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A Tale of Two Princes by academica
Chapter 7 : Year Six
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7


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Malfoy Manor had never been so deathly silent.

 

The immense, empty house hadn’t been dusted in weeks. Narcissa had taken to bed, too distraught to even direct the house elves to their tasks. As a result, dishes had piled up in the sink, each of them representing a meal that had been carefully prepared and then brought up to the master bedroom only to be picked at and left just outside the door a few hours later. The intense summer heat had long since brought down Narcissa’s formerly lovely gardens, and the hedges that Lucius demanded be kept immaculately trimmed had been allowed to unravel in desultory directions in his absence.

 

His absence. Draco felt it most painfully of all, having had to assume the role of the family’s patriarch at the age of sixteen. He deserved the credit for the fact that the kitchen servants had continued to fix dinner for Narcissa instead of packing up and heading somewhere else. His short temper had acted as Lucius’s lingering presence in the house, spurring the elves to at least ensure that the laundry was done and the mail sent and received.

 

This evening, however, it had been Paige who crept into Narcissa’s room and gently eased her out of bed, helping her get into clothes that did not reek of soured wine and cigarettes. The two had been sitting at the Malfoys’ long dinner table for twenty-five minutes before Narcissa spoke.

 

“Do I look all right?” She said quietly, turning her teary blue eyes upon her son’s girlfriend.

 

“Yes.” Paige replied. She had made sure of that, knowing that the woman’s dignity was usually of utmost importance to her. She had set Narcissa to brushing her hair into neat curls while she picked out the least dreary of the many expensive black dresses that lined her closet, finding the corresponding shoes right underneath it on the floor. She had even kindly requested that a house elf polish up Narcissa’s wedding band while she bathed, and the sight had brought a brief smile to the woman’s face when she emerged from the powder room and found it on the counter.

 

“You look nice.” Narcissa commented.

 

“Thank you.” Paige replied, having chosen a simple white sundress of her own and adorned it with a yellow scarf to act as a belt. She had realized with a start upon entering the manor that she was now the brightest thing to occupy it.

 

“Didn’t you wear that to brunch once?” The older woman frowned thoughtfully.

 

Paige opened her mouth to gently remind Narcissa that the dress in question hadn’t been worn since she was twelve, but just then the door to the manor opened, sending a loud creak throughout the aged house. Footsteps echoed on the stone stairs, and a moment later, Professor Snape came around the corner. Draco was walking a few feet behind him, looking pained.

 

Narcissa took one look at her son and nearly burst into a new fit of tears. Instead, she stood up, coming to address Severus as he approached his daughter. “How did it go?” She managed.

 

“As well as can be expected.” Severus replied coolly, but even he felt sorry for the boy. He hadn’t been as young as Draco when he’d received his own mark, though he was not much older, either. Then again, he hadn’t had a father in Azkaban to avenge.

 

Narcissa’s gaze moved to her son. Draco said nothing.

 

Paige stood up carefully, coming to stand a few feet in front of her boyfriend. She didn’t know what could possibly be appropriate to say. At last, something came to her. She did not want to say it, but she forced it out anyway. “Can I see it?” Her voice was soft and frightened.

 

Without a word, Draco stepped forward and unrolled his sleeve, displaying the tattoo.

 

Paige stared at it, almost mystified, before tearing her eyes away. The red welts anchoring it into place on Draco’s flesh were shockingly angry, even for a fresh wound. She asked the obvious question. “Does it hurt?”

 

He looked at her, and she saw that his lower lip was trembling slightly. “Don’t leave me.” He whispered in a pleading tone. The room was so quiet that everyone heard anyway.

 

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She wouldn’t. He didn’t have to hear her say it, but to prove her point, Paige went to the manor every single day after Draco’s initiation to check on him and his mother. Draco had now also withdrawn almost exclusively to his room, and no one was left to keep check on the help, so Paige adopted that task as well, much to the delight of the battered house elves.

 

She had taken Draco for a walk that day, just so he didn’t forget what sunshine looked like, and dropped him back off at home before heading back to her house in Spinner’s End. As she rounded the corner, she saw a short, ugly man tending to the lilies in the front flowerbed. Peter Pettigrew was another reason she’d been spending an inordinate amount of time at the Malfoy’s. He had been staying with her and her father all summer, and he had the nasty habits of eavesdropping behind doors and staring well past the point of politeness. She moved quickly past him with a frown, but he stopped her with a disgusting grin. “Don’t.”

 

“It’s my house.” She said curtly.

 

“Business.” He clarified, shaking his head.

 

“Get out of my way.” She shot back, ducking inside the door and closing it quietly behind her. Indeed, she could hear hushed voices in the living room. She moved through the small foyer and toward the staircase, beginning to trek up to her room when she stopped suddenly. She now recognized one of the voices – Narcissa. Another female voice cut in, colder, though she couldn’t quite make it out. She moved back into the foyer and pressed her back against the wall, trying to glean the topic of conversation. With a start, she realized that the other voice belonged to Bellatrix Lestrange, Draco’s crazed aunt.

 

“—can’t trust him, Cissy, the Dark Lord didn’t mean for everyone to know.”

 

“The Dark Lord trusts me just fine.” Severus replied smoothly. “But Narcissa, I’m afraid your sister is right. If he specifically instructed that Draco keep it secret, it should be kept that way.”

 

“I don’t care.” Narcissa said, her voice thick with tears. “Draco is just a boy. It’s incomprehensible, giving him a task like this.” Her chair creaked, indicating that she’d just stood up. “Severus, I’m begging you… Draco has always looked up to you… and he’d never cross you, not with how deeply he cares for Paige…”

 

Paige heard Bellatrix snort contemptuously. The woman had never been her biggest fan.

 

“I don’t know exactly what you expect me to do, Narcissa.” Her father answered.

 

She paused for a moment before speaking. “An Unbreakable Vow.”

 

Paige felt protest bubbling up in her throat, clamping her hand over her mouth as a precautionary measure. She’d learned about this magic in Charms class the previous year, and she knew the consequences of attempting to renege on such a promise. Panic now rose up in her chest as she felt an almost involuntary desire to step in but knew at the same time that she should not, could not.

 

She stood there in the darkness, closing her eyes as she surrendered to the inevitable. With Bellatrix’s assistance, her father vowed to protect Draco, even to the point of assuming the boy’s responsibilities should he fail to complete them. The task must be monstrous for Narcissa to go to such lengths, for her to even be present in their impoverished neighborhood. Paige pictured her father murdering a town full of Muggles and almost collapsed with dread.

 

The door to the living room suddenly opened, and Paige shot back from the wall, appearing as much as possible as though she’d just entered the house. In her grief, Narcissa seemed to believe it, though Bellatrix stared at her suspiciously. “How’s Draco?” Narcissa asked quietly.

 

“Fine. We went for a walk, and I think he’s taking a nap now.” Paige replied, trying to ignore the look her father was giving her behind the two women.

 

“Good.” Narcissa said absently. Paige had a feeling that she could have said that Draco had been murdered by Sirius Black and Narcissa would have reacted the same way. “See you tomorrow?”

 

“Yes, that’d be lovely.” Narcissa finally looked into her eyes briefly and then averted her gaze, walking out the door and past Pettigrew, Bellatrix following in her tracks.

 

Paige walked into the living room. Her father had returned to his seat, though his fingertips now dug into the ends of the leather arms. “I see we got rid of one eavesdropper only to have him replaced.” He said darkly.

 

Paige frowned. That was beside the point. “I can’t believe you did that.”

 

“Paige, I thought you cared for Draco.”

 

“I do, but you’re my father.” She replied, unsuccessfully keeping her frustration hidden. “You and I both know he won’t be able to do it, whatever it is.” She looked at him pointedly. “What is it?”

 

“Oh, I believe Draco will at least consider it, given the stakes.” The Potions Master said with a sigh. “I never meant for you to know. I thought you’d tarry longer with him.” He added.

 

“He’s not in the mood to socialize these days.” She sat down on the couch, wiping in protest at the few drops of moisture that gathered in the corners of her eyes. “Besides, he went to visit his father this morning, so he was in exceptionally poor spirits.”

 

“I see.” He watched her for a moment, touched by her concern for both him and the boy. Normally he would frown upon such vulnerability, but he was glad to see at least part of her still remained untainted by the sense of unfeeling obligation that had pervaded her world for the past few months. “Paige, darling, don’t worry.” He attempted, knowing it was useless.

 

“Don’t worry.” She repeated mockingly. “Go to class, snog my boyfriend, giggle with my friends, and don’t worry.” She looked at him, her expression chilly. “Got it.” She said curtly.

 

He frowned. “It wasn’t an order.” He paused, appearing to be considering something. After a few moments, he stood up, pointing his wand at the foyer, where Pettigrew was coming in from the garden. The man fell over, his face looking almost as if he were drowning. With a second flick of his wand, Snape rendered the man immobile. Despite her annoyance with him, Paige never failed to be impressed by her father’s command of nonverbal spells, and she felt no differently now.

 

“What did you do?” She asked as he moved to close the door.

 

“I plugged his ears with waterfalls, of course.” Severus replied with a cold smile. It faded, however, as he sat down, looking at her. “Paige, I want to tell you something that I have been keeping from you for a long time. You deserve to know, and though I once hoped that you would be a bit older when I decided to confess it to you, I now see no better occasion than the present.”

 

Paige looked at him quizzically. “All right.” She said slowly.

 

“First, I need to know: can you keep a secret?”


 




 

Paige was grateful to have a few days to herself at Hogwarts before the start of term for the full reality of her father’s work to sink in. He had joined the ranks of the Death Eaters while still studying at Hogwarts, primarily so that he could have some measure of protection from his abusive father and reckless classmates. Her mother had initially stood by his side, but the Death Eaters murdered her former best friend, Lily Potter, and she left her husband and daughter when she was still unable to overcome her grief a year later. Severus fell into a deep depression at her loss, but he finally sought Dumbledore’s assistance when he realized he would now have to raise his child alone. He and Dumbledore arranged for him to act as a double agent, cleverly spinning stories and false trails for the Dark Lord while reporting the truth to the headmaster. His difficult work, which pushed his talents in Occlumency to their limits, would keep him alive and out of Azkaban, thus enabling him to protect his daughter and watch her grow up.

 

Though her father spoke of his secret life as a form of penance for years of wrongdoings, the first thing Paige had felt upon hearing the full story was an overwhelming sense of pride. It took someone extraordinarily brave and intelligent to execute the tasks her father was given. His current assignment was perhaps one of the most difficult – to kill Professor Dumbledore if Draco didn’t do it first. Dumbledore had arranged this with him so that he would not have to suffer from a wound he’d received some time ago, one that would destroy him slowly without interference. Since Draco would be unlikely to fulfill the task set to him by the Dark Lord, Severus would also be sparing the boy from staining his soul with someone else’s blood.

 

Once the pride faded, however, Paige found herself immersed in another emotion: dread. With her newfound knowledge, she was placed in the difficult position of supporting Draco even as he stepped further down a dark path. At the same time, she had to keep her father’s secret, making her wonder if she’d have been better off not knowing. Still, she knew life would take a turn for the worse after Dumbledore’s death. This way she would at least know that it had been because of a scheme concocted by the headmaster himself rather than another of the Dark Lord’s plans.

 

She stepped into the Great Hall as the older students began to file in for the feast, spotting Blaise settling down with Pansy at the Slytherin table. Ignoring the girl, she looked to her friend. “Where is he?” She asked quietly.

 

“He’s coming.” Blaise said. “He told us to go on ahead.”

 

A slight frown tainted Paige’s pale features, but she nodded and sat down across from him, watching the crowd of students for his familiar shock of blonde hair. Daphne soon joined Pansy, and Theo came in behind her, taking his place next to Blaise. Even Crabbe and Goyle managed to find their way to their seats, but Draco never appeared. Paige glanced at the faculty table to see that her father was also missing. Nevertheless, Dumbledore was already walking to the podium to deliver his usual opening feast speech.

 

Finally, a few minutes after Dumbledore began talking, Professor Snape found his place at the head table, though he looked none too pleased. Paige glanced back at the door, where Harry Potter was now coming in, his face streaked with blood. She stared at the alarming sight for a moment before she felt the presence of someone sitting in front of her. Draco had come in through a side door. He poured himself some pumpkin juice, not opening his mouth.

 

He said very little throughout dinner, though he did manage to finish his meal. Paige tried to give him space by engaging in the conversation the other boys were having about their summers, but she kept a watchful eye on him throughout the feast. At the head table, her father did the same.

 

After dinner, she walked with him back to the common room, putting a small amount of distance between them and the others in their usual crowd. She hoped this attempt at privacy would encourage him to open up to her, but he remained as tight-lipped as before. When they finally arrived at the split between the boys’ and girls’ dormitories, she decided enough was enough.

 

“I could come up and sit with you for a while.” She offered. “Maybe play some Gobstones?”

 

“No, thanks.” He murmured, barely meeting her eyes.

 

“I just don’t think you should be alone.” She added quietly.

 

He looked straight at her then. “I suppose you’re quite useful, aren’t you?”

 

“Excuse me?” She said, taken aback by his tone.

 

“He knows if I’m going to get all sentimental and cry to anyone, it’ll be you. Then you can just prance down to his office and tell him everything you find out about me. It’s quite perfect.”

 

Paige looked at him coldly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

“Sure you do.” Draco said accusingly. “Look, your father’s been with them for years. If he can’t manage to get any glory on his own, he’s not about to steal mine.”

 

She stared at him, his typical Malfoy arrogance suddenly much more offensive than endearing.  “You’re joking.” She spat. “You think my father needs to curry favor with the Dark Lord?”

 

“Why else would he offer to help me?” Malfoy retorted, revealing the reason for his delay.

 

Because you need help!” Paige yelled, suddenly not caring who overheard them. “Because I love you, and I don’t want you to get bloody killed!”

 

She regretted the words as soon as they slipped out. It wasn’t that she didn’t love Draco, although she wasn’t too fond of whatever phase he was going through that set her family up as his opponents.  It was that this was far from the way she’d eventually wanted to tell him.

 

Draco was still looking at her like she was the enemy, but an ever so slight change in expression betrayed the fact that he had picked up on her utterance. Paige took advantage of the silence and turned, proceeding quickly up the stairs and into her room, not looking back at him even once.


 




 

Draco didn’t bother to show up at breakfast the next morning. He came into their first class, Charms, five minutes late, and instead of joining his friends as they hurried off to Quidditch practice at period’s end, he stalked off back to the common room. Though he and Paige still sat together in all of their classes, they were certainly not speaking to one another. He deliberately sat alone at the meals he did attend, however, and Paige’s resulting loneliness convinced her to take her own food down to the dungeons, where she could eat, work, and get lost in thought.

 

Despite the atmosphere of hostility, Paige’s quarrel with Draco was not the foremost thing on her mind. In fact, by her standards, her other problem was currently of much graver consequence.

 

This year, her father had been given the Defense Against the Dark Arts post, leaving a ruddy, overweight wizard named Slughorn to take his place in the Potions classroom. The new professor had introduced himself to her when they’d encountered one another in the corridor on the last day before classes, and he seemed genuinely pleased that his former student had produced a child that could approximate or perhaps even match his acumen in the realm of potion making. Thus, Paige had been downright excited to get to Potions on her first day, looking forward to what the new professor had to bring to the table.

 

Inexplicably, however, Harry had developed an aptitude for Potions seemingly overnight. The nervous Gryffindor she had once tutored now threatened to rival her skill, doing so at a pace that made her downright resentful, considering all the years she had put into sharpening her own talents. Everyone had noticed Harry’s newfound proficiency, including Hermione Granger, who looked almost as steamed as Paige, and Slughorn, who had taken to giving the already famous boy a new sort of acclaim for the duration of each increasingly painful Double Potions period.

 

This dilemma found her up to her elbows in stinkbug juice on an otherwise bright and carefree Saturday morning. She had sequestered herself in her father’s office, having heard that he had been forced into looking after the students who were off enjoying Hogsmeade for the day, and she was determined to stay put until her Vanishing Draft was nothing short of impeccable. Finishing another batch, she checked the clock. She was still working too slowly if she wanted to impress Slughorn. Sighing, she cleared away the wasted concoction, which was perfect in all other ways, and wiped her hands on her colorfully stained apron, beginning again from nothing.

 

Across the room, the door opened slightly. She did not look up, but she remembered the inventory sheet her father had left for her on his desk when she told him she wasn’t going to Hogsmeade with the others. “Dad, I’ll get to the inventory in just a minute, I’m almost done with this.” She called, continuing to direct her bored stare into the bubbling water.

 

No one answered. After she added the first ingredient, she looked up. “Da—”

 

Draco stood there, and he looked like the walking dead. His hair desperately needed to be brushed, and the faint purple circles under his faded blue eyes showed just how little he’d been sleeping. His clothes hung a bit off of him, demonstrating his lack of nutrient consumption. The most alive things about him were the beautiful tiger lilies clustered weakly in his hand.

 

“I thought I might find you down here.” He said weakly. “Sorry if you were expecting someone else.” He suddenly remembered his gift, extending the flowers toward her like an olive branch.

 

She suddenly came to her senses, stepping boldly forward and wrapping her arms around his neck, pulling him close to her. He wouldn’t mind the grime on her clothes, not now. They held one another for a moment, and as she pulled away at last, he leaned forward and captured her lips in a sweet kiss, unwilling to let her go too far away.

 

“I’ve done a lot of thinking.” He said, looking into her eyes. “You’re the only one who understands… Crabbe and Goyle, sure, their fathers are Death Eaters too, but they’re far too thick to comprehend it, and the Zabinis and Notts aren’t exactly in the inner circle, but… your father has been right there in the thick of it just as long as mine.” He sighed, sitting down in the chair she usually occupied in front of Professor Snape’s desk. “I—I can’t do this by myself, Paige. I need someone to talk to, someone who will listen and know how I feel. And that’s you.”

 

Paige nodded, leaning back just slightly against the cauldron.

 

He took in her dirty jeans and faded tank top, both mostly covered by the well-used apron. Her fingernails were far from immaculate, and it looked as if she’d even gotten a bit of stinkbug juice in her hair, which was tied up in a careless, loose bun. But those green eyes remained clear, vigilant, and stunningly shrewd as she looked at him. In fact, she was sort of intimidating.

 

“I love you, Paige.” He said softly, amazed at her ability to make these qualities attractive.

 

A smile crossed her pretty face, and she looked shyly down at her bouquet.

 

“I did something horrible.” The next thought came out bluntly. Her smile faded.

 

“Dumbledore?” She asked cautiously.

 

“Of course not, you haven’t been interrogated today, have you?” He scoffed. “No, I—I got this necklace at Borgin and Burke, one that’ll kill you if you touch it. I passed it off onto this Gryffindor girl, told her to take it to Dumbledore. But as I was sneaking back here, I saw a big crowd of people on the path that we took to get there. I think she might’ve unwrapped it.”

 

Paige swallowed. “Who was it?”

 

“How should I know?” Draco said. “I think she might be on their Quidditch team.”

 

She closed her eyes briefly, mentally preparing herself for what she knew she had to do, this being the first incident of many to come if Draco didn’t come up with a half-decent plan. “What do you need me to do?” She asked slowly.

 

“Nothing.” He said, and relief flooded her body. “Just make up an alibi for me if anybody comes asking you about it.”

 

“Of course.” She nodded, and they realized they could now hear the sounds of students in the corridor outside. Her father would be returning soon, and he would be looking for Draco.

 

He took the hint, kissing her goodbye and slipping safely into the midst of the crowd in the hall.


 




 

For the next several weeks, Paige understood what it was like to live two lives. By day, she was a normal Slytherin student, attending classes and busying herself with homework. She even managed to find time to run errands with the other professors for her father, an extra measure that helped make her many comings and goings look like business as usual. She went to Quidditch games, though Draco had abandoned his place on the team, and she spent an occasional weekend in Hogsmeade with Blaise and Theo.

 

By night, however, she spent her hours in Draco’s room, helping him work on a foolproof plan that would result in Dumbledore’s death. Draco was hoping to make it look like an accident, or at least like anyone could have been responsible. His most recent idea had involved a poisoned bottle of mead, of which he had overheard Professor McGonagall saying Dumbledore was particularly fond. Being chemically inclined, however, Paige had urged him against the idea, worried that Dumbledore would be able to detect the intrusive ingredient too easily.

 

Tonight, she strolled past the younger Slytherins into the common room and headed straight for Draco’s dormitory. When she opened the door and set her bag down, however, she found that he wasn’t there. She thought for a moment and then decided upon an alternative destination.

 

The autumn air was fading into winter, and the cold bit at her through her thin sweater as she crept up the stairs to the Astronomy Tower. Just as she’d suspected, there he was, leaning against the railing and looking defeated. Paige crept up next to him, putting one arm around him and kissing him gently on the cheek. She felt him press his side against her warm body.

 

“First years were being too loud.” Draco grumbled softly in explanation, shivering slightly. “Anyway, I don’t need any more time to think. I’ve got a better idea than the mead.” He glanced sideways at her. “Want to see?”

 

They proceeded down the stairs and into the main corridor, where a few students still lingered. They turned a corner, passing the Gryffindor trio, and all three students stared at them as Paige took Draco’s arm and hurried him along protectively. Finally, they turned down what appeared to be an abandoned corridor, at least in the sense that it led to a dead end. Draco held her close, closing his eyes and thinking to himself. A moment later, they stood together in a room full of junk, the hardwood floor barely visible beneath the menagerie of useless objects.

 

“The Room of Requirement.” Paige said, mystified, remembering it from the old DA meetings.

 

“You know about it?” Draco asked curiously.

 

Hogwarts: A History.” She explained quickly, earning an uncaring nod in response.

 

“This is what I wanted to show you.” He stepped forward, pulling a dusty tapestry off of the large object in the center of the room that it had been concealing. It looked like a very old cabinet, one large enough to act as a closet. All in all, it was quite unimpressive.

 

“What are you going to do with that?” She asked, perching on an old table behind them and praying it wouldn’t crumble under her weight.

 

“It’s a vanishing cabinet. The other one, the one that goes with it, is back at Borgin and Burkes. I saw it when I went in to ask about a banned Potions book I saw there, one that I figured was full of poisons.” He explained. “A person can enter one of the cabinets, disappear, and end up in the other one.”

 

“Really?” Paige stood up, running her fingers along the front of the cabinet. “So what, you would bring the Dark Lord here? Let him take care of Dumbledore himself?”

 

“No way.” Draco shook his head. “I wanted to get some of the others to come and assist me, just so I’d have reinforcements if the Order showed up. But it’s broken. It won’t work.”

 

Paige took this information in. “You’re trying to fix it, then.”

 

“I already tried. I can’t figure it out.” He looked at her. “I wondered if maybe you could help.”

 

She shook her head. “I don’t know much about magical carpentry.”

 

He sighed. “I didn’t think so, but I figured I’d try.” He began pacing around the wardrobe. “If you come up with anything for the poison, though, let me know. I’ve got to have a back-up plan, and I like to make as little contact with Borgin as possible.” He paused, smirking at her. “I reckon that’s an area you’d know a bit more about, yeah?”

 

She returned the smile, but she made a mental note to concentrate her energies on learning more about how they might fix the wardrobe. She was certainly not going to help poison someone.


 




 

Draco continued to update her on his progress with the wardrobe over the next few weeks, and thankfully he managed to come up with a few good ideas without her help. Paige took the opportunity to focus on making immaculate grades; after all, she felt she had a slight responsibility to take the professors’ focus off of Draco’s sudden drop in performance.

 

Paige turned the corner, carrying a Transfiguration essay she’d completed early. She ducked into Professor McGonagall’s office, handing it to her along with Draco’s essay, which she’d “happened” to pick up from him. As she turned to leave, she pleaded with all of the higher powers she could think of that McGonagall would not decide to perform any anti-cheating spells.

 

She exited into the corridor, and out of the corner of her eye she saw a dark-haired figure waiting for her. She turned, shocked to see that it was Pansy.

 

“Hey.” The girl said, the first words she’d spoken to Paige in three and a half years.

 

“Hey.” Paige replied cautiously.

 

“Listen…” Pansy stepped forward slightly. “I was just wondering if maybe we could put this little rivalry behind us, you know? I’ve been thinking about it, and I honestly think that Draco is better off with you. You two really seem to understand one another.”

 

Paige attempted to conceal her surprise. “Yeah?”

 

“He’s just gotten so broody lately. I don’t know how you stand it.” Pansy said airily, but her smile appeared genuine. “If I were you, though, I’d make him spend some of that money on you once in a while. It’s the least he could do for dragging you through the mud with him.”

 

“I don’t know what you mean.” Paige frowned slightly, but she did. Draco’s recent secrecy and general bleakness made him less popular than ever. “Draco never dragged me into anything.”

 

“Come on, Paige, you’ve been carrying that bag since second year.” Paige gestured to Paige’s ingredient bag, which her father had given her at the conclusion of her first year. Pansy probably thought it was just a cheap knockoff; she couldn’t possibly appreciate its sentimental value.

 

“I don’t need anyone to spend money on me.” Paige replied quietly.

 

“Who said anything about needing it?” Pansy smirked. “Anyway, I’ve got a manicure scheduled with Daphne, but see you at lunch?”

 

Paige nodded, smiling despite herself as she watched Pansy walk away. “Skipping Potions?” She called.

 

“No fun without your father there to mock Potter.” Pansy called back with a grin.

 

Paige was still in a pleasant mood when she passed Dumbledore’s office. The door was slightly ajar, and she could hear Harry’s voice. She kept moving, not wanting to see the headmaster.

 

“Now, Harry, you say that last night Professor Slughorn offered you and Mr. Weasley a drink that had been intended for me? A bottle that was left for him the same evening?” Dumbledore was saying.

 

“Yes, that’s what he said, and when Ron took a sip, he went into a fit. It was poisoned.” Harry said insistently.

 

“I see.” Dumbledore replied.

 

“I know it was Malfoy, Professor.”

 

Paige stopped dead in her tracks.

 

“Harry, that is a very serious accusation—”

 

“Ron almost died!” Harry retorted.

 

Almost before even she knew what she was doing, Paige entered the office, though she didn’t move far beyond the door. “Excuse me for interrupting, Professor, but I had to say something.” She said, taking measured breaths. “If this happened last night, Draco cannot be responsible.”

 

They both looked at her.

 

“He was with me. We went to town for a dinner date. We didn’t get back until late.”

 

Dumbledore nodded, though it was clear he did not believe her. Harry looked dumbstruck. “Very well, Paige, thank you for that information. You may proceed on your way, dear.” Dumbledore said.

 

Without meeting Harry’s eyes, Paige slipped out and headed in the direction of the common room. She wanted to put as much distance between herself and the headmaster as possible.


 




 

Harry was still glaring at Paige when she came into Potions later that day, and she regretted allowing her exhausted boyfriend to sleep through yet another class. She set her face into a glare of equal magnitude, remembering the last time Harry had outdone her in front of Slughorn, and took her seat, taking the piece of Drooble’s gum that Daphne offered her on the way.

 

Class proceeded as normal, with Slughorn failing to offer Paige’s perfect Shrinking Solution even the slightest of praise in the face of Harry’s version. As soon as class was over, she stormed out after Pansy and Daphne, the three of them heading straight to the Great Hall for lunch.

 

“Hey!” Harry’s shout came from behind her just as they made it into the main room.

 

Paige continued walking, hell bent on ignoring him. Up at the head table, a few of the professors, including her father, took notice of the commotion.

 

“I’m talking to you!” Harry called, circling around in front of her.

 

“What do you want?” Paige snarled, standing her ground.

 

“What do you know?” Harry lowered his voice, but he was still dangerously angry.

 

“Know about what?” Paige spat, staring at him venomously.

 

“Malfoy.” He growled.

 

“He’s got blonde hair, he’s an only child, and he kicks your ass at Quidditch.” Paige said smoothly, adjusting the position of her bag on her shoulder and walking after her friends.

 

“I know you know something.” Harry said coldly. He strode forward suddenly and grabbed her arm. “Why are you helping him?” He demanded, jerking her backwards harder than intended.

 

Professors Snape and McGonagall moved quickly, but someone else beat them to it. With a crack, a fist made an impact on the side of Harry’s face, knocking him to the floor.

 

Paige stepped back to see Draco standing at her side, shaking with rage. “Don’t you ever lay a hand on her again, Potter.” He said, breathing heavily. “You understand me? I don’t even want you to talk to her. Never fucking touch her again!” He yelled.

 

“Ten points from Slytherin!” Professor McGonagall had arrived on the scene, a ravenous-looking Snape behind her. “And ten from Gryffindor, Mr. Potter.” She looked furious.

 

Draco stood there for a moment longer before disappearing as quickly as he’d shown up. Paige stared at Harry, still on the ground, for only a second or two before going to join the girls at last.


 




 

Paige successfully avoided Harry in the corridors for the next few weeks, leaving the dungeons only frequently enough to eat, go to class and use the library. Draco was hard at work repairing the cabinet, which gained ground on his priority list following the failure of the poisoned liquor, so the two hadn’t seen much of one another lately. She didn’t even hear about the incident in the boys’ lavatory until she walked into the Great Hall one day and found that most of its inhabitants were watching her with concern. Professor Sprout had been the one to tell her about the duel.

 

She ran into Harry, fresh from McGonagall’s office, before she made it to the hospital wing. With merely a momentary break in her stride, she stepped forward and slapped him so hard across the face that it likely echoed in the valley of the Quidditch pitch. As he stood there, trying not to crumple, she shoved past him roughly and ran the rest of the way to the infirmary.

 

Thanks to her father’s diligence, Draco was fully conscious when she arrived, but he was clearly in bad shape. Madam Pomfrey looked distraught, as if she hadn’t seen magic used so callously in some time. He looked like he was in agony, and it caused her eyes to sting with worried tears. She ignored them and sat down on the opposite side from her father, gently taking Draco’s hand.

 

It felt like she stayed there for days, though in reality she got up to perform her duties as a student and simply returned to the same position so many times it became familiar. Thus, it was startling to enter the hospital wing one evening after dinner to find Draco’s bed empty. When Paige queried Madam Pomfrey, she informed the girl that Draco had been cleared for release.

 

Paige walked into his room, thankful that the other boys were absorbed in their game of wizard chess downstairs in the main area of the common room and thus unlikely to bother them. He was laying on his bed, still wearing his clothes, a copy of Advanced Potion-Making open in his lap.

 

“That’s a little taxing for recovery reading material, isn’t it?” She asked, dropping her bag.

 

“You write little notes for yourself in the margins.” He said softly, offering her a smile. “You’re adorable.”

 

“That’s mine?” She moved closer, looking at it for herself. She’d picked up the habit from seeing it in her father’s old potions books as a young child, and while it seemed to have served him well, she was still a bit embarrassed by her devotion to the field.

 

“Here.” He closed it, handing it to her. “I didn’t mean to be nosy. You just left it here.”

 

“I was wondering where it went.” She sat on the bed. “Are you okay?”

 

“Yeah.” He said, but he looked away from her. Clearly, he was hiding something.

 

She reached for his hand, squeezing it. “It’s tonight, isn’t it?” She whispered.

 

He looked up, finally meeting her eyes, and nodded. “I finished testing the cabinet. They’re going to come through at midnight and meet me at the astronomy tower. Your father told me Dumbledore is going to deal with the Ministry about something and will return about that time. Evidently that’s where he usually Apparates and Disapparates from.” He paused, looking at her. “I thought no one could do that on school grounds.”

 

“Dumbledore’s not just anyone.” Paige said, shrugging, but she couldn’t pretend that they were having a normal conversation. “Are you ready?” She said, returning to the point.

 

“Yeah.” He said, and he sounded confident. “I—I’ve been practicing on insects out by the forest. I figure if I can kill one of them, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch—” He broke off; it was bullshit and he knew it. Her question had been bullshit, too. There was no way to be ready.

 

They sat in silence for a minute or two, and then he looked into her eyes. “I love you, I really do.” He said quietly. “I want you to know that, if I don’t make it…” She teared up, but he continued. He had to get it out. “You have been the only good thing in my life for so long.”

 

She leaned forward, embracing him and crushing her tears into his shirt. He let her weep for a while, stroking her back gently. After some time, she felt wetness from Draco’s eyes dripping onto her ears and exposed cheek, and she tightened the embrace further on instinct.

 

Draco wasn’t satiated, though. He pulled away only to take her by the lips, kissing her furiously and tangling his hands in her hair. She held his face, kissing back just as hard. Eventually their passion ran to a trickle, and they became satisfied with softer, gentler expressions of love.

 

It only seemed right. If there really was a chance he might die, she wanted to do it right now.

 

She unbuttoned his shirt, stripping it off of him gently. Next, he removed her sweater and blouse, pausing to kiss her some more in between. When his pants and her skirt were gone, she looked into his eyes, and she loved him so much it hurt. She wanted to tell him, but the words weren’t enough.

 

Instead, she followed him under the covers and showed him.


 




 

When they were finished, they laid awake together for hours, silently waiting for the clock to tick down to midnight. With ten minutes to go, Draco got up and got dressed, while Paige curled up underneath the duvet to keep warm.

 

“I want you to wait until 12:15, and then come and meet us at the base of the stairs.” He instructed, smoothing her hair gently. “Can you do that?”

 

She nodded. Of course, this was not the first time she’d heard these directions. Her father had prepared her for this as well, shipping their important things off to Malfoy Manor little by little so as not to raise suspicion. Dumbledore would not make it out of this night alive, regardless of who was ultimately responsible for his demise. Thus, Hogwarts would not be safe for her.

 

“You don’t have to come.” He said softly, his voice faltering a bit. “You could just deny that you knew anything and tell them you don’t support us. You’re a good person. They’d believe you.”

 

“I don’t think so.” She shook her head. “Besides, if you and my father leave, there’s really no reason for me to stay.” She meant it, but her words broke her heart. She loved Hogwarts.

 

Draco nodded, pleased that she wanted to join him but unable to muster up positive emotions in the face of his nerves. “All right.” He lingered a moment longer to give her the strongest goodbye kiss he could muster, just in case it was his last, and then he left for the tower.

 

Paige laid there in the silence for fifteen more minutes until she also got dressed. She absently made Draco’s bed, a small way of apologizing for the destruction that was about to come to Hogwarts, and then tiptoed into the common room. Draco’s friends had fallen asleep in the midst of their game. The girls’ dormitory upstairs, where her own bed stood empty, was dark and quiet.

 

She slipped past the Aurors, staying under the cover of shadows until she reached the tower. She could hear Bellatrix’s voice as she screamed at Draco to get on with it. Suddenly, one of the shadows near her moved, and she heard her father interrupt. It was going to be him after all.

 

She closed her eyes tightly as she heard him cast the fatal curse.

 

A moment later, footsteps filled the stairwell. Bellatrix was the first one out, followed by a man and woman who looked like they might be related. A foul odor filled the corridor, and Paige stepped back just enough that Fenrir Greyback missed her by a hair on his way down. Three other men came down from the tower, and then Paige recognized the familiar smell of Draco’s skin as he and her father finally emerged. Her father put his free arm around her, and she was about to join in their retreat when another person emerged unexpectedly at the top of the stairs.

 

It was Harry.

 

Time seemed to stand still for a moment as the two newfound enemies faced one another. Harry stared angrily at her, cut to the core that someone he once considered a friend could be a part of something so horrible. After a moment or two, though, his expression softened. Now he just looked hurt… no. It was pity. He was looking at her like she was a waste of a good witch.

 

Paige suddenly thought of all the people at Hogwarts who would soon learn of Dumbledore’s death. They were good people, and Dumbledore had been their hero. She thought of her teachers and friends, who would be shocked and angered by the betrayal of the Snape family. She swallowed, but she could not dislodge the tennis ball-sized lump rising up in her throat.

 

“I’m so sorry.” She whispered, meaning every word, and then Snape pulled her away.


 




 

The Death Eaters remained silent as they made their way back to Malfoy Manor, but this did not mean that their minds weren’t teeming with thought. Snape was torn between the pain he felt over having accomplished his dreadful task and the pity he had for the two seventeen-year-old students at his side, both of whom had been unwittingly swept up and made into enemies of the good. Draco’s thoughts revolved around what the Dark Lord might do once he found out that the boy had surrendered his task to Snape at the last minute. Paige, meanwhile, couldn’t get Harry’s heartbroken face out of her mind. She thought of her N.E.W.T. exams, which would have occurred in mere weeks, and wanted to cry. She had done a lot of crying this year.

 

When they finally got to the mansion, Voldemort was waiting for them.

 

He excused everyone except Draco and Snape. Paige saw Narcissa, looking nervous as she stood by her husband at the foot of the stairs, and moved to stand beside her. It was too late, however; the Dark Lord had already noticed her.

 

“Draco, you know, I recall asking you to take care of the problem of Dumbledore for me.” Voldemort said coolly, his red eyes flashing dangerously. “Why is it that Severus was the one to dispatch the old man?”

 

Draco looked to his potions professor, desperate to be rescued, but Snape knew better than to talk out of turn with the Dark Lord. “I—I couldn’t do it.” He admitted quietly.

 

“Really? That’s very interesting, Draco, because I simply have no use for a Death Eater who can’t even properly kill someone.” Voldemort said, withdrawing his wand from his robes. “I already have knowledge of Severus’s immense value as an ally, but you have yet to prove yourself.” He looked at the Malfoys. “Draco, I’m generous, so I’ll let you choose which one to kill.”

 

Draco turned as white as a sheet, his knees buckling. “I—I—” He sputtered, trying to buy time when there was none to be had.

 

“Oh, you’d like a demonstration?” Voldemort thrust his wand at Narcissa’s neck.

 

“No, please…” Draco choked out, tears flowing freely now.

 

Voldemort glanced over at Paige, and a disgusting smile crept over his face. “I see.” He took her arm, pulling her close to him, and her heart dropped into her stomach. She saw her father’s expression change just slightly. “You’d prefer that I murder your girlfriend? It’s a pity, she’s really quite stunning.” He looked into Paige’s eyes, and it almost made her want to die.

 

Draco looked hopelessly at Professor Snape. “Y—You can’t—” He managed.

 

“Wait a moment.” Voldemort studied Paige briefly and then looked over at her father. “Severus, is this your daughter?” He looked incredulous. “Ah, yes, I see some of the features now…” He stepped back, releasing Paige’s arm. “My dear, I apologize. It’s truly a pleasure to meet you.” He kissed her hand, and Paige felt bile rising up in her throat. “I’m so pleased that you’ve come to join us, particularly if you’ve got even a tenth of your father’s skill.” He glanced over at Draco, smiling coldly. “Besides, this would be a wonderful opportunity for you to meet men far more suitable for you than Draco.” With that, he bid them goodnight and headed up the stairs.

 

Narcissa ran to her son, taking him into her arms, and Snape automatically pulled Paige closer to him. Lucius Malfoy didn’t move, although he studied Paige very closely.

 

Was it possible that he had underestimated the value of a connection to the Snape family?

 

They ventured up the stairs as a group, arriving at Draco’s bedroom first. Paige turned to her father. “If it would be all right… with all of you…” She glanced at the Malfoys. “I’d like to stay with Draco.” She fully expected them to decline, but she thought she’d ask anyway.

 

Snape thought of the men Voldemort had mentioned. Draco was not overwhelmingly formidable, but he would have to do. “I think it would be acceptable, Paige.” He remarked, surprising her with his agreeableness, though the look he gave Draco conveyed many other emotions.

 

“Yes, I agree.” Lucius Malfoy cut in, and Narcissa nodded approvingly. “Goodnight.”

 

The two were left with only each other now. The time was ripe for a joke about loose parenting, but neither of them had any humor at the moment. Another “I love you” would have to suffice.


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