Chapter 5 : Choices
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That he made an entrance was an understatement. He heard the whispers, the gasps, but couldn't pay attention to that now. She was here, getting married. To someone else. He knew he shouldn't feel angry or hurt. What did he expect after his cruel note and no word from him afterwards. He moved slowly down the aisle until he stood in front of her, not touching, just looking. She had tears in her eyes and he could feel a prickle at the back of his own. "Draco," she whispered. He couldn't speak. Were those tears of happiness?
Weasley pushed his way between them, breaking the moment. "I can't believe you're just showing up like this," he hissed between his teeth, standing defensively in front of Hermione. Draco's eyes went hard and cold staring back, almost forgetting why he had rushed recklessly to find her, until a calm voice broke through the tension.
"Ron. Draco. I don't think this is the time and place to do this." Harry Potter had joined the edgy tableau, gently taking Hermione's arm, to comfort her. Or restrain her. But he was right. The other witches and wizards were on their feet, getting more excitement than had been expected from this wedding. Draco recalled the reason for his sudden appearance and broke the stare with the red-haired man, meeting Harry's serious gaze.
"Harry, I need your help." Harry's eyes widened at the sincere and almost pleading tone of Draco's voice, and he really looked at the man in front of him, taking in his obvious disheveled appearance and lean figure and something subtly changed about the Head Auror, becoming more alert and on the edge of breaking into sudden action.
"All right. Let's go to the Ministry." Draco was relieved that he was willing to listen to him right away. He looked at Hermione, standing stiffly at Harry's side, her eyes avoiding Draco's, her wedding dress a glaring rejection in front of him and he felt his heart tearing. She was marrying another man. But it wouldn't happen right now. She was still in danger and he was damned if he was going to let her out of his sight until Dolohov was safely in the hands of the Aurors.
He looked at Harry again. "Hermione will have to come as well."
"Bullocks!" came the immediate response from Weasley. Harry held up a hand as his friend made a movement towards Draco.
"Ron, I understand, but judging from Draco's surprising reappearance and the implied threat towards Hermione's safety, we need to get all the data fast and now. We'll meet you at the Ministry." And with that, Harry disapparated with Hermione. After giving Draco another look, Weasley followed suit. Draco could see familiar redheads taking control of the wedding attendees and disapparated to the Ministry, only to appear in the middle of chaos.
People were screaming, running away from a fight that was occurring near the security wizard's desk. Draco caught sight of Dolohov's malevolent face and, his breath caught, as he saw his mother's pale figure caught in Dolohov's hold while he fought off Harry and Weasley; the security wizard lying still near his feet. Draco pushed through the tide of people, frantic to get to them before his mother was hurt. Dolohov looked away from the two and spotted the man he was determined to bring down to his knees. He flung a curse in the younger man's direction. Draco twisted to the side and the curse flew by, barely missing him. He caught himself before he fell to the ground and watched as Dolohov disappeared with his mother.
"Shit!" The word was out of his mouth before he could think. He met up with the two men who had been fighting Dolohov just as Hermione came out from behind a pillar. "What the hell happened? Where the fuck are all your bloody Aurors?" Draco was pissed refusing to give in to the grief and apathy that would incapacitate him. Weasley's face, already red from the exertion of the fight turned a darker shade, wanting to get back at Malfoy with his own fiery temper but again was stayed by a calming hand of Harry.
"He killed this man just as we got here and had a hold of your mother before we could do anything more than raise our wands." His dark head bowed, taking in the lifeless wizard on the floor. "He was trying to get to Hermione until you came. Who was that, Draco? He looked like…Dolohov."
Draco nodded in confirmation, mouth grim. He glanced down at the dead man. A piece of parchment under the man's head stuck out. He bent down to carefully pick it up and saw that it was addressed to him. "Go back to where it started. Alone." Instantly, Draco knew it was from Dolohov and it was meant for him. Repeating the message in his head, he realized that the Death Eater was talking about Malfoy Manor. Merlin knew what would happen to his mother if he delayed. He could feel panic working its way through his chest. He turned to Harry, running a hand through his hair, restraining himself from exploding. "Look. Dolohov is absolutely mad. He plans on being the next Dark Lord and he needs to kill me to ensure he inherits the Malfoy millions and can carry out his plans. Then, he's going to go after you. But for the moment, he has my mother and I've got to get her back safe." He waved the paper in front of Harry's face. "This is from Dolohov. He says to go alone."
Harry immediately protested. "That would be complete idiocy! You can't go alone. We'll take a team."
"That will take too much time to get together. My mother could be dead by then! I'm not going to waste another minute arguing about this, Potter. I'm going." Draco made a motion to disapparate.
"Wait!" Harry stopped him. Draco looked at him, catching sight of the shining hair that was Hermione who had moved up next to Harry. He immediately tried to ignore the woman's presence. Some inner part of him wondered if she was happy with Ron. "I'll go with you," Harry said, pulling Draco's attention back to the very urgent situation at hand.
"No, you can't go, Harry! Didn't you hear what Malfoy said? Dolohov will do all he can to kill you once he's offed Malfoy!" This encouraging statement was from Weasley. "I'm coming with you."
"Well, if you boys are going, then I'm going, too," Hermione added defiantly, her hands on her hips. All three men turned to stare at her. "What? I'm not going to let my fiancé and best friend run headlong into a dodgy situation and not go with them. You know you'll need me." Her look determinedly avoided including Draco in this statement. He knew she still didn't know why he had disappeared so abruptly but all the same, it felt like a blow to his stomach.
"Fine, whatever," he strove for his cool and distant manner, ignoring the need to pull Hermione into his arms and remind her who she belonged with, "but I have to go in first and get my mother from him, then you'll come in from behind. I'm not sure where he's holding her. Most likely in the sitting room but you cannot reveal your presence until I've got her because otherwise he'll kill her." He made sure that this was understood. The plan wasn't fully thought out but it was the best he could do under the circumstances. He looked at each of them in turn, trying not to glare at Weasley as he shifted closer to Hermione. She wasn't his anymore it seemed and felt something rip open inside him. His fists balled up, just barely checking himself from decking the red-haired git. Harry's gaze caught Draco's and he was unsettled to see a flash of compassion in his childhood enemy's emerald eyes. He nodded jerkily at Harry. "Let's get on with it, then."
Draco appeared in front of the tall gates before the Manor. The hedges surrounding the property had grown out of their stately neatness from lack of care. The whole place had the air of abandonment. He had two minutes before Potter and the others came in after him so he moved on ahead, passing soundlessly through the gates and up the unlit path to the Manor itself. He walked quickly watching his surroundings. The shadows settled in as the sun made ready to set. The very air seemed ominous and threatening.
Once at the door, he paused a moment, straining to hear anything then slowly edged the heavy wooden door open, entering cautiously, wand first, into the darkened foyer. A fine layer of dust covered the floor and furniture. He caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his left eye and shifted quickly, wand raised, and swallowed the spell he had been about to utter as he realized it was his reflection in a mirror. He saw that the sitting room door was slightly ajar and on silent feet, he made his way towards it.
There were no sounds coming from the room and he pushed on the door, letting it swing open on its own, leaving both his hands free. Narcissa sat on the same couch she had been on almost a year ago, bound and gagged, her eyes widening at the sight of Draco in the doorway. His gaze swept the room but it was empty. He moved swiftly to her side, getting to work on loosening the ropes on her. Just as the last bind was about to fall away from her, Draco heard the sound of a throat being cleared behind him.
He froze then slowly straightened, changing his grip on his wand as he turned to face Dolohov's sinister smirk and his own raised wand. "So efficient, Draco, but you are going to need to step away from her."
Draco could barely contain his urge to strike out at him. That oily pleasant voice, those cold obsidian eyes, this soulless demon had been his tormentor for far too long and oh how he wanted to cause the man some pain. Then, Dolohov stepped out from the doorway to expose who was standing behind him and Draco's insides clenched and twisted, his grip tightened spasmodically on his wand. He could feel the blood drain from his face as Hermione was brought slowly into the room, held captive by Rowle's arm, her head stretched back to reveal her slim creamy throat and a blade held so close to it that a drop of blood lazily trickled down. Dolohov was watching Draco with one eye, while his wand pointed at the petite woman who couldn't even speak without digging the blade further into her skin. "I'll kill her Draco if you don't step away from your mother. Now!" Dolohov barked out when Draco failed to move fast enough. His mother whimpered on the couch, too frightened to do anything.
Draco moved towards the fireplace, still unable to tear his gaze away from the nightmare image of Hermione and that knife and that drop of blood still slowly moving down towards that white wedding dress, meant to represent purity; about to be stained with fear, anguish and pain.
Dolohov's smirk became a triumphant grin as he tasted, at last, victory. "You always had it too easy, with your money and your aristocratic bloodlines. Your family betrayed the Dark Lord and then were forgiven. Yet even with his forgiveness, you betrayed him in the end. Now, who knows what the Malfoys are? I know that you are cowards and traitors. Always looking out for yourselves. I, a true believer and follower of the master's dictates, will carry through the mission of cleansing the wizarding world of impurities!" His ecstasy over this was evident on his face as his dark frame shook with his impassioned speech.
Then those cold, hard eyes were focused on Draco and the next moment stretched into infinity as time slowed and Draco watched Dolohov once again raise his wand to utter the Killing Curse. Mind and limbs still in shock at the frightening possibility of Hermione's death, he reacted a split second too late.
"Protego!" A familiar voice called out. A Shielding Charm slammed into existence in front of Draco, knocking him flat and the curse rebounded and blasted into the fireplace mantel, shards of marble flying out. Draco turned his head and caught sight of Ron Weasley running into the room followed closely behind by Harry, the redhead going for Narcissa on the couch and throwing spells in Dolohov's direction; Harry went for Hermione and Rowle, catching the surprised man from behind, pulling the bigger man's arm away from her, causing the knife to fall.
Ron had reached Narcissa and was trying to calm her as she fought against him, weakly but determinedly, not understanding that he was trying to help her. Draco saw that Dolohov's attention had swung to the struggle between Rowle and Harry who stunned the servant and caught Hermione in his arms as she fainted, dropping his wand in the process. Dolohov, in spotting the man who defeated the Dark Lord, saw his own chance of immediate greatness and pointed his wand at the black-haired man who struggled to balance the weight of his childhood friend and find his wand by touch and once again faced down death.
The room was a sudden vacuum as all of Draco's focus centered on the evil and unholy bastard who was about to kill Harry, taking Hermione out in the blast. And Draco felt that earlier hesitation, that misguided sense of humanity and compassion towards this creature burn away in the fire of his fierce and instinctive reaction to protect her whom he put above all others, including himself.
"Avada Kedavra!" The words had left him, the spell had been cast. His wand pointed at Dolohov without consciously knowing how it got there. Dolohov's body flew up and hit the wall opposite, his astonishment unmistakable on his face as he died. He'd marked Draco as a coward, incapable of defending those he cared for. The others in the room had frozen. Draco's eyes sought Hermione and collided with Harry's stunned stare.
Author's Note: OK, so I may have told a small lie. I divided one of these last chapters into two...to drag out the suspense.
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