in Hogwarts than there was pure-bloods. If he could get at least half of them to pull their kids form the school, that would probably spread the news internationally, when they switched to other magic schools.

He would have to make sure that he sent them plenty of pamphlets and that he kept sending them the articles, in case they got Obliviated.

But there was no doubt about it. It might not make much of an impact in Britain, but internationally, there would be repercussions. Dumbledore was not nearly as popular as he was in Britain on an international scale.

"What are you scheming now, Draco? Not more antagonizing of Potter, I hope." Theo remarked.

Draco smirked. "Nothing as small-scale as that. I'm thinking... bigger."

Theo rose an eyebrow at him. "Really? You don't think that might get you the wrong kind of attention?"

"No." Draco smirked again. "It's so large-scale no-one will think I'm the one behind it."

"Hmm. Care to let me in on the plan?"

"No. It'll be more fun this way."

"If you say so."

"Mhm."

Draco leaned back in his chair and let a discerning eye fly over Theo. He was aware that he hadn't paid as much attention to Theo the last time around as he probably should have, what with how intelligent the boy was. Truly, he was deceptively smart, and he had a talent to blend into the background, a talent so great at it, Draco doubted Potter even knew they were in the same class. 

But then again, that wasn't difficult. Potter only noticed people who stood up to him. Everybody else might as well be part of the wall.

"Do you ever wonder what the Dark Lord's plan is?" Draco asked in a low voice, the question just slipping out of him.

Theo stiffened. "No." he shook his head. "And you shouldn't either."

"It's not like I'm doubting him. I'm not stupid." Draco narrowed his eyes. "I just mean, when all is said and done, and the war against the Light Side is over, what then? What comes next?"

"It's not something for us to contemplate. Just ask your parents if you must know."

Draco scoffed. "They wouldn't tell me anything. How about your father? He hasn't told you anything?"

"No. He's not suicidal." Theo rolled his eyes.

Draco quirked his lips up into a facsimile of a smile and asked, "Doesn't that make you curious?"

Theo didn't dignify that with a response. Draco frowned and scoffed again. 

He leaned back on his chair, closed his eyes and spent a few moments resting. He wasn't sure of the exact date that Potter and the idiots started that whole army nonsense, but he reckoned it wouldn't be tough to figure it out. They weren't exactly subtle.

He frowned as he mentally reviewed everything he would have to get done to set this particular plan in motion. He had a feeling that he was going to be very busy for the next few weeks. Then, of course, there was the matter of his identity. He couldn't have it get out that he was the leak. Oh, Potter would suspect him, that was always Potter's first reaction, but as long as there was no evidence, it was a moot point. As had been made clear during the years, Potter's repeated and often unwarranted suspicions had started wearing on the professors, and nowadays their first reaction was usually doubt.

The best way, he figured, to make sure that his identity was kept completely secret, was to make all transactions—and all mail for that matter—go through the goblins first. They were bloodthirsty, conniving little bastards that would take pleasure in a chance to screw over Dumbledore, earn money and piss off the Ministry at the same time. They were vicious enough that no amount of pleading or threats would make them give his name up, and contrary to belief, they were prideful enough that they wouldn't be bribed out of it.

With that in mind, he resigned himself to writing a lot of letters in the upcoming future. He'd have to compile all of the resulting articles and make copies of them, too. Not to mention that he had to find out where all those Muggleborns and half-bloods lived.

But it would be worth it.

He wondered what Lord Voldemort's reaction would be...

Hopefully not too bad.

He stood up. "I'm going to my room."

"Sure." Theo absentmindedly waved at him without raising his eyes from his book.

Huffing a little at the clear lack of interest, Draco snatched up his satchel and left the library. In spite of what he had told Theo, he found that his feet took him toward the Hufflepuff dorms, where the kitchen was located.

He yawned behind a raised hand as he walked, staring straight ahead whenever he passed by anyone. And where he was, that was mostly Hufflepuffs, who turned away from him as soon as he came close, keeping their heads down and ceasing speaking entirely. Quite obviously, they were scared of him. And that, Draco blamed entirely on Potter. After all, him and Weasley were the only ones he still went around purposefully antagonizing, he was far too busy too bully little first years.

No, this was due to the way that Potter undoubtedly talked about him. And Draco wasn't guessing, he had heard some of what Potter said about him to others, often loudly and without a single hint of subtlety. 

Needless to say, it wasn't flattering.

Tickling the pear on the painting, he stepped into the Hogwarts kitchen, where hundreds of house-elves were gathered, as they were probably still in the middle of cleaning up after dinner. He frowned a little as he watched all of them rushing from one side to the other.

"Young Master Malfoy!" a joyful voice rose above the others and a small body rammed straight into his knees.

Swearing, Draco just managed to keep himself standing by throwing out his arms and waving them wildly. "I've told you Winky, you don't need to greet me like that!"

"But Young Master, Winky be a good house-elf!" she beamed up at him, and finally let him go. "See? Winky has been telling others how good master you be!"

Draco smiled at her, "Is that so?"

"Mhm." she nodded so fast that he worried her head would just fly straight off.

"And what's their reaction?"

"Hogwarts house-elves like Young Master! Young Master is kind!" she merrily informed him.

Draco couldn't quite keep in his smirk, but it wasn't like Winky would take offense to it. "You've really done a good job, Winky. I'm proud of you."

She beamed at him, her whole being emanating happiness. Truly, Draco didn't understand why he had never attempted this the last time around. House-elves were ridiculously easy to please, just a few kind words here and there, and calling them by their actual names was enough to secure their loyalty, even from someone like Dumbledore. Maybe it would be different if Dumbledore wasn't such an aloof person, but he was.

He picked favorites, both among house-elves and students, a group of them that he decided that he liked, that he always complimented, that he praised and helped out and never, ever punished, but it was like the rest of the school didn't exist. Like they were cannon fodder for the chosen few, there just to bulk up the numbers.

For Draco, it was just going to make things easier.

 

Chapter Text

With breakfast came a whole slew of newspapers, falling from countless owls. They swooped in through the open windows in the Great Hall's ceiling, scattering as they searched for their recipients and dove down as soon as they saw them. Hundreds of owls, swarming like a great wave, dropping too many to count newspapers on top of students heads, in their breakfast and into eagerly awaiting hands. 

Draco caught the newspaper that an owl dropped on him with practiced motions and unfolded it. On the front page was a gigantic picture that took up most of page, a moving image of Dumbledore with his hand around Potter's shoulders. Potter was glaring right at the camera, Dumbledore whispering something in his ear. They looked like they were in the middle of conspiring something. Draco smirked and read the front-page headline: 

DUMBLEDORE'S ARMY, A SCHOOL CLUB FOR MANIPULATION?!

He stared at it, looking up when he heard the sound of Blaise spitting out what he was drinking. Draco rose an eyebrow and watched as Blaise tore the Daily Prophet open to get to the correct side, reading it with an increasingly ridiculous look on his face.

He opened it to the correct page himself, reading it with eager eyes. He had given the source material, written down the actual facts—no lies required—but he hadn't seen the finished articles. And he knew that this was only the first of many. He had dragged out everything he knew about every single time that people (including Potter) had nearly died over the last five years at Hogwarts, and sent it all to the Daily Prophet, as well as the Quibbler. Every sordid detail, exactly how close multiple people had come to dying, every time somebody had been hurt badly enough that they should have, by all accounts, gone to St Mungo's. Everything

He had spilled every single detail that he could remember. And not once had he told a lie.

With the help of the goblins—and a hefty fine—he had gotten the address of every single student of Hogwarts that lived in the non-magical world, and copies of the newspapers had been sent there already.

He couldn't wait for the fallout.

"Can you believe this?" Blaise asked, gesturing wildly at the paper he had dropped on the table. "They're saying Potter's started a club named Dumbledore's Army, to fight Dumbledore's battles!"

"You know what the Daily Prophet is like. It's probably all lies." Draco drawled and folded the newspaper up again.

Blaise frowned. "But even if it is... where would they even get this idea?"

"Somebody must have told them." Pansy interjected, her eyes still glued to the pages. "And told them in enough details that they decided to use it, even if it is all lies."

Draco rolled his eyes. "It doesn't matter if it's true or not. We can use this."

"How?" Blaise's asked, sounding bored.

Draco smirked. "You can't expect the Minister to miss this opportunity. This is the perfect time to discredit Dumbledore and take control of Hogwarts. There's no way he won't try something."

"Draco..." Blaise narrowed his eyes at him. "Did you do this?"

Draco shrugged his shoulder in response and watched as a look of constipation crossed Blaise's face. Finally Blaise rolled his eyes and threw the paper down on the table with condescension dripping from his every move. "Does your father know?"

"He does now."

Blaise threw him another suspicious glance but didn't say anything more. Pansy continued to read the articles in the paper and made a spectacle every time she read something demeaning about Potter and Dumbledore. It was ridiculously easy to do.

Draco watched them go on for some more minutes before he finally decided to leave the Great Hall. People were pointing and whispering at Potter, gossip already spreading. He could see some students writing letters that would surely be used to spread the news and when he directed his gaze to the teachers table, he saw Umbridge staring at the newspaper with smugness practically leaking off of her. He had given her everything she needed to shut that club down for the good of the students and there was no way that she wasn't going to use it.

He hid a smirk behind his goblet and felt pride curl in his chest. He hadn't really expected this to succeed. It was a solid plan and it was stupid of him, but he had expected Potter to somehow get wind of it and stop him. He had expected Potter to find out and stop it.

But of course, this was much too large scale for Potter to do anything about.

Draco set down his cup and rose to leave the Hall. He waved goodbye absentmindedly to Theo who was emerged in reading and saw Greg and Vince step into beat with him. They followed him as he left the large hall and exited into the corridor. it was a school day so he had classes to get to and he would appreciate getting there on time.

Image was a far more important part of war than people thought.

Charms started at nine and Draco was there at eight-forty-five on the dot. He stood outside the classroom leaning against the stone wall and waited while his mind went through everything that he still needed to do in order to ensure that his plan was a success. This was only the first article of many and there was still a lot of dirt to be posted. So many blatantly illegal and lethal things had happened at Hogwarts and it couldn't possibly be covered in just a single issue. 

No, this plan was far from over.

"Malfoy!" Potter's annoying voice yelled.

Draco looked up and saw Potter coming running towards him with a furious expression and rage twisting his features. Draco rose an eyebrow and drawled, "What?"

"I know it was you who did this!" Potter announced at a yell and reached forward as soon as he was close enough. Potter gripped Draco's clothes and shook him wildly.

Draco rolled his eyes. "Sure, it was. Because it's not like anyone else could have tattled on you and Dumbledore."

He injected as much condescending attitude as he could into the words and watched as Potter practically exploded. The boy let go of him and swung his fist wildly, hitting Draco solidly on the cheek. Draco turned his head with the blow and felt blood pool in his mouth as pain exploded on his face. He hoped that he hadn't broken anything. Seeing Greg and Vince about to attack Potter, he glared at them. Thankfully, they got the hint.

He needed to appear the victim in this. The more Potter baselessly attacked him, the better.

"I'm going to make you pay, Malfoy!" Potter yelled and moved to hit him again. 

Granger gripped Potter's torso and held him back with everything she had. "Harry!" she yelled and grunted in effort. "Stop it, Harry! You can't do this! Think about Umbridge!"

Potter tore himself loose from her and was just about to hit Draco again when he was frozen. Draco looked up over to the other side of the hallway and caught sight of Professor Flitwick. The short man looked furious, his wand out as he pointed it at Potter.

"Fifty points from Gryffindor!" Flitwick announced. "For attacking another student!"

Potter finally stopped struggling against the spell and Flitwick pulled it back. As soon as Potter could move again, the boy scowled fiercely and pointed wildly at Draco. "He started it! I know he's the one who got the Daily Prophet to attack me! I was just defending myself!"

Did Potter even hear himself speak? Exactly how did he think that that would go over with the teachers? With anyone

Draco rolled his eyes and pushed off form the wall. "I didn't do anything."

"You're lying!" Potter insisted and Draco could actually see the moment that Flitwick had enough.

Flitwick scowled and snapped out, "A week's detention with Professor Snape, Potter!"

Potter bit out, "But–!"

Granger put her hand over his mouth before he could get himself into deeper trouble. A shame.

As Flitwick entered the classroom with a frown on his face, Draco pushed off from the wall and smirked antagonistically at Potter. As expected, Potter moved to hit him again. Granger managed to stop him in time and Draco entered the classroom without being hit again. He hummed under his breath and moved with a spring in a step as he walked, knowing full well it was going to annoy Potter. The more annoyed Potter was, the less he would think.

And right now, Draco needed the boy not to think.

He laughed under his breath and watched from the corner of his eyes as Potter argued furiously with Granger. Granger looked as if she was about to tear out her own hair in rage as Potter continued to prove that he only listened to Granger when he agreed with her. 

Snickering to himself, Draco took his seat and moved his gaze to the front of the classroom where Flitwick was staring at Potter with a complicated gaze.

That evening, Draco saw the Gryffindor Quidditch team practicing until it started to rain. He supposed that Umbridge wasn't done collecting evidence and putting a case together if she was still allowing Potter to play. No doubt she was going to hit Potter hard when she finally moved. Draco wished that he could be there to see it, but even he had to acknowledge that that would be too much bragging. Some moderation would have to be required in order to keep his involvement with it secret, even if Potter was just about ready to shout it from the rooftops.

When he could no longer see the team practicing in the pitch, Draco left the window and approached the Owlery, where he had been intending to go from the start. He had more letters to send, and going while Potter was too busy angsting to pay him any attention was the best time. Doubtlessly, Potter was going to spend the next couple of weeks drowning in his own misery, complaining about his fate and Draco getting away with everything. 

Draco was counting on it. The louder and longer Potter complained and blamed Draco, the better. it would only make his own plans easier.

In the Owlery, he watched his own owl soaring toward him and fed the bird while he could. He would have to minimize his visits here now that the news were out. As soon as the owl had eaten his fill, Draco tied the letters to him and let him fly off. 

He watched it go for a moment before he sighed and dragged a hand through his hair. Alone, he rubbed his hands over his eyes and sat down on the floor. For several minutes he just sat there and breathed, trying to keep his mounting panic in control. 

He couldn't believe that he had actually done it!

The plans had always been in the back of his head and he had fleshed them out more and more as time passed, but he hadn't expected it to actually work. None of his plans ever actually succeeded, they were always foiled by Potter in one way or another. But this time, it had worked. Potter hadn't figured them out through a stupid mistake on Draco's part, Potter hadn't followed behind him trying to find out his newest scheme, hadn't blown the whistle on him. Draco had worked hard for this and for once, it had actually payed off.

He breathed out deeply and his body shudder. He tried to get the shaking under control while he sat on the floor of the Owlery (which wasn't very clean) and clenched his eyes shut painfully tightly. Tears pressed at the corners of his eyes as he burrowed his face down between his knees and counted backwards from one-hundred in his head. 

It was crazy. He didn't understand while he was feeling this was just now. This—the plan succeeding and pissing Potter off—was a good start. Yet he couldn't keep his heartbeat from trying to outpace a horse in his chest as it thundered in his ears. There was nothing that he could have done better. His preparations had done the job well, his failsafes were in place and yet... 

Yet he couldn't shake the feeling that he was on the edge of a great precipice, standing over a roaring waterfall and about to fall headfirst into water that would break his body on first impact.

His breath shuddered in his lungs as he dragged din another one through his nose, desperately trying to keep himself from crying. He didn't even know why he wanted too cry. He had nothing to cry about. But his heart kept running a mile ahead of his body and his mind was kept circling back. He didn't want to sit on the dirty floor of the Owlery and have a meltdown here. He didn't want to sit in birds' poop and feel his life crashing down around him like it had chosen this moment specifically for the irony. He didn't want to be here.

A sob caught in his throat and he smothered it down ruthlessly. He wasn't going to let himself do this. Especially not here. He had so many things he still had to do! A breakdown served no-one any good and he refused to accept it. Draco was going to drag himself from this shitty emotional space through sheer willpower and his stupid mind would just have to live with it! 

He breathed out and shuddered, the shivering slowly ceasing as he forced his body to still. He looked up from his knees and stared straight ahead. There was a stupid owl sitting right in front of him, its head tilted in a silent question.

"Stop mocking me." he whispered tiredly at it, his voice hoarse for some reason.

The owl didn't move, just kept staring at him with its strange eyes. Draco scoffed and straightened out his back. "What, are you dead? Can owls die standing?"

Hooting, the owl flapped its wings and shot off from the ground straight at him. Draco cursed and ducked, feeling its claws ripping through his hair followed by a sting. He pushed himself off from the floor and turned around with a harsh glare. "Are you trying to murder me?!"

The owl flew at him again with the claws spread out and ready to tear into him. Draco stepped back as the white bird flew at him furiously. He cursed once more and swatted it with his hand, receiving nothing but wounds for his effort. The cuts on his hand annoyed him enough that he decided that it wasn't worth it. He had dignity. He wasn't going to fight with a bloody bird.

Scowling, he hurried out of the Owlery and down the steps. 

Draco burst into Slytherin's common room with another curse on the tip of his tongue. The panic had started to abate as rage at that stupid bird that baselessly attacked him replaced it. He stalked passed the few people in the room and hurried to his dorm where an emergency kit was shoved into his trunk. When his roommates saw him coming Blaise apparently felt the need to ask, "What happened to you?"

Draco glared back at him and snapped out, "A stupid owl!"

Amusement glittered in Blaise's dark eyes as the other boy's gaze examined Draco. Blaise clicked his tongue and asked, "Have you looked in a mirror yet?"

Draco didn't dignify him with a response and instead hurried over to his trunk and tore it open. He was in no mood to deal with Blaise' odd sense of humor.

When he had the emergency kit in his unwounded hand, he stalked over to the bathroom and locked himself in. He dragged his hair behind his ears, opened th edit and looked up into the mirror. 

"Oh my dear, what happened to you?!" the mirror exclaimed in surprise.

Draco gave it a sharp glare and brought his attention back. He stared at his image in the mirror. His hair was in disarray, the long strands falling in every possible direction. On his forehead were two long cuts, doubtlessly from the evil owl's claws. Luckily they weren't bleeding much. He frowned at himself and brought his hand out in front of him. In the bathroom's light, he could see the wounds on it clearly. They still stung, but not nearly as much as they had before. Still, if he didn't want an infection, he had to get started.

Cleaning the wounds was easy, if slightly painful. Only idiots would heal a wound without cleaning it out first. That just meant that you had to drink a bunch of foul-smelling and disgusting potions. When all you had to do to avoid that fate was clean out your wound before using magic to heal it, he didn't see why more people didn't. 

But the British Wizarding World wasn't exactly known for its intelligence, he supposed.

He clicked his tongue in irritation and wet the rag again, bringing it back up to his head. He sucked in a sharp breath at the sting of the disinfectant that was still clinging to it and pressed it down sharply. He wasn't going to drag out his pain just for the fun of it. He wasn't Potter.

A knock interrupted his brewing thoughts. "Are you there Draco? I heard you got attacked by an owl?"

"It was just a few cuts. They weren't even deep." Draco answered back absentmindedly and brought the rag back up again. How many times would he have to do this? But he didn't want to take any chances. Who knew where that blasted owl had been with its stupid claws? It had probably sat in its own poop, too. 

His luck was cursed like that.

"If you say so." Theo responded. 

Draco heard the boy's footsteps leaving and exhaled in relief. He didn't want to get into an argument about how it was all his fault. He knew that animals didn't like him, but it was almost ridiculous how much they despised him. Honestly, attacking him whenever they saw him? It made Draco want to write off animals all-together, but then he thought of Fawkes and was filled with a strong sense of gratitude and debt. It was an odd dichotomy. 

He rolled his eyes at his reflection and sighed. Truly, he wasn't sure what it was that made animals dislike him so. Was it just a sense he gave off? Did he smell offensive or something? Draco showered regularly and took baths whenever he could, so really, that one wasn't his fault.

He pushed his hair back from his face and tied it into a tail at the base of neck. A lot of if it slipped out because it wasn't long enough, but really, Draco was far passed the point of caring. He had almost had a emotional breakdown in the Owlery and then a damn owl had attacked him. He didn't have the energy left to worry about his looks, especially when around people who were supposed to be his allies.

Granted, he could still vividly remember when they weren't his allies... but no, he wasn't going to think about it.

He emerged back into the room and let his eyes drift over everyone in it quickly. Vince and Greg were playing exploding snap, Blaise was looking through another fashion magazine and Theo was studying quietly in a corner. Draco chose to approach Theo's corner and settle down on an armchair across from him. He leaned his weight back and relaxed, feeling his body abruptly becoming much heavier. Draco's eyes drifted over Theo and the book the boy was holding, taking stock of the title automatically. He closed his eyes as his head laid against the armchair's support. 

He was so tired. Just a few moments of rest couldn't hurt...

"-co, Draco wake up." Theo's voice brought him out of sweet, sweet oblivion. Draco groaned and opened his eyes unwillingly, staring up at Theo above him. 

Draco rolled his eyes and got up. "I'm up. What time is it?"

He held in a yawn and stretched his back, feeling his back crack in response to his movements. Theo rose an eyebrow at him in amusement and answered, "Eleven in the evening."

Draco nodded and cracked his neck. He yawned again and shot a quick smile at Theo. "Thanks for waking me up."

Theo just waved him off and Draco went off to get ready for bed. He yawned his way through it and when he finally laid his head down on his pillow, he was asleep within a handful of minutes.

Because Draco didn't believe in letting the enemy have time to regroup, the next article was published the very next day. 

Draco watched with bated breath as the owls descended once more over the Great Hall and dropped newspapers by the hundreds. There were many more than even yesterday, so some people must have gotten subscriptions just for this. It made Draco feel powerful in an odd, strange way. It wasn't like when he was antagonizing Potter or fighting in battle, but there was still a small part of him that sat up and took notice. War's weren't only fought on battlefields and anyone who thought so was a naïve idiot. 

Theo gave him a suspicious look as soon as he saw the front-page of the newspaper. "This was your plan?"

Draco gave him an blatantly fake smile and calmly responded, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Theo rolled his eyes and hummed in fake understanding. He waved his hand as if he was waving the stupid question away and leafed through the papers. Draco observed as the boy's face changed expression the further he read and valiantly kept in the urge to laugh.

In addition to his copy of the the Daily Prophet, Draco had also gotten a very official letter from his father. He recognized the handwriting easily and opened it with a feeling of dread and anticipation curling in his stomach. His hands were disturbingly steady as he opened it up, despite the fact that it felt like he was shaking. He narrowed his eyes in displeasure and unfolded the letter within the envelope.

His eyes drove over the slanting letters and elegant writing as he absorbed what stood written. His father's sharp and graceful remarks were in character for him and Draco furrowed his brows together as he concentrated. The first few lines were just asking about his well-being—nothing unusual. The lines after that were stranger. 

It said his father wanted him to come home for Yule. 

Draco hummed a little under his breath and let his eyes drift over the entirety of the letter again. Coming home for Yule was easy enough—it was what he normally did—the question was why his father felt the need to mention this. It was an understanding they had always had and had never had to be spoken of. Yet his father explicitly ordered him home. There must be a reason for this. The problem was that Draco could only think of one, and it wasn't a good one.

The Dark Lord's orders.

Lord Voldemort wanted him to come home for Yule and the very idea was terrifying. Draco couldn't think of a single good reason that the Dark Lord would summon him home and it made his stomach churn unpleasantly. He almost felt like throwing up.

"Draco? Are you okay?" Theo's voice sounded as if weak and broken, as if Draco was under water and it couldn't break through the surface.

He nodded and gripped the letter tighter, crumbling it in his grip. "Fine."

(He wanted to hide under his covers. He wanted to send a letter back saying there was no way he was returning home for the holidays. He wanted to go jump off a cliff so that he didn't need to make this choice.)

Draco took a deep breath, counted to three and let it. Then he did again. And again.

"I'm fine." he repeated.

He rose from his seat in the Great Hall and cracked his neck. His eyes hardened as his mind ran a mile a minute, trying to find a way to angle this new problem in his favor. Coming home for Yule meant attending his parents annual Yule Ball. This wouldn't be an issue, the problem was that the Dark Lod would likely be there, disguised or not disguised. However he attended, Draco would need to be ready. He couldn't go into this with no preparations.

He had the answer from Gringotts and he was fully prepared to wield it as a shield. Draco was going to be the next Lord Black, as long as Sirius Black didn't sire a child. As it was, Lord Arcturus Black had already visited Sirius in prison before he died and deemed Sirius an inviable choice. 

Turned out, Grimmauld Place was just Sirius personal inheritance and had nothing to do with the Lordship.

Draco rose an eyebrow as his thoughts wondered. If he was to attend a ball which would host the Dark Lord, he needed to look his best. He would have to take a weekend to get new clothes for the occasion. Not to mention that everything else that still needed to get done. HIs plans were nowhere near finished.

He pushed his hair out of his face while walking through the hallways. In his mind, a checklist was created of all the things to get done in time. Draco knew full well that he was pretty and he had no compunctions to use this to his advantage. As cowardly as it seemed, when dealing with Lord Voldemort, what other options were there? None that he could think of.

So. New clothes and maybe some accessories were in order. And hopefully it wouldn't offend Lord Voldemort.

And he needed to send an answering letter to his parents, confirming his presence. 

He sighed and looked out a window as he passed it. Was this a sign of favor or punishment, he wondered. Had Lord Voldemort figured out that Draco was responsible for these articles? That he had Horcruxes? 

He would need to start reinforcing his Occlumency right away, especially if Lord Voldemort wanted to actually meet him again. The thought was sobering and destroyed any pride he had felt for the success of his plans. In the face of Lord Voldemort's might, it was a petty victory that might very well lead to his death. After all, the Dark Lord hadn't given his approval for anybody to attack Potter and from what Draco could remember, Lord Voldemort had been strangely possessive of the boy's death. 

If this was seen as an attack on Potter that Lord Voldemort hadn't authorized, Draco could very well lose his life. 

Draco had nowhere to run. He had no way to go but forward. He had picked his road and at this point, it was too late to go back.

And, oddly enough, he was fine with that.