Disclaimer: Harry Potter does not belong to me and I am making no profit in the creation of this story.
AN: Thank you to my beta for this chapter EnigmaticEyes16!
Prologue: The Choice
There were massive holes in the thick, protective walls that had once seemed so impenetrable. It wouldn't be long before the Dark Lord's army was inside. Ashes rained down from the sky in haunting flurries as Draco picked himself up off the ground and crashed against the nearest pillar next to Goyle, pressing his shoulder to the cool stone while he caught his breath and held back tears. His throat hurt from breathing in the harsh Fiendfyre that had moments ago claimed the life of their friend.
Gods, how had he gotten here?
His eyes closed, feeling a stinging pain behind them that he knew would overflow if he didn't stop it in time. This was war; he wasn't about to let himself sob like a child. His pride was too important to him to let that happen. Instead, Draco took a deep breath in, pinched the bridge of his nose, and stood up straight. Once he had collected himself fully, he reached into his robes in an effort to turn back to the fight, only to remember at the last moment that he didn't have a wand. He'd lost it in the Room of Requirement. His shoulders fell. He needed to figure out what his next course of action should be since he'd been unable to snatch Potter and another attempt would be futile.
The events in the Room of Requirement had assured Draco that he wouldn't be able to turn Wonder Boy over to the Dark Lord as planned. He'd failed at the task despite his desperate desire to prove his family's worth in this final hour. His gaze fell on Goyle one last time. The boy looked as though he were hyperventilating. Goyle would be of no help to him now and if Draco'd been unable to do what was necessary with two others to assist him, then any last attempts would surely be pitiful on his own.
His gaze fell coolly on the Golden Trio who stood just a short way down the hall from him, leaning close to each other and talking excitedly about something. Draco rolled his eyes in distaste. It wasn't as if they were in a bloody battle for their lives or anything. What the hell could they possibly have to whisper about now? Once he'd taken a step closer for the purpose of eavesdropping, he realized they were talking about Crabbe and the Fiendfyre. His interest was suddenly peaked as he heard Granger mention something about a snake.
The only snake Draco knew of was the Dark Lord's familiar. He took another cautious step towards them all as curiosity took hold. Maybe if he stayed close but out of sight he could manage to do something productive for his family's sake. He was reaching the end of his tether; he had the feeling that by the end of the battle he and his parents would be killed either by the Order of the Phoenix or the Death Eaters. He'd been living on borrowed time since he'd failed to kill Dumbledore himself, and now death seemed inevitable yet terrifying. It was never good when both sides of a war despised you.
Decision made, Draco raced down a corridor after the trio only to realize they hadn't gotten very far. Just around the corner, Death Eaters were storming into the castle after finally breaching its entrance. Granger, Potter, and Weasley were engaged in a duel where they appeared to be helping two other redheads, all aiming stunners and jinxes at the cloaked figures in masks that were thundering towards them. Draco cowered away from the mess, knowing he'd be killed without a wand. He had no defense against a room full of hateful spells. He'd have to abandon his idea and go find his parents. Whatever Granger needed the snake for could wait.
Just as he was sliding his back against the stone walls, desperately trying to get to the other end of the chamber and away from the fight, the air seemed to twist and spark. Draco was standing a meter behind Granger when it happened; the partition he was pressed against exploded. It happened so quickly that there was no chance to think. One moment he was cowering against the wall and the next he was diving against Granger, dragging her to the floor beneath him. He had no idea why he did it. Perhaps he had reached for her to use as a shield. Perhaps she was just in the way as he tried to run to safety.
His mind couldn't catch up with the actions before his life was taken and darkness closed in.
Draco awoke sharply to a face full of grass. His mouth filled with the dirty strands, choking him until he panicked and shoved himself up onto his elbows. His frazzled gaze ran over the vibrantly green earth beneath his palms that seemed unoffending now that it wasn't blocking his airway. He plucked a blade from the ground, running it through his fingers thoughtfully. He was confused by its existence.
The lush grass seemed so unlike something one would find in the fires of hell, which was where he assumed he'd be. He was surprised by how obvious the circumstance of his death seemed to him. In life, he'd thought death would sort of just come over you like a deep sleep when your time came. Now he realized it was like being blasted by awareness. A slap in the face by the universe.
"You realize you're dead then?" a boisterous voice questioned from just above, causing him to flip over in surprise.
"Cover the goods, Draco," a green-haired Nymphadora Tonks teased, holding her hand up to block the image of said "goods" from her sight and turning the man in question a lovely shade of fuchsia as he curled into a ball in an attempt to do what she said.
Shocked by the realization of his own nakedness, Draco began muttering curses beneath his breath. He helplessly glanced around for clothes. His desperate internal pleas seemed to signal some sort of higher power very suddenly, because the moment he thought it was the moment that some old Slytherin robes appeared on his body. He tried to look proud and unruffled as he crawled to his feet to tower over his cousin.
"Better, yeah?" Tonks asked, smiling at him in a way that made no sense considering their complete lack of a relationship in life. He noticed she was in a set of Hufflepuff robes and wondered if it'd been her old House. That'd be embarrassing; no wonder his mother had never mentioned it.
"Are you…?" Draco started, confused by her presence in his afterlife.
"Yeah," she responded, seeming at ease with the fact. "Bellatrix got me in the battle."
He winced, strangely unsettled by how sad that made him. He resisted the urge that arose to apologize. It wasn't like he'd killed her. In fact, he was here too, so they could consider themselves square. "Where are we?" he asked, sounding harsher than he'd intended.
"Look around," Tonks said simply, seeming immune to his attitude.
Draco did. He spun a bit to take in the grand surroundings that he'd been too distracted to notice before. They stood together in the center of the Quidditch pitch he'd spent so many years worshiping, the soaring stands rising majestically into the sky from all sides. He could see the Hogwarts castle a ways behind them on a cliff above the lake, appearing untarnished by the war. It all looked the same as it'd been in the last game he'd ever played. The field began to feel eerily haunted as Draco compared this heavenly perfect mirage to the reality of what it must look like in the world he'd left; so opposite of the beauty in front of him.
A lump formed in his throat. "Why am I here?"
Tonks gave him a pitying frown and her hair turned blue. "This is the one place in your life where you became the closest thing to the man you wanted to be. This pitch is the best of you, Draco. It's your Crossroads."
"Your Crossroads. Your purgatory, if you will," she stated, matter-of-factly. "You have a choice to make. You can go forward into your next world or you can go backwards to the life you left." She indicated each side of the field with a flourish.
"Well," he said arrogantly, lifting his nose. "I obviously choose life. You know, over the whole dying thing."
She seemed to be struggling to resist an eye-roll at his expense. "It doesn't work like that, smartarse. It's not that easy. There are rules."
Draco huffed, crossing his arms over his chest. He hated lectures.
"You can choose to go forward into your afterlife, but as someone who has made many mistakes in his time, you may not like the fate you'll be forced to spend eternity living," Tonks explained, waving her hands around to emphasize her points. She seemed incapable of standing still. "At least not yet. You see, you can choose to return to your world with the condition that you make all your wrongs right."
"Like feed the hungry?" he sneered, his nose crinkling at the thought.
Tonks did laugh at him then. "Gods, you're awful. You really do need this."
Anger rose quickly through Draco. He felt his face get hot in embarrassment, a feeling he'd always loathed more than anything. "Just tell me what the hell I've got to do," he barked, throwing his arms up in frustration.
"Alright, calm down," she smiled at him, reaching out to give him a surprisingly good-natured pat on his bicep. He was a bit unnerved by her friendly demeanor. "If you choose to go back, you're to prove you can behave selflessly. Your dying moment was spent protecting and saving someone else for the first time in your whole life. Someone you hated. To redeem yourself, you will protect an innocent from harm at the expense of your own wellbeing. Your sole purpose will become their safety."
Draco's eyebrows scrunched together in confusion. "You want me to be a babysitter?"
"Nothing so plain," she assured him. "You're to become a Guardian."
The title sent a surprising shiver of longing through Draco. It sounded both honorable and fierce, two things he'd never truly felt he was in his life. He thought about what he'd been doing before he died. He'd been cowering away from the fight until an explosion had ripped through him suddenly, forcing him to react. For some reason, that reaction had been to push Hermione Granger to the ground and out of the way. He'd only felt his body slam into hers for a moment before he'd been taken from that world. He didn't know if he'd done it heroically or out of malice, but either way he'd obviously saved her. And now, he was being punished for that.
"Not punished," Tonks said in response to his thoughts. "You're being rewarded with a second chance, if you want it."
He'd always done what was easy, but both of the choices she'd given him seemed terribly difficult. Besides, he didn't know if he even believed in redemption. He'd made his choices in life and maybe it was about time he paid for them.
"Everyone can be saved, Draco," his cousin whispered, smiling kindly at him as her hair shifted from blue to purple. He looked over at her in confusion. She seemed to truly believe her words. "Maybe you just need to save someone else to see that you're deserving of it, too."
He nodded though he didn't really agree, scratching the back of his head as he looked over her shoulder towards the afterlife that he deserved now based on his many wrongdoings. Then, he turned to look behind him towards the life he was being given the chance to change in the hope of one day meeting paradise after death instead of eternal damnation. Both sides of the field seemed shrouded in fog, which seemed to symbolize the unclear future that lay ahead of him in either direction.
Draco shut his eyes, thinking hard. A part of him already knew what he was getting himself into. "It's Granger, isn't it?" he asked, hating the thought already.
Tonks merely shrugged. "Can you handle that for the sake of your soul?"
He pursed his lips and rubbed his jaw in frustration. He honestly didn't know if he could handle it, even to be rewarded with an endless heaven later. It'd be a challenge, there was no doubt about that. But he'd always liked a challenge. Besides, it would be somewhat satisfying to see the look on Granger's face.
He smirked then, his decision made. "What the hell? I haven't got that much to lose. Just my soul."
Tonks beamed at him despite the bite of his sarcasm and clapped her hands together enthusiastically. "Good for you, Draco! Now, off you go, but remember this is your one shot. Make it count."
He gave his cousin a little salute of acknowledgment before he spun and marched off in the direction toward the world he'd spent too much time forsaking. He'd make changes for his own sake, even if it meant helping Granger. He'd use this final shot to make a real difference in the world. When he reached the three goal posts on his side of the Quidditch pitch, he stepped into the fog to meet his destiny as a Guardian.
She was doing it again. It was the tenth time that Draco had followed her to the park, a memorial that'd been erected by the new Ministry of Magic as a symbol of the rebuilding process. Two weeks had passed since his death, meaning it had been 13 days since he'd started his duty of serving and protecting Hermione Granger. So far this had solely involved following her to and from the park and then watching as she looked dazed and hopeless on a bench by herself. It was even more depressing than the fact that he was no longer really human.
At least this time she wasn't crying. He hated that.
Draco huffed in frustration, impatient to get today's task over with. He'd been told it was time to Tag her. It was a bit of a relief to know he'd no longer have to stumble along after her like an idiot just to keep her in his sight and make sure she didn't fall off a bloody cliff or something; however, it was also a bit nerve-wracking considering what the Tag entailed. He figured he had no choice in the matter either way, but was still a bit concerned about how intimate it'd be. He'd been warned that the Tag would change him, he just wasn't told how.
Before he could waste any more time second guessing his choice to go through with this, Draco marched over to stand behind Granger. He knew she couldn't see him as he leaned against the bench to see the profile of her frowning face. She'd see him when he wanted to be seen and not a moment sooner. For now, Draco needed to just watch and wait for the time to be right. He'd been given a task and he'd be damned if he didn't complete it. Literally, he'd be damned.
Until the time came to save her from whatever dark forces were in her future, he'd need to Tag her in order to know where and how she was at all times. It'd make his job easier. So, he did it. He hesitated for only a moment longer before his will power and need to change drove him on. He sent a soft caress gently over the skin just behind her ear at the curve of her jaw. A shock ran up his arm at the contact and he watched as she shivered and tightened her arms around herself as if cold. A curled symbol began to etch itself over her translucent skin where his palm had ghosted, outlined in a shade only slightly darker than her natural tone.
Draco felt the change overcome him immediately.
So it began.
AN: So this is the lead off of my first Draco/Hermione story. Let me know what you think about it so far! Your reviews are greatly appreciated!