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But Thy Eternal Summer Shall Not Fade by Ely_Baby

Format: Novel
Chapters: 13
Word Count: 112,965
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Mild violence, Scenes of a mild sexual nature

Genres: Drama, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco
Pairings: Ron/Hermione, Draco/Hermione, Harry/Hermione

First Published: 01/13/2007
Last Chapter: 05/21/2008
Last Updated: 05/21/2008

Summary:


Thanks to the extremely talented MajiKat for this magic banner! -- Harry, Ron and Hermione travel to Godric's Hollow in the summer after sixth year, their last stop before the Horcrux hunt begins. But when a wounded Draco Malfoy arrives, everything and everyone changes. No one is quite himself, good melts into evil, and the thin line between love and everything else is crossed more than once.


Chapter 1: Chapter One
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Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. The title comes from Shakespeare’s XVIII Sonnet, “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer Day?”

Author's Notes: I have to thank Julie for her accurate beta-reading work. It’s not true that this story doesn’t have any pairings, the only thing that this fiction requires is that you are comfortable with all H/Hr, R/Hr and D/Hr, because I won’t tell you who will end up with her until the very end. And if you are not at ease with the eventual pairing, well, don’t tell me that I haven’t warned you. This story is pretty complicated, and there are much more things that will happen than that short (and hopefully interesting, eye-catching and exciting) summary gives away. So, if you are going to leave me a review, I would be delighted to hear your speculations about how you think this story will go on, so that I’ll understand if I’m writing something of predictable. Thanks to Abigail, who went through this chapter again.







She 

May be the face I can't forget
A trace of pleasure or regret
May be my treasure or the price I have to pay
She may be the song that summer sings
May be the chill that autumn brings
May be a hundred different things
Within the measure of a day



She 

May be the beauty or the beast
May be the famine or the feast
May turn each day into a heaven or a hell
She may be the mirror of my dreams
A smile reflected in a stream
She may not be what she may seem
Inside her shell



She 

Who always seems so happy in a crowd
Whose eyes can be so private and so proud
No one's allowed to see them when they cry
She may be the love that cannot hope to last
May come to me from shadows of the past
That I'll remember till the day I die



She 

May be the reason I survive
The why and wherefore I'm alive
The one I'll care for through the rough and ready years
Me I'll take her laughter and her tears
And make them all my souvenirs
For where she goes I've got to be
The meaning of my life is



She, she, she 



                                                                                                                - She, Elvis Costello -



Ron stared at the timetable hanging on the wall of King’s Cross Station and sighed deeply. Why do Muggles have to be so complicated, he wondered silently. All Hermione had asked him to do was look at the railway timetable, and Ron discovered he wasn’t even able to tell the destinations of the trains, how was he supposed to understand which were the intermediate stops? Why didn’t Hermione just look for herself? No, she was already in the queue for the ticket office, waiting for him to return with the necessary information for buying the right tickets. Why didn’t she send Harry with me then? Harry was busy looking at some Muggle newspapers, scanning them for any tragedies that might have been occurred. It almost made him smile when he saw how the Muggles were able to find natural explanations for all the things that happened through the Death Eaters. Just a fortnight earlier, an old couple has been found dead on a seashore in Walsh. Amy and Dennis Bishop lay on the sand only half a mile from their house, they didn’t have any kind of injuries or wounds, but their hearts had suddenly stopped beating at the same time at some point during the night. The cause was unmistakable for the Ministry of Magic, a pair of Killing Curses. But naturally, the Muggle journalists had come up with a very unrealistic story of the Bishops’ hearts collapsing from fear. What caused that terror and why, remained a mystery.

Ron stole a glance at Hermione out of the corner of his eye and imagined how amused she would be to see that he wasn’t able to read a simple timetable. “Oh, Ron, it’s not difficult, you know, you just have to read the names here, the times here and the stops here.” Ron grinned. He would have loved to hear her bossy voice directed at him. He could not seem to get enough of her voice, even if she was lecturing him. There was just one little problem. Whenever she talked to him, his ears always filled with a persistent and low drumming sound, blood pounded in his head. At the beginning, he thought it would drive him crazy having to listen to her while she told him how to wave his wand or how immature he was when he bullied the first years. But then comprehension hit him, and he knew that it wasn’t anger that made his cheeks turn hot and red, because he wasn’t angry when she simply sat next to him in the common room, looking anxiously in front of her as she searched for the inspiration to write something on her Defence Against the Dark Arts essay. It was something else, something much more pleasant than rage.

“Found anything?”

Ron turned towards the voice he heard from his right. It was too deep to be Hermione. “How do you read something like this?” he asked Harry. “It’s full of numbers and names and letters, and they don’t seem to mean anything at all.”

Harry grinned. “You just have to read the names here,” he said, pointing a finger towards the timetable. “Here’s the time of departure and the time of arrival at the last stop.” Harry slid his finger across the schedule. “These are the intermediate stops.” He pointed at the last column.

Ron sighed. It didn’t seem that difficult, but he had really hoped that Hermione would appear at his side and teach him how to read that stupid table instead of Harry. Maybe she would have touched him while she directed his hand with her own. He smiled at the very thought, and for a moment, something very similar to butterflies started to move in his stomach.

“I think this train will work for us,” said Harry, snapping Ron out of his thoughts as he drummed his finger on the name of a train.

Ron looked up, trying to focus on the table again. “But this train goes to York,” he pointed out.

“We won’t get off in York,” explained Harry calmly.

Ron scanned the list of intermediate stops, hoping he would find the name of their destination there, but he was wrong. “This train doesn’t stop at Godric’s Hollow, Harry.”

“I know. Do you remember what Hermione said? There isn’t a station in Godric’s Hollow. We’ll have to get off here,” he said, pointing at the name of a town with his finger.

“Pocklington,” Ron managed to read as soon as Harry took his finger away. “Right, how far is Godric’s Hollow from this village?”

“About half a mile, I think,” answered Harry vaguely. “Maybe more, maybe less.”

“Which we’ll have to cover on foot, right?” asked Ron, his voice heavy with anxiety.

“Right,” confirmed Harry cheerfully. He looked at Hermione then and elbowed Ron in the ribs. “I think we ought to get back to Hermione. She’s almost in front of the ticket office.”

Ron nodded and they walked back towards Hermione, who was counting the money in her hands for what Ron thought must have been the tenth time.

“Which train?” she asked anxiously, looking from Ron to Harry and back.

“The one for York, but buy the tickets only to Pocklington,” Harry explained. “We’ll get off there.”

Hermione nodded. “Do you think this money is going to be enough?” she asked Harry.

Harry looked at the bills she showed him and shrugged. It wasn’t like he had loads of experience with Muggle money. Actually, his uncle had rarely given him as much as a cent. Hermione was more accustomed to it than he was; perhaps she was just nervous about the trip.

“We’ll be waiting for you on that bench,” said Harry as he and Ron started to drag their suitcases to the other side of the station.

Hermione nodded distractedly as the man in front of her reached the window and asked for a ticket for Cambridge.

“Hermione’s suitcase is heavy as a rock,” said Harry, collapsing on the bench. “I bet it’s full of books.”

Ron smiled and sat down next to him. He lifted Crookshanks’ little cage and opened it, taking the little tiger in his arms. “Yeah, well, I tried to discourage her, but you know she wouldn’t go anywhere without her copy of Hogwarts: A History.”

“You’re joking!” Harry laughed, half-amused and half-exasperated.

Ron shook his head, smiling and scratching Crookshanks between his ears. The cat purred contentedly on Ron’s lap. “I think she also said something about a book on medicine that she found extremely interesting. I think she wants to become a Healer after Hogwarts.”

Harry didn’t answer. He sank down onto the bench, tilted his head up, and looked at the ceiling of the station. It was so dirty that he wondered how it was possible that the grime didn’t fall on their heads like little black rain drops. So Hermione wants to become a Healer after Hogwarts, he thought. Harry knew that she wouldn’t be able to finish school and it was all his fault. He was dragging his friends along on what was surely a suicidal mission, without even knowing why. You didn’t force them to come with you, he reminded to himself. They decided to follow you. Better yet, they forced you to bring them with you. He let out a deep sigh and looked back at Ron.

“Nice,” he muttered.

Ron nodded. “I know.”

“Ron! What did you take out Crookshanks for?” Hermione walked towards them hurriedly.

“He just wanted to stretch his paws. Look how happy he is,” said Ron, grinning. “I think that he likes me.”

“Well, put him back in his cage. We have a train to catch in less than ten minutes,” she snapped, handing their tickets to them. “We’re not even close to the right platform.” Hermione looked at her ticket and then looked around the station. “Platform ten, and we are just in front of platform two. Hurry up!” She seized Crookshanks’ cage and her own suitcase, and started to walk quickly in the direction of platform ten, which was already crowded with people.

“Hurry up!” cried Hermione, turning her bushy head towards Ron and Harry. She jumped on the first step that led to the last carriage of the train and tried to drag her suitcase up the stairs. The bag only moved when Ron pushed it from behind and into the train. “Thank you, Ron,” she mumbled, pulling her belongings from the doorway into the aisle. Ron and Harry had just enough time to climb up the stairs behind her as the train’s doors closed behind them with a sinister clanging note.

“When you say in the nick of the time,” Ron gasped, panting as he rested against the wall of the train, which announced its departure with a puff of smoke and a loud whistle. Ron and Harry looked curiously around at the Muggle train, ready to find it totally different from the Hogwarts Express, but both of them were rather surprised to note that they were wrong. Except for the external part, which, Harry thought, was much less characteristic of the Hogwarts Express, the inside of the carriage were exactly like the ones on their school train. A long aisle ran from one end of the car to the other, and at least ten sliding-doors opened on as many compartments. The only difference were the passengers. On the Hogwarts Express, there were only students, and only students who attended Hogwarts, and an occasional teacher that had asked for a lift. On that train, on the contrary, there were noisy families, laughing groups of girls and boys, and quiet old couples who seemed to pass their time scolding the younger travellers.

“There’s an empty compartment here,” they heard Hermione say from the head of the carriage. Ron and Harry turned towards her and saw that she was looking at them expectantly, tapping her foot on the floor. With an exasperated sigh, she crossed her arms on her chest and leaned against the wall of the compartment. She was getting impatient. Her friends seemed lost in thoughts as their eyes travelled around them. She knew that they had never placed a toe on a Muggle train, but there was no need to make a fuss about that.

“Come on!” she commanded. Ron and Harry sighed deeply, both thinking they shouldn’t have bought her that cup of coffee when she had said she was a bit tired that morning. Now they knew that caffeine and Hermione weren’t compatible, not for their own good, at least.

“Can you help me put my luggage up there?” Hermione asked when Ron and Harry reached the compartment. She had already put Crookshanks on the seat next to the window.

“Sure,” Ron replied with a grin. He took his wand out of his pocket and waved it lazily towards the suitcase. “Wingard-”

“No!” screamed Hermione as she seized his wand, practically tearing it from his hands.

Ron looked at her dumbly. “You know, Hermione, I’ve gotten much better at that charm in the last seven years.”

Hermione shot him a glare. “Ron, we are on a Muggle train. You can’t perform magic in front of Muggles.”

“Hermione, they won’t even see me. There’s nobody here,” he answered calmly, stretching his arm towards her in an attempt to claim his wand.

Hermione brought it behind her back and shook her head. “First help me with the luggage – without magic – and then I’ll give your wand back,” she said resolutely.

Ron looked from her to Harry, who seemed vaguely amused by the whole exchange, and back to Hermione. He snorted and said, “There’s nothing you want from the luggage, before I break my back trying to lift it up? I hope you’ll bring me oranges in St Mungo’s, when I won’t be able to walk for the rest of my life and that you’ll have the decency to feel a little guilty.”

Hermione couldn’t help smiling a little, but when Ron dove at her trying to take his wand back, clearly hoping to catch her off guard, she backed up abruptly and crashed against the window. Ron found himself left with very little room to sneak a hand behind her back and retrieve his wand.

“I would bring you oranges if you were in Azkaban,” Hermione replied with a grin.

“What?”

“Oranges are for prisoners, not for patients. Plus, if you really break your back, I would be more than pleased to take care of you and get some experience as a Healer.” She giggled.

“Right, then I think I’ll just jump in front of the train so that you’ll be able to practice on much more than just a broken back,” said Ron sarcastically.

Harry suppressed a laugh, not because of his friend’s sarcastic remark, but because he wasn’t so sure that Ron was joking at all. Ron wasn’t stupid, but Harry thought that he really would have jumped in front of the train if Hermione had asked him.

“That would be lovely,” said Hermione, smiling. “Thank you for volunteering, Ron.”

Ron stuck out his tongue playfully and turned towards Harry. “Come on, mate, help me with this,” he said, seizing one end of the suitcase.

“Wait. You’re right; there are some things I’ll need during the ride. Just start with your own suitcases,” she said, opening her bag.

Harry and Ron shrugged and lifted their suitcases up easily. Being boys, and being much less bookworm-ish than Hermione, they hadn’t brought too many things with them. Just some clothes and their wands and naturally something to eat.

“Done,” said Hermione, zipping her bag closed. Ron looked over her shoulder and saw a small mountain of things piled next to Crookshanks’ cage. “What?” asked Hermione defensively. “I want to get some reading done. We’ve got a long way to go.”

“I didn’t say anything,” answered Ron, throwing up his hands. “You’re free to do whatever you want, and I’m happy that you took out so many things. At least now your luggage will be a little bit lighter.”

Harry bent over her suitcase and seized an end. “You wish,” he said, trying to lift it. “It’s still as heavy as a rock.”

Hermione sighed as she sat down on the seat next to the window, across from Crookshanks and her pile of books. “Come on, it’s not so heavy. I was able to drag it all the way from the underground to the main station,” she said as she extracted a book from the pile.

With great effort from both of her friends, Hermione’s luggage was finally placed on the rack. Harry collapsed on a seat and took a deep breath. “Honestly, Hermione, what about the whole ‘better if we don’t bring too many things with us’ thing? You suggested it in the first place.”

Hermione snorted. “They’re all things that we’ll need.”

“Let me guess, books, books, and books, right?” Harry smirked.

“Books are useful,” Hermione declared. “But I don’t have just books. I’ve brought some potions and ingredients to make other potions.”

“Planning to play Potions Master while we’re looking for Horcruxes?” asked Harry, looking out of the window.

Hermione lowered her eyes. “No, just being prudent,” she answered calmly, opening the book that lay in her lap and turning the pages quietly.

Harry nodded, but Hermione didn’t see him, and he didn’t bother to answer her out loud.

“Can I have my wand back now?” asked Ron, turning towards Hermione.

“You swear that you won’t perform magic on this train?” asked Hermione without looking up. Her long curls hid her face, but Ron was pretty sure her eyes were following the words on the page as her mind followed the words he spoke. How she was able to do two things at once like that, he didn’t know.

“I swear that I won’t perform magic on this train,” said Ron, sighing.

Hermione handed him his wand and he shoved it in his back pocket. Ron looked up at Harry, but he was staring out of the window as if this was his first train trip. It seemed like he wanted to memorise every tree, every house, every street they saw.

“So,” Ron began hesitantly, breaking the silence that had filled the compartment. “Have you discovered the location of your parents’ cottage?”

Harry closed his eyes for a moment and turned his head. When his eyes opened, he looked at Ron and then cast a glance towards Hermione. He saw that she had stopped reading and was staring at him. When their eyes met, she lowered her gaze back to her book. Harry turned his attention towards Ron. “Yes,” he said, trying to give the impression of not wanting to say anything else.

Ron stared at him expectantly, because he wanted to know what that something else was. “And?” he asked after a while.

“And what?”

“Where is it?”

“At Godric’s Hollow,” Harry replied simply.

“Don’t be stupid,” said Ron, rolling his eyes.

Harry ran a hand through his hair. “I’m not. Godric’s Hollow isn’t very big.”

“How do you know? You’ve never been there, have you?”

“No. But I asked the right person,” Harry responded with a smile.

“Professor Lupin?” Ron took out his ticket and started to twist it in his hands.

“No, he didn’t even know where Godric’s Hollow was,” he replied. “I should have asked Wormtail. He was my parents’ Secret Keeper, after all,” he added bitterly.

“Then who –?”

“Hagrid,” answered Hermione, blushing behind her book.

Ron looked at her, surprised. “How do you know?” He turned towards Harry. “How does she know?”

“Because she suggested it in the first place,” Harry answered. “And it was a very good idea.”

Ron sank into the seat and crossed his arms on his chest. “And you’ve just forgotten to inform me, haven’t you?” he asked sharply.

“It’s not that,” said Hermione hastily, looking up from the book. “We just didn’t have the chance to tell you. It all happened so quickly.”

Ron rolled his eyes again. “Sure,” he said sarcastically. “Is there anything else you want to tell me? Maybe something about your secret relationship?”

Hermione turned quite scarlet, while Harry grinned. “Oh, right Ron, we forgot to invite you to our wedding, how inconsiderate of us.”

“Should I laugh? Because that was not funny,” Ron hissed, narrowing his eyes.

“Stop being grumpy, Ron. It was funny,” Hermione laughed as she turned back to her book.

Ron snorted. “So, where exactly is your parents’ cottage?” he asked again.

“At the end of the main street in the village.”

“How do you know that it hasn’t been sold to someone and now a new family lives there? I mean, no heir has shown up in the last sixteen years, and for all we know it could have been sold or torn down and now there’s just an owl shop in its place,” Ron grumbled and started to pick at the sleeve of his jumper. It was almost as though he couldn’t stay still.

“No, it’s still there and it’s still mine, and there wouldn’t be an owl shop in a Muggle village anyway,” Harry added thoughtfully. “I have the deed to the property in my vault at Gringotts,” said Harry casually. “I saw it when Bill took me in to retrieve some money.”

“Oh,” murmured Ron. He looked at Harry jealously. “It must be nice to have your own vault, with your own money and your house,” he added rather bitterly. “I wonder how it feels to know that you have enough money to buy Diagon Alley.”

“I wouldn’t know, would I? I think you should ask Malfoy if you want to know.” Harry was annoyed now. Didn’t his friend understand that he had all that money only because his parents left it to him as an inheritance? He would have preferred to have his parents instead of a vault full of Galleons.

Ron turned a slight red colour because Harry’s tone of voice let out more than he actually wanted to tell. “We were talking about the cottage, weren’t we?” he asked, trying to get back to a safe subject.

“Yeah,” answered Harry. “I’m a bit curious about what we’ll find there. Hagrid’s just said that the Ministry cleaned up the mess after he took me away and then sealed the house.”

“That means only one thing to me, mate,” Ron replied seriously. “A lot of dust.”

Harry grinned. “Well, this time there’s nobody that force us to cleaning the house, unlike at Grimmauld Place.”

“Yeah, luckily Mum won’t be there,” Ron sighed with relief.

“Excuse me?” Hermione looked scandalised. “What do you mean by that? That if there’s nobody to compel you into doing the cleaning that you won’t do anything, even if the house is covered with dust?”

“You got the point perfectly, Hermione,” said Ron cheerfully.

Hermione’s face darkened and she snapped her book closed. “I won’t sleep in a place that hasn’t been cleaned in the last sixteen years.”

“Hagrid mentioned something about a garden, if you’re interested,” Harry laughed.

“I am not sleeping outside either,” she snapped.

“Well, then, thanks for volunteering to clean the cottage, Hermione. I don’t know what would we do if you weren’t with us,” said Ron.

“Nice try, Ron, but I won’t clean the house all alone. Naturally, you’ll help me,” she said firmly.

“By ‘you’ you mean Harry, right?” asked Ron hopefully.

“Hey!” Harry objected.

“It is your house, after all,” said Ron with a little shrug.

“I meant both of you,” said Hermione in a tone that suggested she would not accept anything less than complete agreement.

“Good grief, Hermione! Go back to your book’ Harry and I were discussing important things,” snapped Ron.

“What are you reading, Hermione?” Harry asked casually.

Hermione raised the book she was holding, and showed the cover to Harry. The Healer Helpmate, he noted.

“You’re really interested in this stuff, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I think I’ve finally decided what to do after Hogwarts,” she answered seriously.

Harry lowered his eyes and his voice at the same time. “Do you think that they’ll accept you at St Mungo’s, even if you’ve not completed your schooling?”

Hermione bit her bottom lip and let her eyes wander around the compartment, which at that moment seemed to have become uncomfortably silent.

“No, they won’t, but who said that I won’t be able to complete my studies at Hogwarts? I mean we’ll be back. I can always start my seventh year, with the students that are currently taking it. Maybe if I’m lucky I could be in the same class as Ginny.”

“But I thought that you couldn’t leave school and then come back whenever you want,” said Ron surprised. “I mean, that’s what Fred and George always tell Mum when she tells them that they should go back to school.”

“Yeah, well, they left of their own free will, and I don’t think that they want to go back to school at all,” she retorted.

Harry looked at her, his eyes dark and stormy behind his glasses. “And you didn’t leave of your own free will?” he asked, trying to remain calm.

Hermione looked at him, suddenly aware that she had used the wrong words. “I meant that they left school because they didn’t want to attend anymore. Not like us.” She stopped, weighing her words carefully. “Because you two want to finish school after this, right?” she asked hesitantly.

Harry and Ron exchanged looks. Harry hadn’t thought about that possibility. He simply hadn’t considered the fact that he could have a future after what they were facing. Naturally, he wanted to finish school. He remembered what Professor McGonagall had said to him in his fifth year. Potter, I will assist you to become an Auror if it is the last thing I do! If I have to coach you nightly, I will make sure you achieve the required results! Maybe there was time for that as well.

“Right?” repeated Hermione weakly.

“Sure,” answered Harry, brought back to the present by the sound of her voice. “That would be lovely.” He decided there was no need to tell her that he didn’t think that he could ever go back to school. Why discuss his gloomy thoughts at that moment? There would be plenty of time in the coming days.

“I don’t know if I’ll go back to school,” said Ron, looking everywhere but at Hermione.

“What?” she asked in disbelief. “You are kidding me, aren’t you?”

Ron shrugged. “Maybe we’ll find something we like to do that doesn’t require us to finish school at all.”

“For example?” asked Hermione sharply.

“I said maybe,” snapped Ron. “I still don’t know.”

Hermione let out a soft snort, but she didn’t reply. She was simply too angry with him for expressing the possibility of not going back to school. Ron was so stubborn sometimes. Sometimes, she thought, snorting again.

“Have you figured out where your parents are buried?” Ron asked awkwardly. He knew that Harry had expressed a desire to visit their graves back in June. Harry had been searching relentlessly for the location of their tombs ever since.

Harry nodded and smiled a little. “They’re buried in the graveyard at Godric’s Hollow.”

Ron raised his eyebrows slightly. “Why?”

Harry looked at him without understanding. “Why – what?”

“Why there? I mean, it was just a place where they were hiding. Shouldn’t they have buried them next to your grandparents?” asked Ron simply.

“Who would have buried them, Ron?” Harry asked without a trace of irritation in his voice. “My grandparents were already dead, and the only relatives that could have given them a proper funeral hated my parents. I think the Ministry took care of everything, so why would they have taken them been buried somewhere else?”

Ron thought carefully about what Harry said. “You’re right,” he said eventually. “So they’re in the cemetery at Godric’s Hollow. That’s nice. You said that it’s not a big village; you can visit their graves lots of times before move on.”

“Yeah,” said Harry quietly.

“Speaking of which, how long are we planning to stay?” Ron asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

Harry shrugged. “A week or so. I think.”

“And then?” Harry looked at Hermione, who met his eyes anxiously. She sounded like someone that had waited for just the right moment to ask just the right question. The nervousness in her voice wasn’t concealed very well.

“We’ll see,” answered Harry vaguely. The truth was that he didn’t know what would follow.

“But you must have a plan or something,” she replied.

“Sure, here’s my plan: find the Horcruxes, destroy the Horcruxes, kill Voldemort, and have a nice long holiday in the Canary Islands,” he said, pretending to check an invisible list.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Okay, sorry. I didn’t know that you wanted to improvise.”

“I don’t. I think that I’ll consider where to go next when we leave Godric’s Hollow. Is that okay with you?” he snarled.

“Sure,” answered Hermione slowly. “It’s up to you, after all.”

“Thanks,” answered Harry. He took a deep breath and tried to smile. After all, it was like they were sort of having their first real holiday all together. That’s a big fat lie, he told himself, but I can always pretend, at least until one of us gets killed.
The door to their compartment swung open and a tall man in a blue uniform stepped inside. “Tickets,” he demanded.

Hermione was the furthest from the door, but somehow she managed to give him her ticket first. Ron looked at her in amusement as she bent over him to pass the ticket. She seemed terribly worried that someone could have found out that there was something wrong with their tickets. He smiled faintly for a moment as she leaned on his leg to steady herself while her right arm was stretched above their heads, waiting for the ticket to be safely back between her fingers. Ron felt her long curls brushing his cheek and for a moment, her scent filled his nostrils. He moved imperceptibly towards her, his heart beating furiously inside his ribcage and a strange warmth spreading on his cheeks.

“Thank you,” said the conductor, giving the tickets back. “Young man, remove your feet from the seat,” he scolded Ron before closing the door and walking towards the next compartment.

Hermione pocketed her ticket and glared at Ron.

“Young man, remove your feet from the seat,” repeated Ron in a perfect imitation of the man’s voice, which caused Harry to laugh but Hermione to frown even more. “As if I was hurting the seat,” he chuckled.

“Ron!” exclaimed Hermione, exasperated. “You are incredible.”

“Thanks,” he said, grinning.

“It wasn’t a compliment,” she snapped.

“Never mind, thanks anyway,” he continued, shrugging.

Hermione shook her head in frustration, but Harry could have sworn that he saw a smile playing on her lips.

The train stopped in a small city and they saw a lot of people waiting on the platform. Nobody tried to enter their compartment. Ron whispered to Harry that it was probably because Hermione was occupying half of the compartment with her things, but his voice wasn’t quite low enough. Hermione snapped back at him that he was the one occupying half of the space in there with his feet.

By the time the train left the station, Harry and Ron were engaged in a heated discussion about Quidditch. This time Hermione didn’t bother to join them, since she would have had very little to say about the best Quidditch team in Europe. She just knew that it wasn’t the Chudley Cannons. Harry had chuckled when Ron said the Cannons would win the Quidditch league in their second year, and then in their third, and in their fourth, and fifth, and sixth. Now that she gave Harry a closer look, she saw he was chuckling again.

As noon approached, the rumblings of their stomachs overcame their conversations, which had drifted from Quidditch to broomsticks to end up on the suspected relationship between Professor Sprout and Professor Flitwick. Hermione rejoined the conversation at that point and surprised both Ron and Harry by telling them that she saw Professor Flitwick and Professor Sprout coming out of Greenhouse One looking quite ruffled last May.

“I’m starving,” said Ron when his stomach gave another loud grumble. “When is the lady with the trolley going to pass?”

“Ron, we aren’t on the Hogwarts Express,” said Harry gently. “There won’t be any lady with the trolley here.”

“But someone should be passing by,” said Hermione, checking her watch. “I mean, we’ve been on this train for hours and we haven’t seen anybody.”

“What about eating what Mum gave us?” suggested Ron, eyeing the luggage hungrily on the luggage on the rack.

Hermione shook her head. “No, here we can find something to eat, but we don’t know if we’ll have time for some shopping in Godric’s Hollow. We better conserve it for then,” she explained.

“We won’t have time for shopping? What should we do?” asked Ron, sounding anything but excited about something that could possibly distract him from eating.

“Clean up the house,” snapped Hermione, raising a hand for preventing any reply that Ron might have given. “Anyway, if nobody passes in the next ten minutes, we’ll go looking for the dinner car.”

“Are you hungry?” asked Harry, smiling.

“Aren’t you?” Hermione replied.

Harry’s grumbling stomach answered for him, but Hermione didn’t get a chance to laugh. As if their conversation had been overheard by someone, the door burst open a second time, and a young tall black man peered inside. “Something to eat?” he asked with a heavy French accent.

“Yes, please. Two Pumpkin Pastries,” said Ron, pulling out some Sickles from his pocket. “How much?”

The man looked at Ron with a mixture of impatience and surprise. “No foreign money,” he growled.

“Can we have three sandwiches and three cans of iced tea?” asked Hermione gently, trying to draw the attention away from Ron.

The man nodded and glanced at Ron again before handing Hermione the things that she had ordered. “It’s £7.45.”

Hermione gave him the money and waited for change. When the man closed the door of their compartment, Hermione shook her head. “Ron! It’s almost like you never left the Wizarding world,” she said in frustration.

Ron crossed his arms on his chest. “Is it my fault if I didn’t know that Muggles don’t eat Pumpkin Pastries?”

“No,” conceded Hermione. “But you know that they don’t use Sickles and Galleons and Knuts.”

“Oh, I’m sorry Hermione. It’s just that I fell asleep during your last lesson of ‘How to behave in the great big bad Muggle world’,” he teased.

“Yeah, I know, you’re always sleeping,” she answered sharply.

“Oh stop it, both of you,” said Harry, grinning. “Let’s just eat,” he added, stretching a hand towards Hermione.

She handed him one of the sandwiches and passed one to Ron as well. “I’ll pay you for everything with Wizarding money, okay, Hermione?” asked Ron.

Hermione waved a hand in front of him. “We’ve already talked about that,” she said nonchalantly. “Don’t think about money right now. I think that we all need to pool our money for food for the next few days.” She looked at Ron and narrowed her eyes. “And I know that you asked Bill for some Muggle money, I heard you, so you have no excuse.”

“Who do you think I am? I don’t want you and Harry to pay for me,” he said indignantly.

“I didn’t mean that, Ron,” she said exasperated. “You just offered to pay me with Wizarding money. I meant that instead of paying us later, you can always pay with pounds.”

Ron snorted. “I don’t know how to use them.”

“It’s not difficult,” answered Hermione. “You just have to read the numbers.”

“You are so difficult, Hermione,” growled Ron.

“And you are so –”

“Oh please, stop it!” said Harry, frustrated. “Just stop arguing for five minutes, will you?”

Ron and Hermione looked at Harry and then exchanged a look. “Right, sorry, Harry,” said Hermione hastily.

“Yeah, sorry, mate,” said Ron, biting into his sandwich hungrily. Harry looked at him in amazement. Was it possible that Ron had almost forgotten to eat while he was talking to Hermione?

“This sandwich isn’t exactly great,” murmured Ron, giving it another bite.

“Don’t eat it then!” snapped Hermione.

“I –”

“Please!” cried Harry. “You two act just like an old married couple.”

That shut both Hermione and Ron up promptly. Harry made a mental note to use that phrase every time he wanted them to stop bickering. The compartment filled with an awkward silence and a strange heat that Harry was fairly sure came from both Ron and Hermione’s flushed cheeks. Harry popped the last piece of his sandwich into his mouth and crumpled the wrapper. He stood up, stretched his arms above his head, and opened the compartment door.

“Where are you going?” asked Ron, shoving the last piece of his sandwich in his mouth as well.

“To the toilet,” Harry answered, stepping into the hallway. “Don’t kill each other while I’m gone, all right?” Harry grinned, but neither Ron nor Hermione dared to look up at him, his previous comment still echoing in their ears. Harry thought gleefully for a moment that they might not quarrel ever again.

Ron closed the door of the compartment as Harry walked away. He turned towards Hermione but found she was once again immersed in her book. Ron wondered how someone could be so fond of a book, especially when nobody forced you to read it. Or maybe that was just the trick. If nobody forced you, you would find the book interesting. Or maybe Hermione just finds every damn book interesting, thought Ron.

“Can I have one of those cans of iced tea?” he asked her quietly.

“Sure,” answered Hermione, passing him the can. Her eyes didn’t leave the book, but he was sure that she was looking at him out of the corner of her eye, expecting him to grimace at the taste of the tea. He decided to try an experiment and made a face as the first sip of tea slid down his throat.

“What’s wrong now?” asked Hermione sharply.

Ron laughed and almost choked on the tea. “Nothing,” he answered, spitting tea everywhere. “I just wanted to see your face.”

Hermione stuck out her tongue in a very childish manner, much like Ron had earlier, and buried herself behind her book again.

“Can I let Crookshanks out?” asked Ron, tapping the cage.

Hermione shook her head.

“Come on, he’s getting bored in there,” said Ron, stroking the cat’s fur through the bars.

“He’s sleeping,” Hermione insisted. “And you can’t let him out; we’re on a Muggle train.”

“He won’t do any kind of magic, I swear.”

“Ron!” cried Hermione, snapping her book closed. “He has to stay in the cage. Stop teasing me and –” She snapped his hands away from the cage . “–him.”

“Still fighting?” asked Harry, opening the door. “I swear, nothing stops the two of you,” he added in frustration.

“It’s all her fault,” said Ron.

“Rubbish,” Hermione retorted.

“Why there wasn’t more of a queue for the toilet?” asked Harry, causing both Ron and Hermione to look at him and then burst out laughing. “Glad that you are enjoying driving me crazy. Hey, what’s the time?”

Harry had to wait a couple of minutes for their laughter to fade away, but when Hermione regained her composure she checked her watch and answered him, “Almost two.”

“When are we supposed to arrive?” Ron asked her.

Hermione looked at him with her eyes narrowed. “You were supposed to look that up on the timetable back at the station. You remember that, don’t you?” she asked.

“Really? Did I?” he asked back. “You didn’t tell me that.”

“It was implied,” said Hermione through gritted teeth.

“We should be at Pocklington in an hour and half,” broke in Harry. “And from Pocklington to Godric’s Hollow it should take us about twenty minute on foot.”

“How do you know?” asked Ron, taking another sip from the can he was still holding.

“There’s half a mile between the station of Pocklington and the main street of Godric’s Hollow. How long do you think it’ll take us?” Hermione asked.

Ron pretended to think. “Twenty minutes?”

“Such a clever boy,” said Harry teasingly.

“I know,” replied Ron, grinning.

The train stopped at another station and Harry declared that there were still a couple of stops before theirs. They spent the rest of the ride looking out of the window, trying to memorise the landscape that paraded in front of them. It was so similar to their journeys on the Hogwarts Express and so different at the same time.

Harry examined every tree and street that passed by, wondering if this was what his parents had seen during their journey to Godric’s Hollow. He doubted that they had gotten there on a Muggle train, though. Someone from the Ministry probably helped them reach their destination. But if Wormtail was the only one who knew about it, who could have brought them here?

Ron was trying to look out the window and at Hermione at the same time, waiting for her to turn her head and talk to him. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just stop staring at her?
“I think we better get ready,” said Hermione, bringing everybody back from their thoughts. She turned to Ron, but when she spoke, he wasn’t quite so pleased. “Ron, can you take my suitcase down?” she asked in her sweetest tone.

Ron smiled but couldn’t resist groaning. “Ouch!” he cried out as the suitcase fell on the seat next to Harry.

“Hey, pay attention, Ron,” said Harry, moving a bit to make some room for the luggage.

“Sorry, Harry, did I disturb you?” he asked sarcastically.

“A bit,” answered Harry, grinning and lowering his head to avoid the empty can Ron threw at him.

“So immature, mate,” said Harry, imitating Hermione.

Hermione glared at them both as she shoved her belongings back in the suitcase. “So immature, both of you,” she snapped. “Better if you get ready, too; there are more houses here.”

Ron looked at her blankly then turned toward Harry and said cheerfully, “Did you hear her, Harry? There are more houses; it’s better if we get ready. We don’t want to know what those houses will do to us if we don’t get ready.”

“It means that we are getting close to the city centre, Ron,” she replied exasperated.

“I was just joking,” he half-lied. “Don’t you have any sense of humour?”

“I must have a tremendous sense of humour if I can stand you all the time,” she grinned in reply.

Ron pretended to be hurt. “You really are a –” But Hermione never got the chance to know what she was, for the train started to slow down, and a loud voice announced that they were going to be stopping at Pocklington Station.

Ron yanked his and Harry’s luggage from the rack. He nearly tripped over Hermione’s suitcase but managed to open the door and hurry out of the compartment. Harry followed him with Hermione close behind.

The cold air struck their faces like a whip as they stepped onto the solitary platform at the small Pocklington station. Hermione shivered and tried to pull the blue jumper that was hanging loosely on her shoulders over her head. Ron reached to help her when she couldn’t manage to make all her hair pass through the neck of the sweater.

“Thanks,” she said, blushing from the cold air and from the feel of Ron’s fingers as he touched her shoulders and waist as he pulled the sweater down. For a moment, she felt an odd feeling in the bottom of her stomach, as if thousands of butterflies had just taken flight all together and their wings were causing her head to spin and her heart to beat faster. She stepped back, and looked away, unsure if Ron had noted any reaction, and not so keen to find out.

“Sure,” answered Ron, who had suddenly turned quite red himself. “Now, which way to Godric’s Hollow?”

Harry picked up his luggage and walked out of the station. There was a small street there and a few feet away there was a crossing point but no cars were visible. Harry tilted his head to look up at a large sign. “Does this answer your question, Ron?” asked Harry, smiling.

Ron raised his head and looked at the sign where an arrow indicated Godric’s Hollow was to their left. “Yeah, I guess it does. Better if we get moving, right?”

“Oh, now we should move; what about when I said that on the train?” asked Hermione, with her hands on her hips.

Harry rolled his eyes. How can they possibly go from blushing to bickering in less than five seconds, he wondered. “Let’s just go, okay?” he snapped a bit more rudely than he’d intended.

Ron and Hermione looked at him sheepishly. After all, he was going to see his parents’ cottage and their graves in the next few days. “S-sorry, Harry,” stammered Hermione, following him down the street.

“Yeah, sorry, mate,” echoed Ron.

“It’s okay, I just want to get there as soon as possible,” said Harry, feeling rather guilty for having snapped at them. They bickered all the time, why should now be any different? Because they look like they are on holiday. We could all get killed if we stay here too long. No, we can’t pretend. Harry shoved that thought to the back of his head. Hermione and Ron weren’t careless, they knew perfectly well what they were going to do, and they knew that it was dangerous.

“Harry?” Hermione’s voice came from some distance ahead of him.

“Lucky someone is paying attention.” Ron looked concerned. “You all right?”

Harry nodded vigorously, trying to shake off his last thoughts. He rejoined his friends and started to walk down the road that should have led them to Godric’s Hollow. The beginning the street was lined with typical country houses, but as they proceeded, the buildings become rarer. The skyline of the city slowly gave way to the skyline of the country. Eventually, they came across a big green sign that welcomed them to the village of Godric’s Hollow.

Reading the sign, Harry felt a strange sensation at the bottom of his stomach, as if he had just tripped and missed a stair. A cold wind hit his back and made the hair at the bottom of his neck stand on end. He looked around, but the leaves on the trees were so still that they could have been part of a picture. He heard Hermione gasp softly next to him, as if that strange sensation had just struck her as well.

“Is that it?” asked Ron, looking around at what seemed nothing more than a field of sunflowers. He seemed perfectly normal.

Harry shook his head. “No,” he said, taking a deep breath. He kept on walking stubbornly down the bare street. After a few minutes, the landscape started to change again. Houses started to appear back amongst to the trees. Less than a quarter of an hour later, they were walking in a small village between houses that Aunt Marge surely would have appreciated. Everything appeared to be extremely neat and tidy.

“It’s a nice place,” said Hermione, looking around. “Look, there’s a small supermarket.”

“Interesting,” Harry remarked. “Do you think that this is the main street of Godric’s Hollow?” he asked.

“You bet it is.” A man peered at them from behind his hedge. He seemed quite old. His face was covered with wrinkles and his hair was as white as the winter snow. “This is Fond Drive, the main street, if not the only street.”

“Thanks a lot,” answered Harry, watching the man carefully.

The man opened his mouth as if to reply, but didn’t speak. Instead, he looked intently at Harry with a surprised expression. He raised his eyebrows and looked at Hermione as well, the same expression on his face. When he looked at Ron, he seemed to find nothing of interest because he turned his attention back towards Hermione and Harry almost immediately. “You remind me of someone,” said the man, looking from Harry to Hermione.

“Who? Me?” asked Harry.

“You and your friend,” said the man, nodding towards Hermione.

Hermione and Harry exchanged a confused look. Ron stared at them, not happy to be left out of the conversation.

The man shrugged. “Have a nice day,” he said and disappeared behind the hedge.

“That was interesting,” said Ron. “Don’t I remind him of someone, too? I mean, I am handsome and intelligent and –”

“We could have a debate on that,” said Hermione, grinning.

“Yeah,” confirmed Harry.

“Hey!” protested Ron. “That’s not very…” His complaint trailed away as they found themselves in front of the last cottage on the street. It was a two-story cottage with a small garden in the front and very probably also at the back. The walls were a creamy-yellow colour and the trim around the windows was dark green. The garden looked almost like a small jungle; the path that led to the front door was almost completely hidden with weeds and leaves and roots.

“Is this it?” asked Ron softly. “Do you think this is this the…”

“Yes,” answered Harry and Hermione together.

Ron looked from one of them to the other. “How do you know?” he asked suspiciously.

“I don’t know,” answered Hermione. “I just have this strange feeling.”

Harry shrugged his shoulders. “Me too.”

“Right,” said Ron calmly. “Since I don’t have any kind of feeling, I think I’d better have a look inside.” He closed the distance that separated him from the gate and placed a hand on the latch, trying in vain to open it. “I think it’s bro-” Ron’s sentence came abruptly to an end as a brilliant light blinded them all and some invisible force pushed him backwards.

The last thing Ron heard was Harry and Hermione screaming as his back hit the cobblestones on the street. Then everything went black.


Chapter 2: Chapter Two
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Author's Notes: Indeed not much to say here, especially because I didn't receive any review and almost nobody read the first chapter, so I wouldn't know what to write. Anyway I have to say a big thank you to my beta-reader, Julie.  And thanks to Abigail, who corrected this chapter a second time.




“Ron! Ron! Wake up.”

Ron groaned as the voices of his friends echoed painfully in his head. It was almost like he had just got up after drinking too much Firewhisky. His head hurt him badly and his vision was just like Harry’s when he wasn’t wearing his glasses.

“Ron!” Hermione was bending over him, so close to his face that her hair fell all over his face. He took a deep breath and inhaled Hermione’s scent in the meantime. “Are you all right?” she asked worriedly.

“I guess so,” he said, raising his head and starting to rub it. “What happened?”

“You’ve just been pushed away from the house,” said Harry as he stood up. Ron noticed at that moment that Harry had also been kneeling next to him. “But don’t ask me what that was, because I don’t know.”

Hermione stood up too, glanced at the house, and sighed. “You said that they sealed the house, right, Harry?” she asked.

Harry nodded. “Yeah, does that mean that we cannot enter until we find out how to remove the charm?”

Hermione’s eyes travelled from the house to the landscape behind it. “I don’t know,” she said softly. We didn’t come here for nothing, she thought forcefully. “You said that you have the deed to the property in your vault at Gringotts, right?”

Harry nodded again.

“Maybe you can enter, then.”

“What?” he asked, not completely sure he was following her reasoning.

“Well, the Ministry sealed it, but since you are the owner of this place, maybe there’s a chance that the charm they did will recognise you and let you pass,” explained Hermione.

“Does this stand a good chance of working, or will I land there just like Ron?” asked Harry suspiciously.

“I think that you’ll be able to pass,” said Hermione, trying to sound convincing. “Although, we can always not move Ron so that you’ll land on something soft,” she added with a grin.

Both Ron and Harry looked at her in surprise, and Hermione sighed. “Oh, come on! Only Ron can tell stupid jokes?”

“The main aim of a joke is that it has to make someone laugh, and yours wasn’t funny,” said Ron, looking at her from the street where he still lay.

Hermione stuck out her tongue at him, and Ron had the courtesy to remind her that it was still a very childish act.

“Okay, I’ll try it,” said Harry, sighing deeply. “But I want to be clear, Hermione. I’m doing this just because I trust you, so if that gate pushes me like it pushed Ron, well…”

Hermione looked at him expectantly, but Harry couldn’t find anything else to say. He just dropped his suitcase and walked towards the gate. He stopped only when Ron cried out for him to wait and demanded Hermione’s help to stand up. “Can I, now?” asked Harry, sighing.

“Good luck,” said Ron sympathetically.

Hermione poked his arm. “Ron, he won’t need it,” she said darkly.

Harry looked at his hand getting closer to the gate, he felt like he could have stopped it any time. Now, I’ll stop. Now. No, now. I don’t want to be pushed away. Okay, now – But before he actually understood what he was doing, Hermione was clapping her hands on his back and he found himself with the gate open in front of him.

“I told you that it would work,” said Hermione cheerfully.

“Now, what? Do I have to invite you inside or something?”

“We aren’t vampires, Harry,” said Hermione, grinning. “It was just like an alarm; you turned it off and now everybody can pass.” She lifted Crookshanks’ cage and passed by Harry, looking awkwardly around. She reached the door, walking carefully on the slippery stairs covered with leaves and water from the storm the night before. She looked for the handle, but she couldn’t find it. “I don’t remember how to open it,” she said softly, without turning. Harry looked at her with his eyebrows raised. Her voice seemed extremely sweet, not that it was usually harsher, but at that very moment, it was so soft that it didn’t seem like her voice at all.

Ron stepped inside the garden, looking around suspiciously. He didn’t want to be pushed away by an invisible force again. Not at all. He walked towards Harry and stood by his side. Harry was looking blankly in front of him, towards Hermione, and when Hermione’s words hit Ron as well, he stared too. “You don’t remember?” he asked, without understanding.

Hermione turned to look at them. “What?” she asked.

“You said that you don’t remember how to open the door,” said Harry softly.

“Did I? I must be tired and don’t know what I’m saying. I meant that I don’t understand how to open it,” she said calmly.

“How can you not understand how to open a door?” asked Ron, perplexed. “Isn’t there a handle?”

Hermione snorted. “Do you really think that I’m that stupid? If there was a handle I would have already pushed it,” she snapped.

Ron shrugged. “What about letting Harry open it?” he suggested. “Come on, Harry.” He pushed his friend a bit, and Harry walked up to where Hermione stood. She moved to make more room for him. Harry glanced at her incredulously.

“There’s no handle here,” he said.

“Really? What did you think I said that for? Just for fun?” she asked, sighing.

“Okay, well, the question is, how do we open a door without handle?” asked Harry, ignoring her sarcastic remark.

Hermione shrugged slightly. She wasn’t pleased with herself for not knowing something, but she really had no idea how to open that door.

“Hermione, if you don’t know, how are we supposed to open it?” asked Ron from the garden.

“Oh, well,” she said curtly, flushing from the veiled compliment. “What about climbing through the windows?”

“I think that they’ll be as sealed as this door,” sentenced Harry. “How did my parents enter this place? I have to think.”

“Maybe if you concentrate, you can remember something,” said Ron, leaning on the gate.

“Ron, he was just one year old, and plus I don’t think that he was able to open the door at that age,” said Hermione dismissively.

Harry closed his eyes and leaned his head on the door, trying to recall anything that reminded him of his parents in this place. Maybe his mother has been holding him while his father opened the door. Maybe if he concentrated very hard, he could have seen his father’s hands busying around a kind of lock and –

Harry raised his eyes suddenly, stared at the door, and then placed his hand where the handle should have been and drew a circle with his fingers. Nothing happened for several seconds, but then something started to appear on the door, as if growing out of the material itself. A silvery knob now shone in front of him.

Harry felt Ron’s hand on his shoulder. “I knew that you could open it, Harry,” he said cheerfully. “You really are – no wait, I really am a genius.”

Harry smiled faintly. “I guess so,” he answered distractedly.

“How did you know how to do that?” asked Hermione, surprised.

“I think I remembered,” said Harry calmly. “Ron was right.”

Ron grinned. “As always.”

Harry placed his hand on the knob and turned it. The door opened as if somebody had just pushed it, but Harry hadn’t done anything like that. He stood there as the now-visible interior of the house was starting to materialise in front of him. Without thinking about what he was doing, Harry took a step inside, raising dust all around him. He coughed and placed a hand over his mouth. “Guess you are right, Hermione. We’d better clean everything up,” he said, backing up a little.

Hermione stepped inside after him, and she automatically brought the sleeve of her jumper to cover her mouth as well. “Yeah,” she answered. “But if Ron wants to sleep like this, he is welcome to do just that,” she added sourly.

“No thanks,” growled Ron, stepping inside the house after them. “Gosh, I didn’t think so much dust could accumulate in so little time.”

“Sixteen years is a little time?” asked Hermione.

Ron sighed. “No, I suppose not.”

Harry advanced into the room between the furniture that lay on the floor. Everything was covered with white sheets, and they looked vaguely like the ghosts Muggles were always imagining they could see in the castles, the only things missing were chains.

“Should we open some windows?” asked Ron, his voice muffled by his hand.

“I don’t know. There was wind earlier; I wouldn’t want all this dust to start whirling around us,” said Hermione from behind her sleeve.

“Wind?” asked Ron. “There was no wind at all. On the contrary, it all seems so terribly still outside there.”

Hermione cocked her head at Ron and raised her eyebrows. “I can’t believe you didn’t notice. The wind has been blowing since we entered the village,” she said seriously, not noticing that Harry was giving her a peculiar look.

“Rubbish,” answered Ron, waving a hand. He walked towards the nearest window and opened it. He was right, there was no wind at all. The fresh, almost cold, air invaded the cottage. “See?” Ron asked Hermione. “No wind at all.”

Hermione nodded. “It must have stopped,” she said stubbornly.

Ron shrugged. “If you say so.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes as she looked at Ron, then she removed the sleeve of her jumper from her mouth and spoke quietly. “Come on, we’d better clean this place fast, or else we’ll be suffocated by all this dust.”

Harry looked at her with his eyebrows raised. “How do we do that? We don’t even have a broom,” he said.

Hermione smiled softly. “It’s so cute to see that you have worked so much at Grimmauld Place that you actually don’t remember that there are other ways to clean up a house. Especially since you are a wizard,” she said.

Harry felt himself flushing a little. “Yeah, well, I forgot that. Haven’t cleaned with magic for a long time.”

Ron laughed. “You know, Harry, for a while I thought that we should use brooms and dusters as well,” he said. “I thought that we weren’t supposed to perform magic in a Muggle town, Hermione.”

“Nobody will see us,” she retorted. “Plus, it’s almost dinner time, and I’m tired and I don’t want to sleep on the dust.”

“Dust can be soft,” said Ron, grinning.

“Yeah, so can the grass,” snapped Hermione. “So if you don’t want to sleep outside, you’d better get moving.”

“She can’t throw me out of your house, can she?” he asked to Harry.

“Don’t put me in the middle of this,” answered Harry. “Or better yet, don’t start another fight right now, okay? Just please, it’s full of dust and I won’t be too happy if it starts to whirl all around us because of all the air that you’ll stir up with your useless bickering and arguing.”

“Okay,” said Hermione practically. “Let’s start already. We’ll choose a room each and start with that.”

“I think I’ll look for the kitchen, then,” said Ron, trying to sound casual.

“I don’t think that there’ll be anything edible in there, if that’s what you’re looking for,” said Harry amused.

“It’s not. I just want to make myself useful,” snapped Ron, but he silently groaned at the thought of the lack of food.

“I’ll go upstairs,” said Hermione. “I mean, if you don’t want to go upstairs yourself, Harry.”

“No, it’s fine with me,” answered Harry. “I can do the living room, but there are three rooms up there. Are you sure that you don’t need help?”

Hermione smiled. “Are you just guessing that there are three rooms, or are you remembering that as well?”

“I think I’m remembering,” answered Harry. “I don’t know, though. I mean, it’s pretty obvious, after all: one bedroom for my parents, one for me, and a bathroom. I doubt that there would be space for anything else.”

“You may be right,” said Hermione. “Well, see you later, then.” She turned towards the stairs and started to climb them up.

“Hermione.”

She turned to look at Harry. “Yes?”

“What do we do? I mean, do we make the dust disappear or do we throw it out of the windows?” He looked perplexed.

Hermione grinned. “I think our neighbours would have a heart attack if they saw the dust flying out the windows. Let’s just make it disappear, okay?”

Both Harry and Ron nodded.

Hermione nodded back and, turning, she kept on climbing up the stairs. The steps were somewhat slippery under her trainers. She wondered how the dust could have that effect and concluded that it must have been the humidity. She snorted with annoyance as she thought about the effect that would have had on her hair. Frizzier than usual, she thought, depressed.

She tried to push that thought to the back of her mind as she approached the second floor. There was a little landing and then – Harry was right – there were three doors, one at her right, one at her left, and one right in front of her.

She turned to the left and pushed open the first door. It was a small bedroom. She had imagined she would find a little cradle inside, or maybe some toys and coloured furniture, but there wasn’t anything like that. There was just a four-poster bed, a big wardrobe, and a desk. Or at least that was what she thought must be hidden under the white sheets. She stepped into the room, trying to raise as little dust as possible, and closed the door behind her. Taking a few steps towards the middle of the room, she took out her wand and pointed it at the window and then towards the floor and the furniture, muttering a different spell each time she changed the aim of her incantations. The window swung open, the dust disappeared from the floor, and the sheets flew away, revealing what she had expected to find.

She frowned as she looked at the floor. There was no more dust, but she couldn’t say that it was clean. Same with the furniture; those things needed something more than a Vanishing Spell for making the bedroom dirt-free. She exited the room and pushed open the middle door, and as she had expected, found herself in a bathroom. She did the same thing that she had in the first bedroom and moved on to the third room.

The last room was bigger than the first and was a bedroom as well. Lily and James’ bedroom, she thought. There was a double bed, a wardrobe occupying the entire left wall, and a big mirror next to the bed. She waved her wand as she had already done in the other rooms and looked satisfied at the results. Now she just had to look for some cloths to charm and wash the floors and furniture.

Hermione turned and took a step towards the door but stopped almost immediately when one of the doors of the wardrobe unlocked and opened slightly. It closed again and opened repeatedly, drumming against the wardrobe, as if it was trying to capture her attention. “Ron?” she called softly, turning. “If it’s you, it’s not funny.”

Nobody answered. She took a deep breath and walked towards the wardrobe. There was no wind, so she just thought that the door must have been broken or something, trying to forget the fact that it was an odd behaviour even for a broken door. When she brushed the oak panel with her fingertips, the door stood still. She backed away and looked uncertainly toward the wardrobe. Her long fingers went down to touch the handle, but she stopped dead in her tracks. This is Harry’s parents’ wardrobe; I don’t think he’d be too pleased to know that I’ve just opened it and peered inside. It’s too private, she thought, and she pushed the door closed.

Tossing her hair behind her ears, she turned and walked towards the door, but before she could place a toe on the landing, the door started to bang again. She turned around so quickly that she almost slipped on the floor. Hermione stood there as the noise filled her ears and the fear invaded her mind. She looked at the door, her eyes huge.

Without even understanding what she was doing, she walked back to the wardrobe and opened the door. There was a woman’s clothing piled tidily, and lots of underwear. There, under a pile of jumpers, was a small book. Hermione sneaked her hand under the jumpers and seized it. She stared at the cover, where Lily Potter’s Diary was written in gold letters.

Lily’s diary. There could be important information for their quest for the Horcruxes in that diary, Hermione knew. But it was the diary of Harry’s mother. Did she have the right to read it? No, at least not before Harry did. Then why am I opening it? She looked down at the pages, words written in a soft, beautiful handwriting. But I won’t read it, not before Harry.
She was snapped out of her thoughts when she heard steps on the stairs. She wanted to close the door of the wardrobe with the diary inside, but when she pushed the panel, she realised that she still had the book in her hands. What am I doing? she thought hysterically. She was panicking without knowing why.

“Hermione?” Harry’s voice called from the landing. She raised her jumper and her shirt, placed the diary against her bare skin, then she pulled her clothes back down and checked to make sure no part of the book was sticking out, not really understanding why she was doing it.

The door opened. “Hermione,” said Harry from the landing. “Didn’t you hear me calling you?”

Hermione flushed. “No sorry,” she whispered.

Harry looked at her and frowned. “It’s okay. I just wanted to know if you wanted something to eat. We’re almost done with the cleaning downstairs.”

“Something to eat? Yes, thanks,” she answered, looking at the floor intently. “You go ahead, I’ll charm a cloth and a broom to finish the cleaning.”

“Okay,” he said, and backed on the landing. “Are you all right? Have you breathed too much dust?”

Hermione smiled, but her smile faded rapidly away, since she was afraid that it looked too much like a guilty smile. “Yeah, I think so.”

“We all have,” answered Harry, grinning. “Ron’s singing the school song.”

“Oh my, tell me when he’s done, so I can come downstairs safely,” she said, thinking that it was extraordinary how she could joke after what she had just done.

Harry smiled. “No, you’re going to come down and listen to him as much as I have.”

“You’re evil,” Hermione accused him jokingly.

“I know,” said Harry and walked away.

Hermione sighed deeply when she heard his feet jumping down the last stairs and his voice disappearing into the kitchen. She took out the diary and looked at it intently. Why didn’t I give you to Harry? It’s almost like I can’t tear my eyes away from you. She noticed that she was talking to the diary and decided that wasn’t a good thing at all. She walked out of the bedroom and back into the bathroom. Behind the door stood a couple of brooms and old cloths which she enchanted to make them clean the three rooms and the landing. Then she went into what would have once been Harry’s room and, kneeling next to the bed, she threw the diary under it.

She stood up and brushed off her jeans where the material had touched the floor. With great effort, she convinced herself to walk out and go down the stairs to the kitchen. She would have to look at the diary later. No, I’ll give the diary to Harry later, she thought to herself, trying to convince herself of a thing, she was sure, she would never do.

She crossed the living room with a hasty pace, smiling a bit as she saw that everything seemed clean and tidy. There was a green couch in the living room, as well as a coffee table and some armchairs. A fire crackled in the grate, and she looked at it intently for a while before heading for the kitchen.

“Isn’t a bit too much? I mean, a fire in the middle of August,” she said, grinning.

Harry, who was busy slicing some bread, looked at her. “I’m cold, aren’t you?”

“Well, yeah,” she said, tightening the jumper around her body. “But a fire, honestly.”

“Do you think this house is heated?” asked Ron, who was opening some little packs of food. Mrs Weasley had insisted that they take something to eat, even though Harry had told her that there was no need for her to worry about them. They would buy some things along the way, and besides, they wanted to bring only what was necessary. Now Harry was happy that they had accepted her help. But they would have to go shopping the next day because the supply of food was already at its end.

“No,” answered Harry. “I think we’d better light all the fireplaces in the house. Are there any upstairs?”

“No,” answered Hermione. “Maybe there’s a meter somewhere downstairs.”

Ron looked at her, dropping the bologna in his hand between the slices of bread. “Is there another floor downstairs?” he asked, dreading that more cleaning awaited them.

Hermione glanced at him awkwardly. “I don’t know. I mean usually there is,” she answered.

“Yes, I think there’s one,” answered Harry, cutting the last piece of bread in two halves.

“I’ve seen no doors,” Ron replied, placing a slice of bread on top of the bologna. He placed the sandwich on a small plate and handed it to Hermione. “Here you are,” he said gently.

Hermione eyed the plate suspiciously. “You washed it, didn’t you?” she asked softly.

Ron patted his forehead. “I knew I forgot something!” he said, grinning.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I just wanted to be sure; there was so much dirt upstairs,” she muttered.

“By the way, did you find anything?” Harry asked, sitting down at the table with a sandwich in his hands.

Hermione went suddenly white. “A-anything?” she asked hoarsely. “Anything like what?”

“Anything interesting,” answered Harry, looking at her. “Don’t you want to sit down?”

Hermione looked at the chair he was pushing towards her with his foot and, taking hold of the back, she moved it and sat down across from Harry. “You found something interesting?” she asked, avoiding his question.

Harry shook his head. “Not much, nothing that I could have related to my parents, actually. I think that everything is upstairs.”

Hermione nodded. “Yeah, well, there are the wardrobes upstairs, and I bet that they are full of clothes and things that belonged to your parents – not that I looked inside,” she added hastily.

“I didn’t think about that,” said Harry distractedly. “I mean, naturally there’s no problem if you open the wardrobes, but maybe it’s better if we do that together. Tomorrow. Right now I’m too tired.”

Hermione nodded again and watched as Ron went to sit down at one edge of the table. She let her eyes wander the kitchen for the first time; it was a nice room, welcoming and warm. The appliances were in one corner of the room and opposite that, there were a couple of cupboards with glassy doors in which little shiny cups and plates were displayed.

“I was wondering something,” said Hermione all of a sudden.

Both boys raised their heads at once and looked at her. Ron swallowed his sandwich and nodded. “Yes?” Harry.

“Where are we going to sleep? I mean, there are two bedrooms in this house, and there are three of us. I was wondering, if it’s all right with you, if I could sleep in one room and you two in the other,” she said quickly, flushing. “If you don’t mind sleeping in your parents’ bedroom, Harry.”

Harry looked at her thoughtfully. “No,” he said. “No, it’s okay. I mean, we can’t all sleep on the couch, can we?”

“No, I don’t think so,” said Hermione gently.

“Wait a minute,” said Ron. “How are we going to sleep? I have to sleep in a double bed with Harry?” he asked concerned.

Hermione shrugged. “You’re friends, and it would certainly be less awkward than me lying down with one of you.”

Ron’s ears turned a bright red colour, matching his hair perfectly. “Yes, we’ll sleep together,” he said. “Just sleep, I mean. Just lie down and sleep.”

Harry grinned. “I think you got the point, Ron.”

“Yes, you did,” confirmed Hermione, laughing.

Ron glared at her until something soft brushed his leg. He looked down, and as he spotted Crookshanks, a smirk replaced his glare. “Why, Crookshanks, what are you doing here? If I hadn’t open your cage, that bad girl would have never let you out, would she? And – ouch!”

Hermione smiled angelically at him. “What? My foot accidentally hit your leg,” she stated innocently.

“Aren’t you going to eat your sandwich?” asked Harry, nodding towards her plate and cutting off the soon-to-be quarrel.

“Oh – uh, sure,” she said and took a bite out of the sandwich that lay in front of her.

“Is there a bath upstairs?” Ron asked, getting up and placing his plate in the basin. “Because here there’s just a toilet.”

Hermione nodded. “Yes, there is. But –” She flushed. “– there’s just one bathroom for all us.”

Harry smiled. “Well, I think you can use it first, Hermione.”

“Thanks, Harry,” she said rather uneasily. She didn’t mean that she wanted to be the first to use the bathroom because she was a girl; she was just silently hoping that the bath wouldn’t be a mess after they used it.

“What are we going to do tomorrow?” asked Ron, snapping Hermione out of her musings over the bathroom.

Harry shrugged his shoulders and leaned against the back of his chair. He looked from Hermione to Ron, waiting for them to speak, but since they apparently didn’t have any clue about what to do, he sighed deeply. “Well, I don’t know. I mean it’s pretty obvious that we don’t have anything else to eat in this place, so we’d better buy something – Hermione, you saw the supermarket, right? We can go there tomorrow morning, and then we can always try to find the main church of the village and the cemetery.”

“I think that that’ll be quite easy, Harry,” said Hermione, smiling. “I bet there’s only one church in this village.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” confirmed Harry. “I wonder if my parents chose this village because it was so small and unimportant.”

“Well, it’s strange that of all places they chose a village called Godric’s Hollow. I mean Godric, like Godric Gryffindor.”

“Thanks for pointing that out, Hermione, I don’t really know what we would have done without you,” said Ron sarcastically.

“The problem is that we don’t know if it’s Godric’s Hollow in honour of Godric Gryffindor, and if it is – then why?” she continued, ignoring Ron’s remark. “And above all, why choose a place named after a famous wizard? Wouldn’t it have been better to choose another, lesser-known place?”

“Hey, it’s a Muggle village,” pointed out Ron.

“I know, but we don’t know if it has always been a Muggle village.”

“Do you think that it’s an important place?” asked Harry, eyeing her seriously.

Hermione sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe it was. You usually don’t look in a place where you are sure that there’s nothing, do you?”

“Excuse me?” Harry looked at her perplexed.

“I mean that Voldemort wouldn’t have expected them to hide in such an important place like this, would he? I mean, if this place is important, historically, of course,” she explained.

“And how do we find out if it’s important?” asked Harry.

“How should I know?” asked Hermione back. “I’ve never read about it anywhere, but still I’ve not made much efforts into studying the Geography of the Wizarding world.”

“Really? I thought that there was nothing that you didn’t know,” said Ron, grinning.

“Maybe you are confusing me with Professor McGonagall,” said Hermione sourly. “All right, I think I’ll have a shower and then go to bed.”

“But it’s only eight,” said Ron, checking his watch.

“I’m tired,” she answered curtly.

“Okay,” said Ron, throwing up his hands. “Good night then.”

“Good night, Hermione,” echoed Harry.

“Good night,” she answered, faking a yawn. Then she looked at her plate. “Ron will you –”

“Okay, but only because you are tired,” he said, smiling, and took the plate from the table.

“Thanks,” she murmured, walking out of the kitchen. Before climbing up the stairs, she picked up her luggage then started her ascent towards the second floor. She almost tripped over the broom and the cloths that lay on the floor. Now that they had finished cleaning, the charm had worn off and they were motionless on the landing. Hermione picked them up and placed them back in the bathroom. She checked the other rooms and found she was satisfied because she could nearly see herself in the floor’s reflection.

She placed her luggage on her bed and opened it, carefully taking out her books and looking for a place to put them. She turned on her heel and saw, to her delight, that the bed was smashed between two sizeable bedside tables, perfect for placing her precious books and potions. On the bedside table at the right side of the bed, the one closest to the window, there was also a vase. Hermione hadn’t noticed it earlier, but there was also a plant in that vase. She walked towards it to have a better look. Naturally, the plant was dead, and she wasn’t able to determine what kind of plant it had been. She dropped the books on the bed and seized the vase. It was red with small flowers painted on it. She shrugged without a reason and placed the vase back on the bedside-table.

“Poor plant,” she said aloud. “But there’s no reason to try to find another place for you, is there? I’m only going to stay here a week.”

She picked up her books again and placed them on the other table, some in the drawers and others on the table itself. Finally, she waved her wand and her clothes flew into the wardrobe, which was almost empty except for some small clothes meant for a baby. When she thought that everything was in its place, she proceeded to use the bathroom. Now that she was undressing in the bathroom, where the window had been open for hours, she thought that Harry hadn’t been all that wrong when he lit the fire. She pulled her hair up in a ponytail and stepped into the shower. She had to bite her lip to keep from screaming when the water, which was as cold as ice, hit her skin. She withdrew from the shower, waiting patiently for the water to turn to an acceptable temperature, and shivered on the cold floor. After what seemed like ages to her, the water started to become slightly warmer. She sighed and stepped into the shower once more, pulling the curtain around her and silently wished that the bologna sandwich that she had just eaten would not freeze in her stomach.

She took the quickest shower ever and dried herself with a charm for several minutes before pulling on her pyjamas and walking back to her bedroom. The sky outside the windows was as black as Harry’s hair, and the air that passed through the open window brought the smell of a coming storm. She hurried to close it and stood for a moment to stare outside. The small village seemed almost completely asleep, and though there were some lights in the highest windows of the houses, nobody was walking in the streets. There were no cars at all. She sighed deeply and pulled the curtains closed. Hermione walked towards the bed and, with a flick of her wand, the bed made itself with the sheets that she had brought from home. She wondered if Harry and Ron had brought sheets, too. It didn’t seem very hygienic to sleep between covers that had been lying at the bottom of a wardrobe for sixteen years.

She flopped on the bed and brought the sheets up onto her chest. It was extremely cold in the room. She stared at the ceiling, and, all of a sudden, the thought that Lily’s diary lay right under her bed, attacked her with such force that she gasped. Her vision blurred for a moment and when everything came back to normal she was gripping the diary in her hands without even remembering how she got it.

She opened it and stared at Lily’s beautiful writing. It was neat and tidy, almost like hers. She took a deep breath, sunk into the pillow, and started to read.

Day one.

We arrived at Godric’s Hollow today. James said that we’d be fine here. Rubbish. He knows that we’ll have to live like Muggles, and he knows that since his seventeenth birthday he hasn’t lived a single day of his life without performing any kind of magic. It’ll be hard for him. But we must not perform magic. For us and for Harry. I’m looking out of the window. This village would make my sister feel all warm and happy. It’s so tidy and terribly empty, almost sterile; even scary sometimes. The cottage is nice, even if it’s really small., Harry’s bedroom seems so far from ours that I don’t have the heart to make him sleep there. I think that tonight he will sleep with us, and if James tells me that he is too big, he can always sleep in Harry’s bedroom himself. I have a strange feeling about this place. It’s almost like it’s full of sleeping magic that awaits us to wake it up. And I’m not sure that it’s good magic…

Clang.

The diary slid from Hermione’s hands as her eyes closed and she started to dream.

***

When Harry woke up the next morning, the first things he saw were Ron’s freckles. He smiled softly in his sleepy state, then, when he understood that he was only inches away from his best friend’s face, he literally jumped back, falling off the bed.

“Another five minutes, Mum,” was all Ron muttered before turning onto his other side.

Harry helped himself up, placing his hands on the bed. He glanced at Ron, who was snoring loudly as if he hadn’t said anything at all. He walked towards the chair on which his jumper lay and pulled it on over his pyjamas. Then, trying to make as little noise as he could, he exited the room and walked down the stairs, where the smell of tea was spreading through the house.

“Hey, Harry,” said Hermione, when he entered into the kitchen. “Did you sleep well?”

Harry blinked and yawned. “What are you doing here? It’s only –”

“Eight, I know, but I couldn’t sleep,” she finished for him.

“Why? I thought that you were tired last night,” he said, yawning again.

“I was,” she said. “I just…” her voice trailed away while her cheeks flushed.

“What? Had a nightmare?” asked Harry, suddenly interested.

She shook her head. “No, not a nightmare. A dream, but not a nightmare.”

Harry looked at her without understanding. “And so? You couldn’t sleep because of a dream? What did you dream?”

“I-I can’t remember,” she said and turned to hide the fact that her cheeks were turning redder than Ron’s hair. “I don’t know.”

“Okay,” said Harry calmly. “Are you brewing some tea?”

Hermione nodded, without turning. “I’m sorry, Harry,” she said.

“You are sorry for what?”

“For the weather,” she said, looking out of the window above the basin. “It’s raining.”

“So?” he asked without understanding.

“We won’t be able to look for your parents’ graves,” she explained simply.

That seemed to hit Harry like a blast of cold air. “Don’t we have an umbrella?” he asked abruptly.

Hermione shook her head and turned to place a couple mugs of tea on the table. “No, but we can always walk to the supermarket and buy one there. In the meantime, we can ask directions to the graveyard.”

Harry took the cup that Hermione had placed in front of him and thanked her. “Well, okay.”

Hermione nodded. “Ron?” she asked, sipping her tea as well.

“He’s still sleeping,” he answered with a smile. “He was mumbling something about his mother.”

Hermione nodded. “How did you sleep in the double bed?” she asked, trying to hide a smirk.

“Fine, thanks,” answered Harry curtly. “I’m sure that we were less cold than you, all alone in that room.”

Hermione raised her eyebrows and now her smirk appeared clearly on her lips. “Did you two keep each other warm?”

Harry made a face at her. She burst into laughter, and he joined her a second later.

“Bloody hell, there are people that don’t like to wake up at six in the morning. You didn’t think about that, did you?” asked Ron, yawning and sitting down heavily next to Harry.

“It’s eight, Ron. Not six,” said Hermione gently.

“Yeah, well, you would have liked to sleep more if you had been woken up at least three times last night,” he said, rubbing his eyes.

“Why?” asked Hermione.

“Because Harry had some kind of dream in which he had the urge to talk out loud,” he said. “Can I have a cup of tea too, Hermione?”

Hermione nodded, and shot at Harry a piercing look. “Did you have dreams as well? You didn’t tell me.”

“I didn’t remember,” he lied, but his face had turned suddenly white and guilty. “Did I say something – hem – interesting?” he asked, hoping to sound casual.

Ron’s tired expression changed suddenly into a malicious one. “You were dreaming about a girl, weren’t you?”

Harry gulped nervously. “I don’t know,” he murmured. “What was I saying?”

“Couldn’t understand,” said Ron, shrugging his shoulders. “But it seemed like you were enjoying yourself.”

Harry paled even more, and then, all of a sudden, colour came back to his face like the sky at dusk. “Really?” he asked, wishing that his voice didn’t sound so hoarse.

“Yeah, you also muttered a couple of different names, but your voice was too low for me to understand, and I was too sleepy,” he said. “Thanks, Hermione,” he added, when she placed the mug in front of him. “When are we going to the supermarket?”

“When we’re ready,” answered Hermione. She looked at Ron worriedly. “Ron, will you please let Harry and I cope with the cashiers there?”

Ron narrowed his eyes. “Do you think that I’m not able to do a little shopping?”

“How many times have you been in a Muggle supermarket?”

“None, but –”

“I’m not telling you that you aren’t able to do a little shopping. I just think that you have to get accustomed to Muggle life,” she said evenly.

Ron rolled his eyes. “Okay, I’ll follow you two and stay absolutely silent the entire morning.”

“We didn’t hope for so much, mate,” said Harry, grinning.

“Wow, the friends that everybody would want to have,” he said sarcastically.

“Why, thanks, Ron,” answered Hermione. “Anyway, I’ll go get ready. Shall we meet in the living room in ten minutes?”

“What?” asked Ron, spitting tea everywhere. “Ginny takes at least half an hour to get ready.”

Hermione shrugged and disappeared up the stairs.

“She’s crazy,” muttered Ron. “I’m not ready to go out so early in the morning. This has never happened.”

“There’s always a first time, Ron.” Harry chuckled.

Ron snorted and then added something else of which Harry understood only ‘Hermione’ and ‘stupid Muggle shopping’ and then they went upstairs to get changed.

***

Hermione was already waiting for them in the living room when they climbed back down the stairs. Ron wearing one of Mrs Weasley’s jumpers and a pair of jeans, Harry a blue sweater and a pair of jeans as well. They were wearing raincoats on top of everything else.

“Why are you wearing a skirt?” asked Ron when he spotted Hermione.

She shrugged. “Because I felt like wearing a skirt,” she snapped back, feeling rebellious. “I just wanted to wear something different for a change.”

“For going shopping?”

She shrugged. She really didn’t know why she had worn her skirt. She never wore it, but that day she just felt like wearing something more feminine. “Shall we go?”

They nodded and exited onto the lawn. The rain was falling heavily around them as they crossed the garden and turned into the street. They had their hoods over their heads and the coats closed tightly around their bodies. Hermione was in front, followed by Harry and Ron. They tried to look at the houses of the main street of Godric’s Hollow, but they seemed well hidden behind the curtains of rain. When they passed in front of the house where the old man had helped them the day before, they spotted a light in the windows of the first floor. Looking with great effort, they spotted the man standing behind a glass, half hidden by a curtain, peering back at them.

“I feel like I’m being watched,” said Ron, shivering.

“Let’s just hurry up,” said Hermione, walking faster on the pavement.

Finally, they reached the small supermarket, which seemed to be the heart of Godric’s Hollow. A big, lighted sign was placed above the sliding door at the entrance and some cars were parked there. They ran inside, wetting the floor of the supermarket with their shoes. The cashiers looked at them and made a face as if they were rubbish left for too many days next to the door.

“Okay, now I’m scared,” said Harry. “It’s almost like being in a place where everybody is like my aunt and uncle. I don’t like it.”

“Don’t be silly, Harry,” said Hermione, waving a hand and picking up a trolley.

“He’s right, and that man was looking at us from the window,” said Ron, shaking from the cold and the water.

“Ron, it’s very likely that he wasn’t even seeing us. There was too much rain,” said Hermione, starting to push the trolley between the rows of shelves full of food. “Let’s talk about something important,” she added, looking at the biscuits. “Brownies or muffins?”

It took them almost all the morning to do the shopping. Harry and Ron didn’t like anything Hermione wanted, and Hermione couldn’t manage to make them buy any kind of vegetables. That wasn’t exactly true, since they had asked for potatoes.

“Can you make chips, Hermione?” has asked Ron, hopefully.

“I can try,” she answered vaguely. She had never tried to do them. How difficult can it be? she wondered.

Ron had been quiet all morning. Asking about everything, of course, but only to Harry and Hermione. He had never even tried to talk to an employee, probably because he found them extremely nasty and didn’t want to get near them. Hermione and Harry paid the whole bill, but Ron offered to pay the next time they would have to buy something.

They walked back to the cottage with three new umbrellas and six bags. They weren’t too heavy because they divided everything into equal parts. Each of them carried two bags, instead of stuffing everything into just four.

The rain was still pouring down insistently, but luckily, they had the umbrellas now. When they passed again in front of the old man’s house, they didn’t even remember to look at it, since they were too eager to come back and prepare something to eat. No one, especially not Ron, thought that doing the shopping could have been so tiring. He was starving.

“Take off your shoes,” said Hermione to them as soon as they approached the cottage. “I don’t want to have to clean everything a second time.”

“Hey, it was us who cleaned here,” protested Ron, taking off his shoes with his feet.

Hermione smiled. “Right, then, you’ll have to clean if you’ll get dirt on the floor.”

Ron snorted and walked into the kitchen, leaving wet footprints on the floor, because his trainers didn’t prevent his socks from getting wet. When he and Harry entered the kitchen, Hermione was already putting the food away in the cupboards. The vegetables were at her left and the meat at her right.

Ron sat heavily on a chair. “So,” he started awkwardly. “Chips?”

“I’ll try,” said Hermione airily. “But I can’t promise you anything.”

“Okay, I’ll finish putting things away,” he said, practically shoving the potatoes into her hands.

“And I’ll set the table,” said Harry.

They didn’t use magic for cooking or putting things in the cupboards or setting the table. That was why some of the chips were burnt, others rare, but the last ones were edible. But nobody said anything because Hermione had a quite murderous look on her face after the oil had squirted on her hair.

Ron offered to tidy up the kitchen while Harry and Hermione relaxed on the couch of the living room. Harry suspected it was only because he wanted to open the box of muffins that Hermione had said were strictly reserved for breakfast.

“Do you think that it’ll stop raining?” Harry sighed heavily, looking out of one of the windows of the living room. The rain banged against the glass as if it was going to tear down the house.

“This afternoon?” asked Hermione, opening the book that she’s just collected from upstairs.

Harry nodded.

“No, I don’t think so,” she answered. “But if it keeps on raining all week we’ll go looking for the cemetery anyway. A bit of rain can’t prevent us from going there, can it?”

Harry smiled. “No. But if it keeps on raining all day, what will we do?”

Hermione shrugged her shoulders. “There’s plenty of things to do, I think. I mean, have you already looked into the wardrobes in your room? We could have a peek inside them.”

“We’ve already looked inside – Ron and I, yesterday evening – but there was nothing. I mean, I don’t know what I’d planned to find, I just know that there wasn’t anything interesting,” said Harry. “Not that it helps our research on the Horcruxes, naturally, but I’ve learned that my dad liked green. He had many green jumpers.”

“Maybe he liked green because it was the colour of you and your mother’s eyes,” she said gently.

“Maybe,” said Harry thoughtfully.

“Done!” said Ron, entering the living room.

“Thanks, Ron,” said Hermione. “I only hope that you left some muffins for tomorrow.”

Ron grinned and sat down next to Hermione, sandwiching her between Harry and himself. “So what are the plans for today?”

“Sit here and stare at the rain, I guess,” answered Harry flatly.

“What? Don’t we have anything interesting to do? No room to clean, no book to study?” asked Ron sarcastically.

Hermione stuck out her tongue at him but didn’t say a word.

Harry stood up from the couch and walked towards a cupboard in front of him. “Well, I found one thing while I was cleaning up the living room, but I didn’t say anything because I don’t know if it works,” he said, making the doors slide open.

“What is it?” asked Ron as soon as he saw the black square object that Harry was showing them.

“A television,” said Harry, picking up the remote control and repeating, “but I don’t know if it works.” He sat back on the couch and pushed some buttons randomly. Nothing happened.

“It seems that it doesn’t work,” said Hermione, flipping the pages of his book.

“What should it do?” asked Ron.

“See things, videos,” explained Harry. He threw the remote control on the armchair and shrugged. “It must be too old, or maybe it didn’t work when there were my parents here as well. I don’t remember we used to watch TV.”

“I bet you don’t, Harry, you were too young,” said Hermione patiently.

“What’s that?” asked Ron, sitting up suddenly and walking towards the television. “There’s something on this vetelision.”

“Television,” corrected Hermione, without raising her eyes from the book.

“Whatever,” said Ron, pulling something that looked like a fine box of wood from the space between the television and the cupboard. “Oh, now that’s interesting. A chess board,” he said eagerly. “Hey, Harry what about –”

“Okay,” said Harry cheerfully. “Always better than looking at the rain.”

“Or at a broken TV,” said Hermione.

“Right.” He knelt in front of the coffee table while Ron sat in front of him. They were both a bit disappointed by the fact that the chess set wasn’t a Wizarding one, but that didn’t prevent them from playing for hours, even if Ron always forgot that he had to move his pieces with his hands instead of direct them with his voice. Hermione silently wondered how could they go on for so long and how Harry never got tired of losing. At the same time, Ron and Harry wondered how Hermione could concentrate on a book for hours. She paused once to open the door for Crookshanks, who had claimed a little walk outside even if it was still raining.

They went on in an odd silence, interrupted only by Ron’s swearing, Harry’s laugh, and Hermione’s sighs. But they were all too focused on what they were doing to notice that the rain had stopped falling. Only when Hermione stood up to turn on the lights in the living room did she glance out of the window and see that the clouds were slowly disappearing from the sky, which was turning various shades of red and orange and pink.

“It stopped raining,” she said, sitting back to the couch. She had almost a headache from all the reading.

Harry raised his eyes. “Finally,” he said. “I hope that it won’t rain again tomorrow, though.”

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to,” she said. “I’ll go and have a look for Crookshanks.”

“To make sure he hasn’t drowned?” asked Ron.

“Exactly,” answered Hermione, smiling. She stood up and walked towards the kitchen and then the back door, where she’d let the cat out. In front of her, there was a part of the house that she hadn’t had the chance to visit: the lawn out back.

“Crookshanks?” she called from the door.

The cat was nowhere in sight. The leaves of the trees were dropping water on the grass, and the cold air of the evening coloured her cheeks with a nice shade of crimson. She climbed down the first stairs that led to the garden and called her cat another time. Still she didn’t see it.

She shivered slightly in her jumper when her feet touched the wet grass of the garden. The lawn itself wasn’t particularly big, but all around it there were trees and bushes that grew so thickly that it almost looked like a pool of grass in a forest.

“Crookshanks!” she called another time. She stood still, listening to every single sound that came from the bushes until finally she heard something. A noise came from a small bush of roses, which should have been covered with flowers in that August evening, but thanks to Voldemort and his love for the cold temperatures, it didn’t have the chance to flower.

Hermione knelt in front of the bush. “Crookshanks,” she called tiredly. “Come on, it’s cold, and I’m not exactly in the mood for games.”

Crookshanks’ head appeared between the leaves and the thorns. He looked at Hermione with his yellow eyes, and she stretched out her arms to pick him up, but stopped dead when he pulled back his ears and hissed, showing his pointy teeth. She looked at him, bewildered, then rolled her eyes.

“Crookshanks, what’s the –”

But a hand covered Hermione’s mouth and prevented her from finishing the lecture that she was going to give to her cat. Another hand grasped her around her waist and raised her so violently that she felt the person stagger and take a step back. With a loud noise, they both crashed against the bins, and Hermione hoped that Harry and Ron had heard them.

She felt some sweaty, wet hair sticking to her cheek as he bent over her and hissed, “Make a sound, Mudblood, and you are dead.” Her eyes opened wide as she immediately recognised the voice of the unwanted guest.

Chapter 3: Chapter Three
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Author's Notes: Again, thanks to Julie for her accurate beta-reading work and for her encouraging comments. And thanks to Abigail, who proof-read this another time.





Hermione felt the arm on her stomach tightening around her waist and she crashed against her attacker’s chest as he held her forcefully. She tried to struggle, but he raised his other hand to cover her nose as well as her mouth. She gasped for air, but he didn’t let go. On the contrary, she felt him pressing forcibly against her back, and she started to feel something sticky and hot soaking her jumper.

Her vision was starting to blur from the lack of air when the boy let her mouth go and cried out as Crookshanks bit his leg. Hermione took a deep breath, floundering for more air, and tried to scream. But before her cry of help managed to exit her mouth, he freed her waist and she felt a wand pressing against her temple. “Another word, and I –”

He didn’t manage to finish his threat because the back door burst open and Harry and Ron ran down the stairs, wands at the ready, horrified at the scene in front of them. Hermione with a frightened expression on her face and behind her –

“Malfoy,” Harry snarled, his wand stretched in front of him.

“Let her go,” said Ron icily, his blue eyes flashing dangerously. “Although –”

“Come on, hit me,” Draco cut him off, smirking. “I want to see if you can manage to hit me without hurting her as well.” He said squeezing her waist.

Ron narrowed his eyes. “What do you want? Why aren’t you with You-Know-Who and Snape? They kicked you out of the Death Eaters?”

Draco sunk the wand into Hermione’s temple and she yelped in pain. “I don’t think you are in the position for jokes, are you, Weasel?” he hissed. “Or would you prefer to see what effect the Avada Kedavra has from this distance?”

“You filthy little –”

Hermione cried out another time as Draco made the wand turn in his hands. “Another word, Weasley –”

Harry placed a hand on Ron’s shoulder. “What do you want?” he asked Draco.

“What does it look like?” Draco retorted.

“It looks like you’re trying to get a one way ticket to Azkaban,” answered Harry. “Let her go.”

Draco laughed, a bitter sad laugh, almost painful. “So that you’ll be able to hex me? I think not. ”

“Let her go and we’ll see,” said Ron tightly.

Draco pressed himself against Hermione, and all of a sudden, an unpleasant smell reached her nose. It was metallic and sour. Blood. It came from Draco and now from the back of her jumper as well. Only now did she notice that his hands were shaking a little, and from what she could see of his face, he was as pale as the moon. She gathered all of her courage and took a deep breath. “Ron, Harry, don’t hit him! He’s wounded!” she cried, leaving everybody stunned, even Draco, who loosened his grip on her body.

“Hermione, what did he do to you?” Harry asked worriedly.

Hermione could feel Draco’s breath on her cheek, hard and quick, but he didn’t give any sign of wanting to prevent her from answering.

“Nothing,” she said, trying to sound calm and forget that the son of a Death Eater had a wand pointed at her temple. “Nothing,” she repeated.

“Okay, Malfoy, let her go, and I swear that we won’t kill you too painfully,” Ron snapped.

As if he had just woken from a dream, Draco wrapped his arm around Hermione again, this time placing it higher than her waist. He slid his arms under her breasts and shot Ron a challenging glare.

“Take your dirty hands off her, Malfoy,” Ron hissed dangerously.

“I’m shivering with fear, Weasley,” Draco mocked.

“You’d better start,” said Ron. His wand started to shake in his hand; he felt the muscles of his arm became numb from the tension and he bit his bottom lip, trying hard to stay very still and not lower his wand.

Draco started to laugh, but his laughter choked in his throat almost immediately and his vision blurred. An invisible force seemed to pull from behind his knees and he collapsed, dragging Hermione with him under his injured body. He let his wand go, and for a moment, darkness descended around him. The only vague sensation he had was Hermione’s body under his own, and he liked it.

Ron and Harry hurried to her side and pushed Draco off Hermione without much grace. Ron helped her to her feet and stared at her back, horrified at what he saw. “Hermione, you’re covered with blood,” he said hoarsely.

“It’s not mine,” she said hastily. She turned and looked at Draco, who was now lying on his back on the cold grass of the lawn. There was a slash on his abdomen that went from one hip to the other, deep enough to soak his clothing with blood. His eyes were closed and he breathed stiffly as if even inhaling the cold air was hard work for him.

“We have to bring him inside, although he may die anyway,” she said hurriedly.

Ron looked at her as if she was crazy. “Hermione, he was going to kill you, and you want to bring him inside? We should leave him here and let him die of blood loss.”

“Ron!” Hermione gasped in shock. “I can’t believe that you would let him die.”

Ron bit his bottom lip. “Okay,” he muttered. He bent over Draco and picked his legs up while Harry lifted his shoulders. They moved slowly, carefully, up the stairs and through the door that had remained open. They walked inside and brought him into the living room.

“Shall we drop him on the floor?” asked Ron mischievously.

“Ron! Put him on the couch,” Hermione exclaimed, closing the door at her back and following them into the living room.

They laid Draco on the couch as best as they could. Hermione kneeled next to him on the floor, raised her sleeves, and started to open Draco’s shirt. Ron caught hold of her wrist before she could actually open the second button.

“What are you doing?” he asked her, raising her forcefully from the floor.

Hermione freed herself from his grip. “Trying to save his life,” she snapped, kneeling next to Draco again.

“What’s the point? He’ll kill us after you save his life,” Ron hissed.

Hermione turned towards him with narrow eyes. “I’m not a murderer.”

Ron collapsed on one of the armchairs and glared at her back as she went on opening the buttons of Draco’s shirt. It was a white shirt, pretty light for the temperature outside. That must be why, Hermione noted, his fingers were turning a faint shade of blue. Harry was bending over them from the back of the couch, following every movement of her fingers on Draco’s chest. She tore the shirt open and gasped with horror. Harry’s eyes opened wide and he gulped, trying to suppress a fit of sickness.

The wound that sliced Draco’s stomach nearly in two was worse than she had expected. It was long and deep, and the lips of the injury were turning a strange shade of greenish-blue. She couldn’t see the end of it because the wound appeared to end under his jeans. Hermione swallowed loudly and stood up.

“What could have cut him this way?” asked Harry hoarsely.

“Nothing human,” said Hermione slowly. She looked at Draco’s face. He was paler than she had ever seen him, and his features were sharper as if he had lost a lot of weight. His chest raised and lowered stiffly, as if the pain prevented him from breathing. “I need some of my books from upstairs,” she said, turning towards Ron.

“What?” he asked, tearing away his eyes from Draco’s wound with great difficulty.

“Ron, please,” she begged with her voice low. “He’ll die.”

Ron rolled his eyes and got to his feet. He glanced at Hermione and said, “Okay, but I’m doing this for you. Not for him.” With that, he disappeared up the stairs.

“Do you think that he will survive?” Harry asked, looking at her intently.

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen something like this,” she said. “Look at the edges of the wound.”

“I know; it’s strange, isn’t it?”

“Strange? I read that there’s only one thing that can have this effect,” she murmured. “Poison.”

“Poison? Do you think someone poisoned him?” Harry speculated.

“I don’t know. It’s very likely that whatever was used to cut him this way could have been poisoned, but until I know what poison was used, there’s not much I can do,” she finished. She brought her hand to Draco’s face and touched his cheek and forehead. “I think he’s hot.”

She almost shrieked in surprise when Draco’s fingers closed around her wrist. “I’m hot,” he murmured, pushing her away.

“I meant your temperature,” she said, trying to regain her composure. “How did you get this wound?”

Draco half opened his grey eyes and looked at her. His arrogant glare had disappeared, and now he looked very much like a child that was silently asking for help. “I can’t remember,” he said stiffly.

“What do you mean you can’t remember, Malfoy?” Harry asked. “Did they hex you or something?”

“Something,” conceded Draco.

“So, next thing you’ll tell us that you were under the Imperious Curse when you attacked Hermione, right?” Ron asked sourly, walking past them and placing Hermione’s books on the coffee table behind her.

Draco smirked, even though it was painful. “No, I attacked her because I felt like it.”

“You bastard –”

“Ron, please,” Hermione whispered. “Don’t tease him.”

“Why don’t you tell him not to tease me?” snapped Ron, collapsing again on the armchair.

“Because he wouldn’t listen to me,” she replied, her eyes wide with frustration.

Ron looked away from her, unable to bear her wide eyes filled with prayers to leave Draco alone. “What does he have?” he asked, concentrating on the dark sky out of the window.

“A large and deep cut on his stomach,” Harry said. “And he may have been poisoned.”

“Will he die?”

“Would you be happy if I died, Weasel?” Draco asked, glaring at Ron rebelliously.

“I can’t say that I would cry,” Ron hissed.

“When did you get the wound?” Hermione broke in.

Draco looked at her. She seemed genuinely interested, and he couldn’t quite believe she was going to help him despite the fact that he had just attacked her. “I don’t know,” he whispered.

“How can you not know?” Harry asked incredulously. “It’s not something that you got without noticing.”

“It’s all so confusing, since I got this,” said Draco with difficulty. “The minutes seem like hours and the hours like days.”

“It must be the fever,” Hermione offered.

“Oh, yes, you seem very confused, Malfoy, for someone that has managed to find a place that was a secret shelter,” said Harry, giving form to their fears for the first time. “Who brought you here?”

Draco closed his eyes and refused to say another word. His jaw was set forcefully, and his fists were clenched at his sides.

Hermione raised her head from the book she was consulting. “I don’t know what kind of poison it could be, but I’ll prepare some healing potions and see how his body reacts to them. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we can find something that will get rid of the poison.”

“Something like an antidote?” asked Harry.

Hermione nodded. “Harry, Ron, can you boil some water?”

“And leave you here alone with him? I don’t think so, Hermione,” Ron said calmly.

“I’ll be fine. He doesn’t even have his wand, and you’ll only be in the next room,” she said.

“One person is enough for boiling the water,” Ron replied as he got up and walked towards the kitchen.

Hermione turned towards Harry after Ron disappeared into the kitchen. “Harry, can you please go upstairs and get the bottles that are on the bedside table in my bedroom?” she whispered.

Harry looked at her and nodded. “If you need anything, just scream, okay?”

Hermione smiled. “Thanks,” she said as he walked away. When he had disappeared up the stairs, she turned her attention back to Draco. He was sweating profusely. The blond hair stuck to his forehead made him look like a defenceless child. Without thinking about what she was doing, she brought her hand to his cheek and brushed his skin lightly.

“What are you doing?” This time, Draco’s voice preceded his movements, but he caught her wrist again. He still had his eyes closed and Hermione didn’t know how he managed to catch her so precisely.

Hermione gulped. “Just checking your temperature,” she lied, as she didn’t quite know what she was doing herself.

Draco shook his head and released her. “Not now, what are you doing with me? Why are you trying to save my life?” he seemed genuinely surprised.

“Because I’m not going to let you die in front of my eyes without trying to do something,” she said forcefully. “I’m not a murderer.”

“You didn’t give me this wound in the first place,” he said calmly.

“Yes, but doing nothing is just like causing you another wound, an even deeper one,” she said. “Wouldn’t you save my life if I was dying?”

Draco’s eyes opened wide and he gazed at her, trying to understand if she was joking or if she was serious. He couldn’t believe his ears. Save her? I would be the one that stabbed her, he thought. “No,” he answered, looking at her as if she was crazy. “And I thought that you hated me as much as I did you.”

Hermione nodded. “Yes, but apparently I don’t hate you sufficiently,” she said coolly.

Harry’s steps on the stairs attracted their attention and Hermione looked up at him and smiled. “Thanks, Harry,” she said as he placed the bottles on the table.

“Sure,” he answered. “Have you discovered anything?”

Hermione shook her head.

“Maybe a bezoar would help,” suggested Harry.

“Really? Great idea, Harry. And do you have one?” she asked sharply.

Harry narrowed his eyes. “You’re the one that brought all that potions and ingredients.”

“I know, sorry. I don’t have a bezoar either,” she said. “Can you bring these herbs to Ron? And tell him to call me when the water is boiling.”

Harry nodded and, picking up the bottles she indicated, walked towards the kitchen where Ron was busy staring at the kettle. “Hermione said to call her when the water is boiling,” he said, snapping him out of his thoughts.

Ron looked at him. “I don’t like it, Harry,” he whispered.

“You don’t like the water?”

Ron ignored him. “I don’t like this situation. I don’t like Malfoy.”

“I know. It’s suspect,” said Harry, sitting on the table with his legs dangling.

“Suspect? It’s more than suspect. He arrives here with a wound that he doesn’t remember how he got and tries to kill Hermione. How did he find us in the first place? We arrived here only yesterday,” he said.

“I know,” said Harry thoughtfully. “Do you think it’s just a part of Voldemort’s plan?”

“Ask yourself, Harry. Would he be so crazy to nearly kill one of his Death Eaters and send him to you? His arch-enemy?” Ron asked seriously.

“Yes, he would. But the question is, why? And why Malfoy?” Harry asked in return.

“Do you want to know what I think we should do?”

“Does it involve killing anyone?” Harry asked worriedly.

“It depends on how you see it. We should kick Malfoy out of this house,” Ron said harshly.

“Hermione would never let that happen,” Harry sighed.

Ron looked at him intently. “You either,” he said, shaking his head.

Harry looked surprised at Ron’s statement. “What?”

“You wouldn’t want to kick him out either,” he repeated. “You still feel guilty.”

“Guilty for what?”

“For the little incident in the bathroom, when you almost killed him,” Ron replied matter-of-factly. Harry looked at him, taken aback, more for the way Ron was talking to him rather than for what he was saying. He had never seen Ron talk to him like that. I’ve never seen him talk like that to anybody, he thought.

“You would feel guilty too,” he responded darkly.

“If it was you, or Neville, or Seamus,” Ron said slowly. “But not Malfoy.”

“You don’t know what you are talking about, not until you try it with your own hands,” Harry snapped. “He was going to die, and it was all my fault. At that moment he wasn’t Malfoy, but a boy that was dying because I tried a stupid hex on him without knowing what it could do.”

“You –” The kettle’s whistling interrupted them. “Go call Hermione, will you?” he asked, looking at the water.

Harry jumped down from the table and walked away without a further word. A second later Hermione entered into the kitchen with a tired smile on her face. “Thanks, Ron.”

“For what?” he asked rudely.

“For the water.” She looked at Ron, surprised by his tone.

Ron shrugged. “It was just water,” he said. “Hermione, do you think that we should trust him?”

“Who? Malfoy?”

“No, Harry – Hermione, of course I’m talking about Malfoy,” he told her, rolling his eyes. “He’s a Death Eater.”

“He’s wounded and he’s probably going to die,” she declared angrily.

“If You-Know-Who was going to die would you heal him as well?” he asked sharply.

“You’re talking nonsense,” Hermione snapped. “Malfoy has been at school with us for six years and he’s not –”

“Don’t tell me that he’s not a bad person, because he tried all last year to kill Dumbledore,” Ron replied, raising his voice.

“He didn’t kill him, though,” Hermione retorted.

“Maybe you forgot that he managed to help the Death Eaters enter Hogwarts. Bill won’t forget that, you know,” Ron hissed.

“I’m not excusing him,” Hermione snarled back. She turned her back, still covered in Draco’s blood, to Ron. He saw her shoulders shaking and heard a choked sob, as if she was trying to suffocate a cry. “Will you go in the living room with Harry, please?” she asked in a broken voice.

“Hermione, I –”

Please,” she repeated more forcefully.

He sighed and walked out of the kitchen into the living room, where both Harry and Draco were looking at him. Draco seemed amused through his pain, while Harry had his eyes wide open.

“You know that from here you can hear everything?” asked Draco, smirking.

Ron shot him a murderous glare. “I don’t give a damn about what you heard, Malfoy. Touch one of us with just one of your slimy fingers ,and I’ll make you regret you came here in search of help.”

“I’m not searching for help, Weasley,” Draco said angrily.

“No, of course you aren’t,” snapped Ron. “You’re just following orders, aren’t you? What do you have to do? Suffocate us while we sleep? Hex us at our backs?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll do whatever I have to do. You’ll be the first,” Draco hissed.

Ron shot him a nasty glare then stormed out of the room, climbing up the stairs. They heard a door slam behind him.

Harry’s eyes wandered from the stairs to the door of the kitchen where Hermione was now standing, looking uneasy with a glass in her hands. She looked at the stairs as well, but when she turned to meet Harry’s eyes, she smiled awkwardly. She walked towards the couch and knelt next to Draco. “Drink this,” she said sternly.

Draco took the glass from her hands and tried to lift his head. Harry had to help him sit up. He glanced at the liquid in the glass, a whirling mix of pink smoke and blue liquid, and made a face. “Drink it,” she repeated. “It’s not poisoned.”

Draco took a sip of it and coughed. “It’s terrible,” he snapped, shoving it back into Hermione’s hand.

“Oh, really? Sorry, Malfoy, but we had no more Pumpkin Juice. You’ll have to drink this healing potion instead,” she said sarcastically.

Draco glared at her. “Can I lie down again? It hurts me to stay up,” he said, trying to sound casual.

Hermione looked at the glass. He had drunk less than she expected, but she didn’t mind. There were other ways to make the potion come into contact with his body. “You’ll have to lie down,” she said and looked at Harry, who nodded and let Draco down carefully.

Hermione bit her bottom lip and looked away from them. “You’ll have to – hum – open your jeans, Malfoy,” she said awkwardly.

“I didn’t know you wanted me so badly, Granger,” said Draco, smirking. Harry had to restrain himself from making him swallow the potion, glass and all.

She shot him a murderous glance. “Your cut ends under your jeans. I need to see how long it is.”

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to open it,” he said with a sneer. “I mean, it hurts me to move my arms as well. Somebody should help me,” he added, looking at Hermione with his eyebrows raised.

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “Oh, okay, don’t worry,” she said. “Maybe Harry can help you then.”

“What? I’m not going to open Malfoy’s jeans,” Harry snorted indignantly.

“Maybe my arms don’t hurt me quite so much,” Draco said hastily. “Yeah, it looks like I can open my jeans quite easily.”

“Wait!” said Hermione, turning quickly. “You are wearing underwear, aren’t you?”

“Yes, he is,” answered Harry, before Draco could make any dirty remarks.

She turned and looked at the edge of Draco’s underwear. The wound reached it, but luckily didn’t go any further. “Oh no,” Hermione said sorrowfully.

“What? What’s wrong?” asked Draco, trying to peer at his lower abdomen.

“The cut doesn’t go under your hips. That means that you can still procreate,” said Hermione, sighing in despair.

“Oh, yes, very funny, very funny indeed. I would roll off this couch laughing if I wasn’t going to die,” Draco snapped darkly, trying to drown out Harry’s laughter.

Hermione smirked. “Stay still, this may sting a little,” she said, placing a cold hand on his chest to keep him quiet. She poured the potion over his open wound. Following the line of the wound down to his stomach, she emptied the contents of the glass onto him.

At first, nothing happened, and when Hermione asked him if it hurt Draco said that he was more than fine and that very likely she hadn’t been able to brew the potion correctly. Then slowly some smoke started to rise from the cut, and their senses were filled with much more information than they had asked for. A rather disgusting smell of burnt flesh reached their noses; the smoke stung their eyes, and their ears were filled with the low and persistent noise of flesh frying. Naturally, Draco started to scream in pain and struggled against their hands, which were holding him down on the couch forcefully.

After what seemed like ages, his cries started to decrease, until they were finally over. Draco laid there, his chest rising and falling rapidly under his laboured breathing. His eyes were blank from the pain; his hands and feet still shook from the shock. Hermione placed a hand on his forehead. Draco wasn’t hot anymore. On the contrary, he seemed as cold as ice, while big drops of sweat dripped down his temples. She inhaled deeply and looked down at the wound. It was the same wound as before, except that it now looked like it had been washed with some kind of acid. There was no more blood, and it didn’t seem like the skin would ever bleed again. The edges of the wound were now the colour of fresh flesh, no longer green or blue.

“Did it work?” asked Harry, looking at the cut as well.

Hermione shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see the full effects.”

Draco’s eyes opened suddenly. “You don’t know?” he cried. “You don’t know? You’ve burnt me alive for what?”

“Since you don’t know which poison they used, and there’s a vast range of venoms that could make your wound turn the colour of putrescent flesh, make your temperature rise, and eventually cause you a slow and painful death, I don’t know if it worked,” she said practically. “If tomorrow it’s green again, it didn’t work. If it’s healed, then it worked.”

“I really needed to know that,” Draco muttered.

“I’ll take that as a thank you,” said Hermione, standing up and stretching her legs.

“Don’t, it isn’t.”

“You know, Malfoy, if Hermione wasn’t here, you would still be outside, dying of blood loss or maybe from the cold,” Harry said, circling the couch and glaring at Draco from the edge of the divan.

“I didn’t ask her for help,” he snapped.

“Mental note to me: never save Malfoy’s life again,” said Hermione, sitting on the coffee table and looking at Harry with a grin.

“And I’ll remind you, if you forget,” Harry volunteered. He looked back at Draco and sighed. “What now? Do we leave him on the couch? Maybe he should rest a bit.”

“Yeah, I think he should, but he’s all sweaty, so maybe he should take a shower first,” she said thoughtfully.

“Do you think that he’ll be able to take a shower by himself?”

Hermione shook her head. “No, you should help him, Harry.”

Harry was horrified.

“It’s not necessary that he be completely naked; you can just wash his torso with a wet towel. But the water must be warm,” Hermione said slowly.

“Stop talking like I’m not here. I’m lying right in front of you, and I’m not going to take a shower with Potty,” Draco growled.

“You better take a shower. Even if the poison has been destroyed by the potion, you’re still close to being in shock,” she said calmly. “You are as cold as ice and you are all sweaty.”

“I don’t need a shower. And I don’t need Potty to help me,” Draco insisted.

“And you stink,” added Harry patiently. “So if you want to sleep in this house you better do as you are told.”

“Make me,” he hissed again.

Harry looked at Hermione, who glanced back at him and shrugged. Harry pulled out his wand from his pocket and waved it. “Mobilicorpus,” he said, and Draco started to levitate.

“Potter, let me down,” cried Draco.

“I’ll let you down in the shower, Malfoy. Now stop struggling,” Harry persisted as he started to climb the stairs, Hermione following behind. They stopped in front of the bathroom’s door, which Hermione opened for them. Harry slowly let Draco down, and Hermione helped him to stand inside the small shower next to the window. She passed an arm behind his back and placed her left hand on his chest while Draco leaned almost all his weight on her right shoulder. His skin was still cold as ice.

The tiles of the bathroom were white, but they weren’t as white as Draco’s skin, which stood out like whipped cream on vanilla ice cream. Now that he stood there half-naked and dazed from Hermione’s potion, he didn’t seem so ready to snap at them anymore.

“Should we make him sit?” asked Harry, nodding towards the stool.

“I think that will hurt him more than standing,” pointed out Hermione. “It’s better if one of us helps him stand and the other washes him.”

“Do you think that you can hold him for that long?”

“He’s not very heavy, but I don’t think I can,” she said. “Maybe Ron –”

“If you ask him yourself,” Harry cut her off.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “He just has to hold him.”

“Go and ask him.”

Hermione placed Draco into Harry’s arms and walked out of the bathroom. She took a deep breath and knocked on the door at her right.

“It’s open,” said Ron from the other side.

Hermione opened the door and entered. Ron lay on the bed, his arms under his head; he was staring at the ceiling with a mixture of annoyance and frustration.

“Ron?” Hermione called hesitantly.

“What?” he asked flatly.

“Can you help us?”

“With what?” he asked again, without tearing his eyes away from the ceiling.

“With Malfoy. We need to clean him up, but he can’t stand on his feet by himself. Can you hold him while Harry washes him?” she asked.

Ron turned to look at her, his expression unreadable. “Fine,” he said, as if his mother had just asked him to take the rubbish out, unwanted but inevitable. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and landed on the floor. He passed Hermione without even looking at her and entered into the bathroom.

“I’ll prepare something for dinner in the meantime,” Hermione offered, leaning against the door of the bathroom. “Would you like something in particular?” she asked, trying to sound cheerful.

Ron shook his head. “I’m not hungry,” he said curtly, taking Draco from Harry and holding him at arms length.

Both Harry and Hermione looked at him in surprise. It was the first time that Ron wasn’t hungry when there wasn’t a Quidditch match that awaited him.

“I won’t cook chips,” said Hermione, trying to smile.

“I’m not hungry,” Ron repeated, his eyes empty as he glared at her.

Harry sighed deeply. “Can you cook the steaks we bought?” he asked Hermione.

She nodded. “Yes, and I think that they’ll be better than the chips,” she said. “Just two steaks, then?”

“What about Malfoy?” asked Harry, wetting a towel under the water of the basin.

“I don’t think that he could eat anything right now.” She looked at him; he seemed to be under the effect of some potent drug. His eyes were half open, he was leaning heavily against Ron, and he was murmuring something under his breath. “Clean him up and then let him lie down. He just needs to rest now.”

Harry nodded as Hermione walked out and closed the door behind her. He turned to Ron, who was staring blankly in front of him, and started to wash Draco’s chest. He wasn’t dirty, except for some mud that was clinging to his skin from when he fainted, but he was – Hermione was right – as cold as ice, and all sweaty. They would have to wrap him in several blankets if they didn’t want him to die from the cold.

Harry glanced at Ron as he was holding Draco. Ron looked almost like he was holding a dummy. Harry thought that it was because Draco seemed so thin. For a moment he felt terribly sorry for him without knowing why, but then he remembered who he was looking at and shook his head vehemently, as if to clarify his thoughts. Why am I helping him? he wondered. Just because he has probably spent the last month with Snape and the Death Eaters, and we need to know as much as possible about them, he concluded, feeling satisfied with himself. The fact that he had almost killed him back at school didn’t matter. He didn’t feel guilty anymore. Really.

Harry removed the shirt from Draco’s shoulders and caught it before it actually touched the floor. He looked at it for a long moment before turning towards Draco. “Malfoy, your shirt isn’t ripped,” he said thoughtfully. “When did you put it on?”

Draco moved his head, and murmured something, but neither Harry nor Ron was able to understand what he was saying. Hermione’s potion seemed to work as a Sleeping Draught as well, and Harry, while grateful to her for that, would have liked to have more information before Draco fell into a dreamless sleep.

“Malfoy!” Harry called louder. But all Draco did was lean more heavily on Ron, who started to shake him vigorously.

“Wake up, ferret,” said Ron curtly. Draco just moaned and almost slipped on the cold floor of the bathroom. If Harry hadn’t caught him, he would have surely banged his head against the wall.

“Hermione prepared a potion to save his life. Can you please not kill him, Ron?” Harry grinned.

Ron looked at him and snorted. “Would it be so bad? No, wait, don’t answer me.”

At that moment, Hermione knocked on the door. “Is he dressed?” she asked awkwardly from the landing.

“Yes, if you call someone in underwear dressed,” Harry answered.

She opened the door slowly and looked at them all. “Is he sleeping yet?” she hesitated.

“I thought it was your potion making him so drowsy,” Harry observed.

“It is, but he drank so little that I thought that it would have taken him hours before falling asleep. He must be very weak, too,” she said. “Have you finished?”

Harry nodded. “Yes, he’s still cold as ice, but he’s not so sweaty anymore.”

“Okay,” she said, as she bit her bottom lip. “I was thinking something.”

“Something like?” asked Harry, looking intently at her.

“Something like, what if he doesn’t feel well during the night? This night or the next? We should be in a place where we can hear if he’s okay or not,” she said slowly.

“Do you mean that we should take shifts for watching over him?” asked Harry.

Hermione nodded. “That, and then I thought that he could have my room.”

“What?” asked Ron, looking at her bewildered. “Your room? Why?”

Hermione was turning a lovely shade of red without even knowing why. “To keep an eye on him. I mean, what if he doesn’t feel well and we can’t hear him because he’s downstairs?”

“And you would sleep with him, right?” asked Ron coolly.

“Of course not,” answered Hermione through gritted teeth. “I would sleep on the couch.”

Ron shook his head. “You are crazy, Hermione.”

“I was just thinking that –”

“He’s right,” said Harry. “Malfoy will be fine on the couch.”

“But the couch is so small. What if he rolls over and falls?” asked Hermione anxiously.

“The worst that will happen to him will be that he’ll bang his head on the floor. Not so bad since it’s empty,” said Harry.

“He needs to rest in a peaceful place. We spend all our time in the living room. Where would we sit during the day?”

“What about the kitchen?” asked Harry as if he was talking to a five-year-old girl.

“I just mean, we want to leave in a week, don’t we? It won’t be too bad for me to sleep on the couch for a few days, but what about him? If he doesn’t regain his strength in seven days, what do we do? Leave him here?” she asked.

“Yes,” Ron replied promptly.

“No,” Hermione declared. “Come on, bring him in my bedroom and put him on my bed.”

Ron looked at her with a frustrated expression, suddenly let go of Draco, who nearly slipped out of Harry’s arms. He took a step towards Hermione, and towering over her, he glared down at her face. “You bring him into your bedroom,” he hissed, and walked out of the bathroom.

Hermione stood there, her fists closed at her sides, and her bottom lip pressed between her teeth. “Harry, can you …”

Harry nodded, and, walking slowly, he guided a sleeping Draco to Hermione’s bedroom. “Under your sheets?” asked Harry, looking down at the pure white sheets. Hermione nodded, pulling away the sheets. Harry lowered the sleeping Draco to the bed.

“You washed him, right?” Hermione asked as an afterthought.

“Yes,” he confirmed. “Hermione, are you sure –”

“Yes, Harry,” she cut him off. “I just want to see how he’ll react to my cures. I mean, naturally I don’t want him to die, but I’m also doing this for me. I want to see if I’m able to take care of someone who is so badly injured.”

Harry nodded. “Okay, but remember who he is,” he said, looking from her to Draco’s peaceful face. He seemed almost an angel while he slept. Almost.

Hermione covered Draco to his chin with some heavy blankets and stared at him as well. “I will,” she whispered. “Do you think that you can lend him some of your clothes?”

“I think that we can give him some of my father’s clothes. What do you think?”

“If it’s okay with you.”

“It is. I didn’t bring much with me, and the wardrobes are full of clothes. We can find something for him tomorrow,” he said calmly.

Hermione nodded and then slapped her forehead as if she had just remembered something. “Harry! The steaks! I had come upstairs to tell you that they were ready, but I forgot. Oh my …”

Harry rubbed his forehead and shrugged. “Okay, well, we can always reheat them, can’t we?”

“I guess so,” she said, glancing one last time at Draco’s sleeping figure. She heard the door close behind her as Harry joined her on the landing before they climbed down the stairs together.

The steaks were cold, but Harry was right. Once reheated, they tasted quite good. They sat down at the table, Hermione at one end and Harry at the other, and started to eat in an unnatural silence, their ears tense from the effort of listening any for sounds from upstairs. Everything seemed peaceful and, after a few minutes, they relaxed a little.

“You know, it feels terribly like a déjà-vu to me,” said Harry suddenly as he sipped from his glass.

Hermione raised her eyes on him. “What? Saving Malfoy’s life?” she asked, smiling. “I can’t remember that –”

“No,” Harry cut her off gently. “This. You and me at this table,” he said, gesturing from himself to her. “It’s like we have already done this.”

Hermione looked at him without understanding. “Yes, we have. Yesterday evening for dinner and today at lunch.”

Harry shook his head. “No, I meant …” He looked at her thoughtfully. “I don’t know what I meant. It just looked familiar. You and I and something to eat.”

“Well, we’ve eaten together other times, Harry, it’s just that usually there’s Ron, too,” she said, sighing.

Harry nodded. “I know. But I think that tomorrow he’ll be down and cheerful as always. At least because he’ll want some breakfast,” he said, grinning.

“Yeah, very sweet of him,” answered Hermione, sighing again. “I don’t think that he’ll forgive me so easily, though. Remember in our third year? He didn’t speak to me for months because he thought that Crookshanks had eaten Scabbers. What about now? This whole thing is much more serious.”

“You’ve just saved someone’s life. He shouldn’t be angry with you in the first place,” Harry pointed out.

“The only problem is that this someone is Malfoy.” She stopped for a moment. “And I still don’t know if I’ve saved his life,” she mumbled.

“Well, he did try to kill you. You could have just let him die out there,” Harry replied bitterly.

“Oh, yes, about that, Harry,” she said awkwardly, “I don’t think that he was going to kill me.”

“No, of course not. He just threatened to use the Killing Curse on you, what do you call that?” asked Harry sharply.

Hermione sighed. She stood up and collected the plates from the table, placed them in the kitchen sink, and started to do the washing-up. Harry stood up as well and passed her the glasses and the cutlery. He leaned against the cupboard and crossed his arms on his chest, looking at her profile. In the light of the kitchen lamp, her hair seemed a vague shade of copper and crimson instead of her usual dark brown. “Why do you think that he wasn’t going to kill you?”

Hermione shrugged. “Because if he hadn’t been able to kill Dumbledore, he certainly wasn’t going to kill me.”

“We don’t know where he’s been in the last month, Hermione. Maybe he has changed. How do we know that it isn’t just this that he wants. Maybe he has a plan: he comes here, enters this house, and when we let our guard drop, he’ll kill you and Ron and hand me over to Voldemort,” Harry added gravely.

Hermione stopped washing the plates. She had her arms sunk into the water and foam up to her elbows. The back of her jumper was now covered with a layer of dried blood that was slowly becoming the colour of petroleum. She looked in front of her, out the window and into the darkness of the night. “We don’t know,” she said, her tone seemed almost resigned. “We don’t know if he’ll kill us. But I couldn’t let him die.”

“No,” said Harry calmly. “Me either.”

She nodded, picked up a plate, and rinsed it under the water before placing it on the drain shelf next to the sink. She went on until the last glass was shining. “I can stay with Malfoy tonight,” she said suddenly, looking at Harry. “I mean, I can watch over him for tonight. And you can stay with him tomorrow.”

Harry looked at her and raised his eyebrows. “I don’t like the idea of you alone with Malfoy, I’ll agree with Ron about that, but better with him now that he’s knocked out, rather than tomorrow when he’s awake.”

Hermione chuckled and nodded. “I’ll bring one of the armchairs upstairs.”

“I’ll bring it for you,” offered Harry, and he disappeared into the living room. Minutes later, Hermione heard his steps on the stairs, slow and deliberate, as though he was trying not to knock the armchair into the railing.

She joined him in the bedroom moments later when she was satisfied with the cleanliness of kitchen. Harry was standing next to Draco, making sure that he was deeply asleep. Luckily, he was. Hermione collapsed on the armchair which Harry had thoughtfully placed between the door and the bed in case Hermione had to run for her life, and picked up one of her books.

“Are you sure that you’ll be all right?” Harry hesitated to leave her alone with the sleeping Malfoy.

Hermione nodded and patted the pocket of her jeans. “I won’t let him catch me off guard a second time.”

“Scream if you need something.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t hesitate,” she said calmly.

“I can give you a break at midnight,” he offered, still not reassured.

Hermione shook her head and her curls waved around her face. Even in the dim light of the bedside table lamp, her hair seemed redder than he remembered. He didn’t know why he was so attracted to her hair at that moment; he simply knew that there was something different about it. Maybe it was the oil that had squirted on her hair at lunch, but he was pretty sure that she had run to the bathroom and washed it immediately.

“Do I have something in my hair?” asked Hermione, looking at him and tossing her hair.

“What?” asked Harry, suddenly snapped out of his thoughts.

“You were staring at my hair. Is there something wrong?” she asked again.

“Seems more red than usual.”

“What?”

Harry shook his head. “Nothing.” He moved towards the door and opened it wide. “Good night. Sleep tight.”

“You too,” she said, smiling.

Harry nodded and walked to his room. He opened it and found Ron on the bed. He was still dressed and seemed to be waiting for Harry. He had an unreadable expression on his face, and when he spoke, his voice was flat. “Is he sleeping?”

Harry nodded and walked towards the wardrobe. “Yes, and I think that nothing will wake him up tonight.”

“And Hermione is downstairs?”

Harry looked at him awkwardly as if he didn’t know what to answer or what the consequences of his words might be. “No, she’s with Malfoy,” he said, trying to sound nonchalant.

He expected Ron to scream or shake his head in frustration, to tell him that he was crazy for letting her alone with him, or throw something at him. Harry wasn’t prepared for Ron to burst into laughter. Loud and genuine, his laughter filled the room, causing Harry to stare at him in amazement.

“Is it funny?” he asked slowly.

Ron took a deep breath and tried to regain his composure before answering. “Oh yes. Yes. Very funny.”

“And if I ask you why, you’ll burst out laughing again?”

Ron shook his head. “It’s easy. First, she tells us that she needs her own bedroom, she’s a girl and all that rubbish. Now she’s sleeping with Malfoy, only a couple of hours after he arrives.”

“She’s not sleeping with Malfoy,” said Harry indignantly. “She’s on the armchair, watching over him. She’s interested in the effects of her potion.”

“Sure, sure,” said Ron sarcastically. “How could I’ve been so stupid? She’s just interested in her potion.”

“Ron, you’re being silly about this whole thing. Malfoy can be useful; he could give us information about Voldemort and the Death Eaters.”

“I think that all he wants is to put his filthy hands on Hermione and –”

“You can’t be jealous of him!” Harry half screamed. He hadn’t thought about that possibility. Not because Malfoy couldn’t have been attracted to Hermione, but because he was too weak to try to do anything.

“– kill her,” Ron finished, looking at Harry seriously. “As much as he wants to kill me.”

“Why doesn’t he want to kill me as well?” he already knew the answer, but he wanted to hear it from Ron too; he didn’t know why, though. Maybe he just wanted to hear it from someone to make it real.

“Because You-Know-Who wants to kill you. I don’t think that Malfoy would survive half an hour if he deprived the Dark Lord of the pleasure of killing the Boy-Who-Lived,” Ron said with a smirk.

Harry nodded calmly. He understood, but still didn’t think that Draco would have slain his best friends. No, not after he saw his face when Snape had killed Dumbledore. It had been a mask of fear and torment and sorrow. He would not kill them; he wouldn’t be able.
Ron stood up from the bed and walked towards the closed door.

“Where are you going?” asked Harry, following him with his eyes.

Ron shrugged and opened the door. “Downstairs to look for something to eat.”

Harry grinned a little. “You can always finish the muffins.”

“Already done.” And the door closed behind him.

***

Hermione half opened her eyes as she felt the presence of someone next to her. She glanced at Draco and saw that he was still sleeping, snoring in a quiet and peaceful way. She raised her eyes to the dark figure at her left and before she could scream, a hand reached over her mouth and cut off her yell.

Chapter 4: Chapter Four
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Author's Notes: Thanks to Julie for beta-reading this chapter, and for all her advices. Thanks to the people that are reviewing this story so far. By the way, I'm terribly sorry for the typos you may find in my chapters, naturally I don't do them on purpose, but you see, with 8,000-word-long chapters it's hard to do all perfectly well, without mistakes. And if you don't understand something.. well, I swear that everything will be explained at the end. Believe me. If you have any kind of question don't hesitate on asking me, though. Thanks a lot. And thanks to Abigail who's continuing her work and proof-reading all my chapters again.




Ron knelt quickly next to the armchair and brought a finger to his lips, gesturing to Hermione to be quiet. Hermione looked at him and dropped her hand, which was already halfway towards the wand in her pocket. He freed her mouth slowly and she took a deep gulp of air, as though she had forgotten to breathe in her fear.

“Ron, you scared me to death,” she whispered. “What are you doing here?”

Ron circled the armchair and stood in front of her. “Just checking on you,” he said, glancing at Draco’s sleeping figure in the bed. “How are you?”

She shrugged. “Fine. I was sleeping.”

“What’s the point of watching over someone if you fall asleep?” he asked firmly.

Hermione tucked a loose curl behind her ear and looked at him. “Are you worried about Malfoy?”

“I’m worried about what Malfoy could do to you while you’re asleep.”

Hermione flushed. “Thanks, but he’s knocked out until tomorrow morning, at least. There’s no need to worry about him,” she answered. “What time is it?”

Ron shrugged. “Something between midnight and three,” he said. “I’m not sure.”

“Can’t you sleep?” she asked gently.

“Not knowing that you’re alone in here with him,” he said, jerking his chin towards the still figure. “I still don’t get why you gave him your bed.”

Hermione shook her head. “He needs to rest more than I do. As soon as he gets better, we’ll move him downstairs on the couch.” She glanced at the bed. “And I’ll wash my sheets with bleach.”

Ron didn’t answer. He gave her a peculiar look, knelt down next to the armchair, and bent over her. Hermione could feel his hot breath tickling her neck, and she shivered as he came nearer. “I don’t trust him. If he tries to get close to you another time, I swear that I’ll make him pay,” he whispered, so close to her ear that she thought that next thing she would feel was his lips on her bare skin. She silently wished for that.

Ron stood up again. “I’m going downstairs to get something to drink. Do you want anything?” he asked.

Hermione looked at him, her eyes shining in the darkness. She shook her head. “No, I’m fine.”

Ron nodded and walked towards the door.

“See you in the morning, Ron,” she called softly after him.

Ron didn’t answer. He walked away from the bedroom and stood for a moment in front of the room he shared with Harry. No noise came from there; Harry was still asleep. Or maybe he was still dreaming. Ron didn’t remember him being so noisy while he dreamt. Of course, when Harry’s nightmares were about Voldemort, he used to wake up the entire dorm with his screams. This was completely different. He had never heard Harry moan the name of a girl, or better yet, two girls, like he had the last several nights. His moans were too quiet and jumbled to make out which names he was calling, and Ron wasn’t so keen to find out, especially if his supposition that Harry was calling his sister’s name was true. Ron didn’t want to know what Harry did with her, even in his dreams. But there was a problem; he wasn’t calling Ginny’s name at all. Not once had he muttered something that came close to it. On the contrary, one name was long, while the other was extremely short. Ron was sure that he had already heard them both because they sounded vaguely familiar. He couldn’t quite manage – or better, didn’t want – to attribute them to someone he knew.

Ron walked away from the door and started down the stairs as slowly and noiselessly as he could. Strangely enough, there were no creaking steps on the stairs, even though the house was quite old. He reached the first floor and walked straight to the kitchen, his arms stretched out in front of him to keep from banging into a wall or a piece of furniture. He didn’t want to turn on the light because the glow would reach the second floor and wake Hermione, who had almost surely fallen asleep again.

He walked confidently towards the cupboard over the sink where he had discovered the glasses the day before. He opened the cabinet and searched for a glass with his hands. But the shelf seemed empty: there was nothing, except for a spoon that was in the wrong place.

Ron decided to turn on the light and turned towards the kitchen door. He was positive that the glasses couldn’t have disappeared. They had used and washed them, but where had Hermione placed them to drain? He couldn’t remember.

As he turned, his eye caught a glimmer of light coming from the other side of the room. Ron stood very still and narrowed his eyes, hoping to improve his vision in the obscure darkness. He could see a little bit better now, since he was growing accustomed to the lack of light, but he didn’t spot anything strange.

Ron half turned his head and the glimmer captured his attention again. He was sure that it came from one of the glassy doors of the cupboard next to the back door, but he couldn’t say exactly what it was. He took a deep breath and started to step towards the cupboard. Ron didn’t know why, but he felt uneasy, as if that sparkling object could be something dangerous. He shook his head forcefully. I must be imagining things. It’s the middle of the night and it’s dark.
When Ron reached the glassy cupboard, he looked inside, but there was nothing sparkling or strange there. Not that he could see very much, though. He pulled one of the doors open and peered inside, hoping he could see better without the reflection from the glass. Still he couldn’t see anything.

Ron sighed deeply, and for a moment, he wondered what he was doing there, in front of a cupboard in the middle of the night without having turned the lights on. He pushed the door towards the cupboard, but before he could actually close it, a dim light started to shine from an object inside.

Now Ron couldn’t mistake the source of the glow. It was a small golden cup with two handles. It looked ancient, and was covered with a fine layer of dust. He picked it up when the dangerously tempting glittering faded and stared at it in the darkness. He didn’t know how, but he could see its shape pretty clearly. The cup was made of fine gold, and it was quite heavy. He could feel some inscriptions, and maybe a drawing, under his fingers. And though he could discern the material and shape, Ron couldn’t see what was engraved on it.

“I was looking for a glass and I found this,” he said to himself. “Maybe you are enchanted just for that, to capture the attention of someone who’s thirsty.” Ron smiled at his unexpected luck and walked towards the sink to rinse the glass. When he couldn’t feel any more dust on the surface, Ron stepped towards the table, where a bottle of water sat left over from dinner.

He filled the cup and drank the water in one long mouthful. The liquid seemed fresh and thirst-quenching, but Ron knew that the bottle had been opened the day before and was anything but fresh. He couldn’t help pouring more into the cup and drinking again. And then again, and again, until the bottle was empty.

When there was no more water left, Ron looked at the cup with a strange yearning in his eyes. He felt like he would never be thirsty again, but at the same time, he could never stop drinking from that cup. Ron felt strange, as if something new and dangerous was fluctuating in his head. He glanced around. His vision was growing dimmer, but he felt like he could see better than ever.

Ron decided to put the cup back into the cupboard, but it found it was almost impossible. He had to drag his legs towards the other side of the kitchen and found himself closing the glass door with the artefact still in his hands. Ron glanced at the cup, and an irrational fear invaded his brain. It lasted only a few seconds, and then he felt his hand pocketing the cup. Before he realised what he was doing, he was climbing the stairs back to his bedroom.

***

The soft white curtains in front of the window couldn’t prevent the sun’s rays from creeping in, especially when all the windows of the second floor faced east. Hermione stirred in the armchair. Her back hurt a bit around her shoulder blades, and she couldn’t feel her right arm, since she had used it as a pillow. She stretched her legs out in front of her, and a small blanket fell on the floor. She picked it up and stared at it closely. Hermione was pretty sure that she didn’t have anything when she had lay down the evening before. Was it possible that one of the boys had entered the room and covered her? She remembered being cold at some point in the night, but she couldn’t remember who had wrapped her in the blanket. When Ron left, she was still coverless, of that she was sure. Hermione didn’t know if he had come back again when he had climbed the stairs. She flushed slightly at the thought of one of them covering her in the middle of the night with a blanket stolen from Draco’s bed.

Hermione folded the blanket, laid it on one of the chair’s armrests, and stepped towards the bed. Draco was still sleeping; his breath was regular and soft. He didn’t snore like Ron or talk in his dreams like Harry. She doubted that the potion she had given him would have permitted him any kind of dreams. He was clutching at the sheets as if his life depended on it. His knuckles were white and his fingertips were still a light shade of blue, she noted. Hermione bit her bottom lip and gripped the sheets, freeing them from Draco’s grasp. She started to pull them down slowly.

She let out a surprised shriek when Draco’s hand grabbed her waist and pushed her away. He let go almost immediately and frowned, his eyes still closed. “My head,” he complained, pressing his hands on his ears.

Hermione took a deep breath. “Sorry,” she said, and she really was. “You scared me,” she admitted.

Draco’s eyes opened slowly and he gave her a nasty glare. “You were pulling away my sheets and you are the one that is scared?”

“I thought you were sleeping,” she continued, her cheeks flushed.

“I was sleeping,” he hissed through greeted teeth. “What were you going to do?”

“Just checking your wound,” she said firmly. “Now, let me see it.”

“Why?”

Hermione rolled her eyes and snorted. “Because I want to see how it’s reacted to the potion.”

“You saw it yesterday. That potion burnt my flesh like acid and caused me unbearable pain,” he snapped.

“Yes, I told you that it might sting.”

“Sting? That was a bit more than a sting,” he said grumpily.

“Oh, come on, Malfoy, don’t be a child. Let me see your wound. I swear that I won’t hurt you,” Hermione said as if she was talking to a little boy.

He glared at her but didn’t do anything to stop her as she pulled the sheets down until she reached his underwear. She gasped as she looked at his stomach. The cut was there, naturally; she hadn’t expected it to be gone. What she had expected was to see it a pink and almost healthy colour, but instead it was still green and blue, just like the evening before. How could that be? Hermione couldn’t believe her potion hadn’t worked at all. At least he’s not bleeding anymore. That thought didn’t have the time to form completely in her head before a fine line of blood started to colour the middle of the wound. And as she watched it, the line grew wider and thicker, poised to drip onto her pure white sheets.

The blood reached the edges of the cut as Draco’s muscles contracted in his effort to sit up and get a better view of what caused Hermione to gasp in horror. He leaned on one elbow and brushed the wound with his left hand. When Draco brought the hand up to his face, his fingers were covered with blood.

“I thought you’d stopped the bleeding,” he hissed.

“I thought that too,” she said frantically. The colour had drained away from her face, and her sporadic freckles stood out on her white skin like spots of paint on a virgin canvas.

“And it’s still green and blue.”

“The potion didn’t have a permanent effect on the poison, maybe we could try again and--”

“And let you burn me again? No, thanks,” he hissed stubbornly.

Hermione glared at him. “The problem is that I don’t know what was used to make your flesh turn this colour.”

“You said it was poison.”

“Yes, it’s very likely that it’s poison, but the problem is that the venoms dangerous to humans are numerous and all very different one from the other. Every one of them needs its own antidote –”

“I know, I attended Potions classes for six years as well,” Draco snapped.

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “Then it should already be clear to you that I need more information about the poison they used on you,” she said coolly.

“I didn’t have time to ask what kind of poison they were using while they sliced me in two,” he retorted. “Use a bezoar.”

Hermione seemed ready to climb on the bed and start jumping on his stomach with all her might. “I don’t have a bezoar,” she almost yelled. “Do you seriously think that I wouldn’t have already used it if I had one?”

Draco shrugged and collapsed on the bed as the pain began to rise again. Hermione placed a hand on his forehead; the fever was back. She felt a wave of frustration as the knowledge that all her efforts had been in vain hit her.

Draco looked at her with weary eyes. “Try something else, then,” he said forcefully.

Hermione looked around the room as if the walls would give her an answer. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t even know how much time she had. There were poisons that took months to kill someone, but in the meantime, they made their victims go through hell. There were venoms that needed less than five seconds to send you to the grave, but she was sure that was the case with Draco. Hermione turned her eyes to his body, so white that it was painful to look at, and all of a sudden, her attention was captured by something that she hadn’t noticed before: a golden chain with a golden pendant in the shape of a serpent, which dangled loosely on Draco’s chest.

She stretched her fingers towards it and seized it between her thumb and index finger. Before she could actually bend over and observe it more closely, Draco slapped her hand away without much force. “Can’t you stay still with those hands?” he asked angrily.

“Can’t you stop pulling and pushing me?” she asked back. “What is it?”

“None of your business, Granger,” he growled.

Hermione glared at him. But before she could think of something mean to say, Harry entered the room, rubbing his sleepy eyes behind his glasses. He looked from Hermione, who was rubbing her hand where Draco had hit her, to Draco, who didn’t seem to be feeling very well.

“Good morning,” he said, yawning. “Did you sleep well?”

“Oh yes, thank you, Potter,” Draco answered mockingly.

Harry and Hermione ignored him. “Good morning, Harry. I think I could have slept better, you?”

Harry shrugged. “I didn’t wake up until this morning.”

“What about Ron?”

“I don’t know; he wasn’t in the bedroom when I got up.”

Hermione nodded. “Harry, I think we have a problem,” she said, nodding towards Draco.

Harry looked at him and frowned. “What do you mean?”

Hermione didn’t answer, but pointed at Draco’s wound, from which the blood was now flowing copiously. She wondered how much blood his body could possibly contain.

Harry made a face. The cut was, if possible, worse than the day before. “Didn’t the potion work?”

Hermione shook her head.

“Okay, well, you can always try something else, can’t you?” he asked hesitantly.

“Yes, of course, I can try every antidote I’m able to prepare, but it will take time. What if, in the end, he doesn’t get better? I don’t know how much time he has,” she said.

“What do you mean with ‘I don’t know how much time he has’?” Draco asked as he narrowed his eyes.

“That I don’t know how long it will take before the poison becomes lethal,” she replied simply.

Harry would have loved to see Draco paling, but he was already so pale that he couldn’t see any difference. Draco’s eyes didn’t show any sparkle of fear or despair, as he would have expected. Maybe the fever was already taking its toll on his faculties, because Draco didn’t seem worried at all. Harry looked at him intently, but Draco seemed quite concentrated on Hermione or at least at avoiding Harry’s eyes. “Malfoy, how did you get that wound?” Harry asked abruptly.

Draco smirked. “You know, Potter, I wanted it to be a secret, but since you are asking me so nicely, I think I’ll tell you. I was walking in the forest when I was attacked by an army of leprechauns that used their little wands to poke at me and cause this little cut you can see on my stomach and then –”

“You know Malfoy, contrary to what you might think, I don’t find you even vaguely amusing. More annoying, actually. I don’t have time to waste with you, not at all. So if you want to cooperate, just tell us what happened to you. Although, now that I think about it, I think that I’ll follow Ron’s suggestion,” Harry said, taking a step towards the bed.

“Which would be?” Draco asked coolly.

“You don’t want to know.”

“Try me.”

“Okay, enough,” said Hermione, standing between Harry and the bed. “We don’t need to excite him, Harry. It’s clear that he can’t remember what happened. Poor thing, he must have been impotent in front of whatever did this to him.”

“Hey!” exclaimed Draco indignantly.

Hermione looked at him. “Maybe I chose the wrong word, Malfoy?” she asked mischievously.

“Yes, you certainly, did,” he snarled. “And if you dare to – what?” He glanced at her face. She was pale and a frown joined her eyebrows together. Her eyes were fixed on his cut. As he looked down at his stomach, he saw his lower belly and his underwear covered with a thick layer of blood, which he hadn’t even felt as it soaked his clothing and the sheets under his body.

Harry was too mesmerised by the mess to notice Hermione running out of the bedroom, an upset expression on her face. Only when Draco cried “Hey!” in what Harry thought might have been a slightly terrified voice did he turn to see a mass of bushy hair disappearing out the door.

“Hermione?” he called uncertainly, not knowing what to do.

Luckily, Hermione didn’t leave him alone with a bleeding and whimpering Draco. She came back, still running, with a voluminous roll of white gauze, a pack of Muggle sticking plasters, some disinfectant, and cotton wool.

“Hold this, Harry,” she said, more firmly than Harry would have ever expected from her white face. He took the plasters in his hands and looked at her as she bent over the bed and poured some disinfectant on Draco’s wound.

“Ouch!” cried Draco, pushing her hand away and causing the disinfectant to spill all over the bed. “That stings.”

Hermione looked at him furiously, and if a glare could kill, Draco would have been dead faster than poison could kill him. “Stay still, you stupid little prat!” she yelled at him. “I don’t have much of this with me.”

“Then don’t use it on me, I’ve never seen that potion before. And I don’t trust what I don’t know,” he snapped.

“This,” she said, indicating the bottle of disinfectant, “is a Muggle treatment for injuries. It won’t do anything about the poison, but it’s the first thing I found in my case. Now, don’t move, or I’ll Petrify you.”

Draco glared at Hermione, his grey eyes lit by sparkles of rage at the way she spoke to him. As if a filthy Mudblood would ever dare to talk to me like this without pay, he thought. He looked down at her and followed the movements of her long fingers on his white skin. She pressed one hand on his hip, and with some cotton in the other, tried to mop the blood from the wound. It seemed that the blood would never stop flowing. Draco thought that Hermione was cold, extremely cold, or maybe she was just the right temperature for a human being, and he was burning with fever. He couldn’t tell the difference.

He raised his eyes from her fingers up to her arms and shoulders, wrapped in the jumper that she had been wearing the night before. It was still soaked with his blood. Draco looked up at her face, half hidden by her hair, which was somewhere between the colour of copper and chocolate, and saw the frown of concentration on her face. He was sure she was trying to do her best not to hurt him. Stupid caring girl, he thought with a silent growl.

Draco involuntary jerked his hips as she pressed a little bit further on his stomach, and Hermione looked at him. He would have bet she was going to say that she was sorry, but she didn’t open her mouth.

Hermione stood up and asked Harry for the gauze. When she turned back towards Draco, she was biting her bottom lip. “Can you sit up?” she asked.

Draco looked from her face to the gauze in her hands. “Why?” he asked suspiciously.

“Because I need to wrap this gauze around you,” she answered.

Draco made a face and tried to lift his torso as much as he could, but with the pain, he couldn’t manage more than a couple of inches before falling back down again with a hushed moan of pain.

“Okay,” Hermione said softly. “You just have to stay up a little bit longer. Just so I can wrap this gauze around your body a couple of times.”

Draco gave a haughty nod and closed his fists at his sides, as though waiting for something terrible to happen to him. But nothing like that took place. He felt her cold hand through the thin material of the gauze as she pressed it lightly right above his underwear, and, despite his promises never to touch or be touched by a Muggleborn, he liked it.

Hermione uncoiled the gauze over his wound, and it instantly became dyed an intense crimson colour. Her hand was light and soft on him, as if he were made of glass and she was afraid to shatter him in a thousand of pieces. She reached his side, and her hand disappeared under his body. Draco felt her hand on his back, and her arm as it pressed against his hip. Her fingers gave a little push to the roll of gauze and it moved forward, almost reaching the other side of his back by itself.

Hermione stood up, and only when her hair slid away from his torso did he understand just how closed he had been to her. Her cheek had almost touched his bare chest, her hot breath on his skin. Draco shook his head vigorously, trying to push any thoughts concerning Hermione to the back of his mind. When he tried to do that, he started to feel the pain that his still open wound was causing, so he locked his eyes back on Hermione’s face.

She let go of the gauze she was pressing on his wound, and it didn’t move. It was already stuck to the blood, and Hermione shuddered at the thought of changing the bandage, tearing it from his dried blood. She knew that wouldn’t be very pleasant. It’s all his fault, she thought angrily as she gripped the gauze under his back and started a layer. And then another, and another until Draco collapsed on her hand as she was wrapping the fourth layer.

“You said that you were only going to do that a couple of times,” he snarled. Hermione thought that must have been his way of saying that he was sorry.

“Do you want to die from loss of blood?” she snapped sharply. “Because a couple of turns wouldn’t stop your bleeding at all.” Hermione was pretty sure that even a hundred turns wouldn’t have stopped the bleeding, but he didn’t need to know that.

Draco glared at her, but didn’t answer.

Hermione asked Harry for the plasters to fix the gauze in place, and he handed them over. She tried to do her best to keep the gauze still, but she didn’t have to do much as it was already stuck to Draco’s body.

Hermione stood up and looked at the bandage that was already turning a vague shade of red. She took a deep breath and shook her head, glancing at Draco. He looked a bit annoyed by all the fabric that hid his stomach from view, but he didn’t seem worried at all. That was something that irritated Hermione. She would be upset if he died, especially because she was the one taking care of him, and that would have been a personal defeat.

She felt a weight on her shoulder, and as she turned, she spotted Harry’s hand near her neck. He was looking at her with concern. “You did everything you could,” he said. His words sounded almost like her patient had already died. “Better if you take a shower and –” She felt his hand brushing her back. “– change your clothes.”

Hermione nodded tiredly. “And then, what about some breakfast?” she asked, trying to sound cheerful.

Harry nodded and smiled. “What about him?” he asked, nodding towards Draco, who was watching them with impenetrable eyes.

Hermione hardly seemed to think, and then sighed. “Malfoy, do you want something to eat?”

Draco smirked. “Caviar.”

“Funny,” said Harry, without laughing. “Something else?”

“I think he should drink some tea and maybe eat some cookies,” Hermione broke in.

“If you already know what to give me, why are you asking?” he snapped.

“Because maybe you haven’t noticed, Malfoy, but we take enormous pleasure in teasing you,” Hermione answered.

“Oh, you are wrong there, Granger. I know you take pleasure in teasing me. As much as I do in teasing you,” he answered mischievously.

Hermione rolled her eyes and walked out of the bedroom, shutting the door behind her. A moment later, she walked back inside, her cheeks flushed as she went towards the wardrobe and took out some clean clothes and all the necessities for a shower.

Draco followed her with his eyes as she opened the drawers that were filled with her belongings. When he finally understood, his eyes opened wide. “Where am I?” He shuddered.

Harry looked at him as a nurse would look at one of the inhabitants of the long-term resident ward at St. Mungo’s. “Godric’s Hollow,” he said, and for a moment, the doubt that Draco honestly didn’t know where he was hit Harry.

Draco shot him a dead glare. “I’m not stupid. I mean this room, whose room is it?”

“Why?” asked Hermione distractedly as she looked for her towels.

“Because all your things are here, Granger,” he mumbled.

“This was my bedroom when I lived here with my parents,” Harry replied matter-of-factly. “Hermione slept here last night, but she yielded it to you. Until you feel better.”

“Am I sleeping on her sheets?” Draco was more than horrified at that thought.

Hermione sighed and walked out of the bedroom without answering. She left Harry to watch over Draco, or better yet, keep him quiet.

Hermione locked the bathroom door at her back and turned on the water in the shower. Leaning against the door of the bathroom, she felt the back of her jumper scratching against the wood. She lifted the hem of it, yanking it over her head, and looked down at it in disgust. Hermione threw the garment unceremoniously in a corner. When she removed her shirt, she was crestfallen when she saw that the fabric was irreparably covered in Draco’s blood. She threw it angrily on top of the jumper and undressed quickly before stepping into the shower.

Hermione could have spent the whole day under the hot water. She was positive that the shower hadn’t lasted for more than five minutes before turning as cold as ice. She washed her hair quickly, and for some reason didn’t find the usual resistance that her rebellious curls gave her when she stroked them. Her wet fingers slid through her hair like a hot blade sliding through butter.

As the water became colder, Hermione started to rub herself more quickly. When a sudden jet of icy water flooded down her back, she literally jumped out of the shower, wetting the floor without caring. Hermione wrapped herself in a towel and walked towards the sink, where she found the mirror blurred by the steam.

Hermione wiped her hand on the surface, removing the veil of vapour that obscured her vision and stared. The girl in front of her was looking back at her with the same expression of surprise and fear, but Hermione was sure that it wasn’t herself she was looking at. I’m tired, she thought. She stretched an arm towards the mirror and the reflection did the same thing. As she brushed the fingertips of the girl in front of her, she felt a shiver going slowly down her spine.

The girl looking back at her had bright green eyes and long, wet, red hair, which fell gently on her shoulders. She appeared afraid, just like Hermione was, as her eyes followed the other’s features. The girl in the mirror was wrapped in a towel as well and seemed like she had just finished a shower. Hermione gripped the edges of the sink and she saw the shoulders of the girl contracting as well, while her hands disappeared out of view.

An idea, rather than a name, formed in Hermione’s head, and she raised her eyes back to the face of the girl. Before she could actually see her, someone knocked at the door and Hermione found herself staring at her own features.

“Hermione, are you all right?” said Harry. “You’ve been in there almost an hour.”

She gasped, as if she had forgotten to breathe for a while. “I’ll be out in a moment,” she said hoarsely.

An hour? The shower took her only five minutes. Had all that time had passed as she looked at the mirror? She hadn’t noticed the time passing, but now that she looked around, Hermione saw that there was no more steam in the bathroom, and the sun that filtered in through the curtains was brighter than before.

She dried herself with a charm and dressed quickly, without glancing back at her reflection in the mirror, too afraid of what she might have seen. She walked out of the bathroom, leaving her clothes behind, on top of Draco’s shirt. She didn’t mind; not at that moment, anyway.

When she stepped into the room, both Draco and Harry looked at her. Harry was standing a few feet from the bed, and they both seemed quite flushed either from anger or screaming. Screaming? I didn’t even hear them. In less than five seconds she decided that she wouldn’t tell them about her ‘vision’. She knew that Harry would tell her to rest, giving her a worried look, while Draco would have made fun of her for the rest of her life.

“Finally,” said Harry. “Are you all right?” He cocked his head at her and narrowed his eyes. “What did you do to your hair?”

Hermione brought automatically her hands to her hair. “What?” she asked, concerned that it was messier than usual.

Harry shook his head. “I don’t know. It’s different. Straighter.”

Hermione couldn’t help smiling. “Really? Thanks, Harry. That is one of the nicest compliments that you could have given me.”

Harry flushed. “It really is. Ask Malfoy.”

Hermione looked at Draco, who shrugged. “Yeah, well. There are thousands of charms for changing your hair, and this one, it looks like it didn’t work properly, Granger, did it?”

Hermione glared at him. “What do you mean?” she hissed.

“I mean that your hair is half straight and half curly,” Draco answered calmly.

“Mind your own business,” Hermione snapped at him unexpectedly, as she walked out of the bedroom and down the stairs.

Harry glared at Draco one last time before following her downstairs. When he entered the kitchen, Hermione was preparing tea. After a few minutes, she shoved a cup into Harry’s hands. “I’m not taking it to Malfoy,” she said curtly, so that Harry didn’t have much choice but to shove some biscuits in his pocket before returning to Draco.

He climbed up the stairs, paying careful attention not to spill the tea on the floor, and pushed the door to Draco’s room open with his foot. Draco made a face when he saw the amber liquid in the mug, but Harry didn’t care. He wasn’t sure if Draco didn’t actually like tea or if he was just trying to act like a spoiled brat – Something that he actually is, thought Harry – and he really didn’t give a damn about it. Without waiting for any spoken comment, he put the biscuits on the bedside table, next to the mug, and walked out of the bedroom.

Harry walked into the kitchen and found that his breakfast was already on the table, opposite Hermione’s cup. “Ron?” he asked, noticing only two mugs there.

“I’ve not seen him,” she admitted, letting out a note of concern. “He’s not upstairs or downstairs – he wouldn’t go out without –”

She turned towards the back door as it swung open, and Ron entered with a strange look upon his face. He looked from Harry to Hermione, who were apparently having a peaceful breakfast to which he hadn’t been invited.

“Ron,” said Hermione, looking him over. “Where have you been?”

“In the garden, why?” he answered coldly. “Did I disturb you?” Ron added, nodding towards the table.

Harry shot him a peculiar look. His hair was tangled with leaves, and there was dirt on his clothes. “No, of course not. We were wondering where you were,” Harry replied.

“I was in the garden.”

“We know, you just said that.” Hermione frowned. “Would you like some breakfast?”

Ron’s eyes darted to the table where the half-empty kettle lay. He placed his hand in his pocket, and for a moment looked like he was going to pull something out, but when his hand slid out again it was still empty. “No,” he answered simply, sitting down at the table.

For what seemed like ages, the only noises where Harry and Hermione’s sips from the mugs. Ron was looking at them like a lion would look at two gazelles. His eyes were steady and unreadable. “How is Malfoy doing?” he asked rather unexpectedly.

“Bad,” Harry stated nonchalantly, as if he was talking about the weather. “He’s still bleeding, he still has a fever, and his wound is still infected.”

Ron didn’t answer, nor had he moved.

“I was thinking about something,” Harry offered. “Today is a nice sunny day; what about going to the cemetery?”

“That’s exactly the sentence that everyone would like to hear, ‘today is a nice sunny day, what about going to the cemetery?’ Much better than going to the park or to the mall,” Hermione said with a grin.

Harry grinned back. “Yeah, pretty odd, but what do you think? Do you think we can manage to leave Malfoy here all alone for the whole morning?” he asked.

“He won’t be alone,” Ron said, speaking before Hermione had the chance. “I won’t come.”

“Why?” Hermione asked, looking at Ron carefully. She had the strange feeling that Ron would have enjoyed being left alone with a defenceless Draco. She could just imagine what Ron could do to him. Nothing seriously evil, of course, just maybe walking back and forth in front of him with a glass of water without giving it to him, if Draco had asked for something to drink.

“Because I’m tired. I’ve not slept a lot this last night. But you should go,” he said seriously. “We forgot to ask for directions yesterday at the supermarket, though.”

“If this is the main street, the church must be nearby,” said Harry.

“But not on the main street itself; we didn’t see it when we entered Godric’s Hollow, remember?” Hermione reminded them. “We should ask someone. Or follow the sound of the bells.”

Harry smiled. “So clever,” he chuckled.

“I know, thanks,” answered Hermione, laughing softly.

Harry joined her laughter, but Ron didn’t move nor did he say anything. Ron seemed tired, as if he had been out all the night exploring the garden or digging around the house. There were shadows under his eyes, and his skin was almost translucent. The freckles now gave him the air of someone that had a very bad case of the measles. All in all, it didn’t help to give him the look of a very healthy person.

“Is everything all right, Ron?” Hermione hoped that her voice didn’t sound too concerned.

Ron looked at her, and for a moment, a ghostly smile appeared on his lips. “I’m just tired,” he said slowly.

“Maybe it’s not a good idea if you and Malfoy stay here all alone for the whole morning. I mean, he needs someone that can prepare him some enervate potion, if he –”

Ron waved a hand in front of her face. “He won’t die, Hermione. Evil never dies,” he said, as a light sneer replaced the ghostly smile. “Just go and take all the time that you need.”

“Thanks Ron,” Harry interrupted, before Hermione could begin venting all of her preoccupations. He wiped his mouth with a napkin and stood up, glancing at Hermione. “I’ll be ready in a couple of minutes, just the time to brush my teeth, okay?”

Hermione nodded and waited for Harry’s steps to fade before turning towards Ron. “If he needs a potion, you can look in my book; it’s upstairs on the desk and –”

“I know what to do, Hermione,” he said calmly. Ron stretched out a hand towards her and brushed her fingers. Hermione’s eyes widened, and she would have withdrawn her arm if she didn’t think that act would have hurt Ron. He was as cold as ice, even colder than Draco was after she gave him the potion. But this was a different coldness, as if Ron might never be warm again.

She frowned and raised her eyes to Ron’s face. For a moment, his blue eyes were lit by red light, but it disappeared almost immediately, and he smiled as his hand closed on her wrist with iron force. Hermione whimpered, but didn’t try to struggle.

“Pay attention, Hermione,” Ron whispered, his voice suddenly low and warm. “Pay very close attention.”

Hermione nodded, and she felt a wave of relief when Ron let her go. She didn’t know why, but she felt like the only person that she had to pay attention to, at that very moment, was Ron.

He stood up and, before Hermione could even understand what he was doing, bent over her and pressed his lips to her forehead. They were cold as well, and she felt an electric shock spread from her head all the way down her body, reaching every limb and making her shake slightly. She didn’t find it pleasant, and that made her heart ache.

Ron stood up, and without a further glance, walked out of the kitchen, leaving a confused and frightened Hermione behind.

***

Harry shivered and tightened the coat around his shoulders. He felt Hermione next to him, her arm against his, and he knew that she was trembling as well. The sun was out, and was quite bright, but the coldness of the summer seemed almost unreal, almost magical. And that was exactly what it was: magical. Both Harry and Hermione knew it perfectly well.

Their eyes wandered in front of them to the sizable cemetery with its graves spread all around. Godric’s Hollow was a small village, but this graveyard could have competed with one in London.

At the entrance gate, there was a sign that said that the oldest grave was more than a thousand years old, which made this place not only important for history and archaeology, but also unique. Behind the graves, hills, and green fields spread without limit, as if beyond the borders there wasn’t anything else other than grass and flowers, and the rest of the world just ended.

“I didn’t expect it to be so large,” said Hermione in a bare whisper that the wind carried away as soon as it escaped her lips. “Godric’s Hollow is so small.”

Harry nodded. He hadn’t expected it either. It will take us days to find the right graves, he thought in frustration.

Hermione nodded as if she had just read his mind and sighed deeply. There was something here, something strange. The more she looked around, the more she thought that she seemed to be in a dream.

Harry took a step forward, but Hermione was still following the line that separated the sky from the hills with her eyes. He turned his head towards her and offered her his hand. She took it, and followed him down the top of the small hill where they were standing.

They were right; the cemetery was huge. But they were also wrong, because it didn’t take them days to find the graves, only what seemed like ten minutes of sleep-walking through the stones that stood up from the ground like forgotten pieces of dominoes. As though he knew exactly where he was going, Harry guided Hermione through them with incredible precision. If Ron had been there, he would have said that Harry was just remembering from his infancy. But that couldn’t have been true at all, because Harry had never been there.

Eventually, both Harry and Hermione stopped, their minds suddenly filled with an irrational fear, their breath quick and heavy as though they had run for miles or swum against the current of a river. The graves of Harry’s parents lay right in front of them, and they weren’t different from the others. Nothing apart from the epitaph would have disclosed the fact that these were the graves of the people who had saved the wizarding world sixteen years earlier.

For a moment, the wind seemed to blow more forcefully, and all that reached their ears was the howling of the air between the graves. It was a ghostly sound, even for them, and they were used to living with ghosts. Harry and Hermione lowered their eyes to the gravestones and stared. It feels almost like being in one of those dreams where you stand there and see yourself some distance away from your own body, doing something, but you’re unable to reach out or move your legs, Hermione thought. They both felt the world slowly blur around them; the only thing that anchored them to reality was each other’s hand. Both of them tightened their grip on the other, in a needy, almost painful way.

Then, suddenly and noiselessly, they both felt the pressure of a hand on their shoulders, and the sensation of a head that bent down between them. Next to their ears, a hoarse voice rumbled, “It’s odd, isn’t it? Like watching your own grave.”

And they couldn’t do anything other than silently agree.

Chapter 5: Chapter Five
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Author's Notes: Thanks for beta-reading this Julie. Enjoy this chapter. And if you want to leave me a review... go ahead! I won't complain! Thanks to Abigail who has betaed this chapter again.




When he heard the handle being pushed down, Draco turned his head slowly towards the door. He winced slightly, as even that small movement caused him pain. He felt as if he had his head in a vice that tightened with every passing minute. He silently hoped that the person entering into the bedroom was Hermione. Draco shoved that thought to the back of his head with disgust, but brought it up again as soon as he imagined himself complaining about his pain, and Hermione preparing something that would make him feel better. Maybe she would bring him some clothes, since he was still wearing only his underwear.

But to his enormous dismay, it wasn’t Hermione who entered. It wasn’t even Harry, whose presence he could have at least tolerated. It was Ron that stepped inside and looked at him with cold eyes, as though this was the worst thing that could ever happen to him.

Draco covered his disappointment with a sneer as soon as Ron closed the door. He didn’t feel safe staying in the same room with Ron, especially with the door closed and him lying there half knocked out by the fever.

“You don’t seem happy to see me, Malfoy,” said Ron, sitting down on the armchair where Hermione had slept the night before. “Would you have preferred it to be Hermione?”

Draco’s sneer became wider as he jumped at the chance to make Ron mad with jealousy; then he imagined seeing Hermione’s face as she told him to get out of there and never come back. It was very likely she would never come close to him again.

“Oh, yes,” Draco said, half-closing his eyes. “I was wondering if she wanted to continue the discussion we were having under these sheets last night. I didn’t know that she could use her tongue so well.”

Ron’s eyes darkened so much that the blue almost disappeared in a sea of crimson. He closed his fists on the armrests and gritted his teeth. But despite his body’s reaction, when Ron spoke his voice was firm and strangely low and dangerous. “You know something, Malfoy? Harry and Hermione aren’t here anymore,” he hissed. “We are here alone. You and me. And it doesn’t look like you are in a position to make those kind of jokes, are you?”

“What do you mean, they’re not here?” asked Draco. The sneer had completely faded from his face, and for a moment, he looked almost afraid.

“Exactly what I said. They’ve gone to the graveyard to look for the graves of Harry’s parents,” Ron explained, his voice smooth as silk and venomous as the fang of a snake. “Hermione would have loved to stay here and watch over you, but I offered to take her place. I think she needs a walk outside.” He looked at Draco intently. “And you don’t need to stay next to her all the time.”

Draco’s eyes narrowed. He was there alone with Ron. All alone in that house, and he didn’t like it one bit. It was almost like being in the den of some wild animal, and being confined to the bed because of his injuries didn’t help. He knew that Ron was bad-tempered. A reasonable person would have turned his head to the other side of the bed, maybe even pretended that he was asleep, and waited until the door closed behind Ron before opening his eyes again and breathing. But Draco had never been a reasonable person, so he looked at Ron challengingly and said, “Jealous, are you?”

Draco was caught off guard by Ron’s laughter. So clear and cold that it almost ached.

“Jealous of you, Malfoy? Not in a million years.”

Draco was outraged. Did that mean that he wasn’t handsome enough for someone to fall for him? “I don’t think she’s ever watched over you for a whole night, has she?” he asked sourly.

“No, and she’s never had the chance to experiment with her potions on me, either,” retorted Ron coldly. “But you must be happy being her guinea pig.”

“I’m no one’s guinea pig,” hissed Draco.

“Do you really think that she’s helping you for your pretty face?” replied Ron. “That means that you don’t understand a thing about her.”

“Actually, Weasley, I don’t want to understand anything about her. I don’t give a damn about her.”

Ron smirked, a smirk that Draco himself would have admired if it hadn’t been directed at him. “Do you think I’m stupid?”

“Do you have nothing better to ask me? I don’t usually answer obvious questions,” said Draco mischievously. He knew that he was pushing Ron to the edge, but couldn’t restrain himself. It gave him an underhanded pleasure to tease him. Plus, Ron seemed to maintain his calm without as much difficulty as he would have expected.

“You were surprised when I entered that door. You were waiting for Hermione, weren’t you?”

“Everybody would be shocked if he’s waiting for a girl and instead you walk in, Weasel,” growled Draco.

Ron laughed again, and Draco’s hair stood up. He couldn’t remember ever having listened to Ron’s laughter from so close by, but he was pretty sure that it had never sounded so evil. And empty. It was empty, as if Ron himself were empty. Draco would have never admitted it, not even under torture, but he was scared of Ron at that moment.

“So, now Hermione is a girl. I thought she was just a filthy Mudblood,” Ron said, stressing the last word with a strange pleasure.

“While she’s helping me, she’ll be a girl,” said Draco, and he hoped that the heat he felt on his cheeks was all due to the fever.

“So sweet,” murmured Ron, narrowing his eyes and looking at Draco. Then he took out a long stick of wood from his pocket and showed it to him, turning it upside down and playing with it. Ron threw it in the air and let it fall to the ground.

Draco looked down at it and recognised it immediately. His wand.

“Where did you get that?” he asked sharply at Ron.

Ron didn’t even look at him. He felt so self-confident that it was almost unnerving for Draco. “Where you left it. On the back lawn.”

“Give it back, Weasel,” snapped Draco, pulling a naked white arm out of the sheet and stretching his fingers towards Ron.

Ron sneered. “I’m not stupid, Malfoy. This wand will stay with me,” he said.

“You can’t keep it. It’s mine.” And to his immense surprise, Draco managed to sit up on the bed. The sheets fell from his chest and landed in his lap, while the gauze was suddenly dyed by a new flood of crimson.

“I can, and I will,” said Ron, without being impressed by that reaction, especially since Draco had to lie back immediately.

“If you do this, Granger and Potter will make you pay,” Draco said through gritted teeth.

“I’m so scared,” Ron said mockingly, faking a shiver. “I’m sorry, Malfoy, but I’ve not seen you crying with Myrtle in the bathroom, and I’m not half as trusty as Hermione is. And you wouldn’t even be able to use it.” Ron nodded towards his body; Draco was still shaking from the cold and the pain.

Ron stood up and pocketed the wand while Draco’s eyes followed every movement of his long fingers. He patted his jeans and smirked, and with a last glance at Draco, he walked out of the bedroom and closed the door.

Draco heard the lock catch, and Ron’s steps faded away while he lay back and tried to catch his breath after the effort of sitting up. There was something strange about Ron, and he really hoped that it wasn’t what he thought.

***

Harry seemed to be the first to understand that there was something strange in the hand pressed on his shoulder. It was as cold as ice. He blinked a couple of times and struggled under the grip, but to his relief, the hand didn’t even try to keep him still. He took a couple of quick steps forward and then turned.

Hermione was still there. Her green eyes fixed in front of her were unfocused and – green? Harry shook his head and closed his eyes, rubbing them delicately like a child. When his eyelids rose again and he looked at her, he saw the chocolaty eyes that he knew so well. He looked up at the man that now had both his hands on her shoulders, and without even thinking about what he was doing, he seized Hermione’s arm and pulled her with force towards himself. Harry was sure that she would have a bruise that afternoon, or maybe the day after, where he had gripped her, but better a bruise than – he didn’t know what, and wasn’t so eager to find out.

Hermione blinked as well, when she found herself in Harry’s arms. She could feel his warm body pressed tightly against her own, as if he was desperately trying to restrain her from leaving. She turned her head towards the man Harry was looking at, and her mouth opened slightly in a surprised and noiseless ‘oh.’

“Who are you?” Harry’s voice seemed miles away when he spoke. Maybe it was the wind that stole his words so quickly that Hermione didn’t even have the time to register them.

The man that stood there, wrapped in a heavy coat, was old. So old that they couldn’t tell his age. His face was hidden under wrinkles, and his thick hair was the colour of snow. Not someone that they would normally think was a dangerous person, if it weren’t for the fact that this was the second time they had met him. The first time he looked like a harmless neighbour; now he seemed like a crazy old man, and they were afraid.

“Who are you?” repeated Harry harshly. His arm moved slightly towards his pocket, but he restrained the urge to pull out his wand. If the man were only an eccentric Muggle, what would he think?

The old man smiled, and there was no malice in his face. He took a step towards them, and Harry took a step backwards, dragging Hermione with him. But the man didn’t halt; he simply passed them by and stopped in front of the graves of Harry’s parents.

“As I was saying,” the man murmured. “It’s just like looking at your own graves, isn’t it?”

Harry bit his bottom lip, not too keen on making any kind of conversation with the man. But Hermione freed herself from his grip and, taking a step towards him, she whispered, “Yes.” And in that one word, Harry could feel a deep and tremendous pain.

The man smiled again, but Hermione and Harry couldn’t see it. “Does it hurt?” he asked suddenly, and his voice didn’t hide his concern, as if he had just turned around quickly and slapped a little boy across the face without noticing. Now the man was asking how the child was, not because he cared, but because he needed to know to his conscience.

Hermione frowned. Did it hurt? She didn’t know. She didn’t understand what he was asking. Maybe if she concentrated on the graves, and imagined that one of them was hers… But did she really have to imagine? No. And yes, it hurt. But not in the way she would have expected. It filled her with a sorrow that went beyond words; she felt her heart aching, but not the way you felt when you lose someone. Rather the way someone who’s dead might feel, knowing that she had left behind so many people that loved her. She could feel the grief of their mourning filling her. And she was sure that if she went on any longer, that sorrowfulness would take away her breath.

“So it hurts,” said the man, as if he had just read her mind. He let out a soft snort of laughter, before returning his attention to the graves. “Of course it does. I should have thought about that. But I would have never imagined that it would have happened this way,” he murmured, talking to himself.

Hermione and Harry exchanged a look, and Harry took a step forward, standing next to her. His fear of that man with icy hands had completely gone, and now he couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty and sympathetic towards him. “Who are you?” he asked for the third time, but this time he said it slowly and without a trace of harshness.

The man turned and looked at him. “Who am I,” he murmured. “Does it really matter? My name is famous, but I am no more.” He glanced at Hermione. “But maybe you want to know what blood runs in my veins. The same blood that was once shed in this place, by someone that I called brother.”

“I-I think we don’t –”

“Understand,” he finished for Harry. “No, how could you? This story has never been told. Nobody knows. But now that the curse is happening, maybe you should know.”

The man looked at Harry and Hermione with tired eyes, as if the thought of telling them something about his past was enough to make him sick. For a minute, the man looked as though he was a thousand years old, ancient and terrible. Someone that should be feared and loved and respected.

“Oh, but you shall know. When the moment comes, you shall know.” He turned, and without a further word, started to walk up a small hill.

“Hey, wait!” Harry called after him. He was afraid of him, but he didn’t like to be left in the middle of what could have turned out to be an explanation. “What curse are you talking about? Who are you?”

The man didn’t turn, nor did he give any sign that he heard Harry. He simply kept on walking, disappearing from their view when he stepped behind a tree. They waited for him to walk out on the other side of the trunk, but he didn’t. Harry and Hermione stared blankly in front of them, as if something had escaped them. Some secret that they couldn’t understand. Some magic which was higher and more powerful than anything they had ever seen or performed.

When a gust of wind blew their coats and hit their faces, Harry and Hermione woke from the state of trance they had fallen in while following the man with their eyes. But as soon as they regained some lucidity, without any apparent reason, their minds blurred again. Hermione searched for Harry’s hand, and when she found it, she laced her fingers in his. His hand was warm, while hers was cold and in need of someone to heat it up. Harry jumped from coldness, but when he turned to her, he pulled her close, and embraced her as if there was no tomorrow.

Hermione rested her head on Harry’s shoulder, and when he felt her sighing against his ear, it sent a little shiver down his spine. He rubbed her cheek with his own, and she placed her arms around his neck. The wind stopped all of a sudden, and for a moment, the world seemed to disappear around them. No sound reached their ears, except for each other’s heartbeat and breath.

Harry didn’t know why, nor did he stop to ask himself if what he was doing was right or wrong. It seemed so natural, like breathing air or drinking water. He didn’t have the chance to question himself. And he was sure that Hermione was feeling the same way, otherwise she would have already pushed him away and her face would have turned a lovely shade of red.

Harry cocked his head and buried his nose in her hair. She smelled good. Her skin was perfumed, a delicate and lovely smell of flowers, and it was extremely familiar. As if he had already passed years buried in her scent, as if she had already been so close to him that every inch of her body was pressed against his own. As if this was not the first time.

Harry kissed her. He kissed her precisely under her right ear. He kissed her like he had done it a million times, because he knew perfectly well where to press his lips to make Hermione shiver. And she did shiver. He felt her relax under his arms, and a name escaped her lips, but he didn’t catch it; he was too busy nibbling her flawless skin.

And then the wind started to blow again, and the world reappeared around them. They found themselves in each other’s arms, without remembering why. Harry had still his lips pressed to Hermione’s neck, and she had still her arms behind his head, but now their muscles were tense, as if they had suddenly found themselves in a very awkward situation.

“Harry?” whispered Hermione, her voice hoarse with embarrassment. As her arms started to slide slowly down his shoulders, she tipped her head and Harry moved away from her. They stood there for what seemed like ages, one in front of the other, without looking into each other’s eyes, but feeling the heat that radiated from the deep blush that coloured both their faces.

Eventually, Harry raised his eyes to hers. “Hermione, what –”

“I don’t know,” she cut him off, urgency and embarrassment in her voice. “I don’t know. It was just like, it wasn’t me, and –” She raised her eyes as well, and locked them on Harry. For a moment, she felt the urge to look away, but she fought it. “– you weren’t you.”

Harry nodded. “Same thing,” he confirmed. “It was like I’d already done that a million times. But we never…” His sentence trailed away while he blushed even more deeply.

“No, we never. I mean, we never did anything more than…” She looked at him desperately, and for a moment, it looked like she was going to confess him something highly embarrassing. Like that she had drugged him and compelled to kiss her the night before. But Hermione just swallowed her words.

“Okay,” said Harry understandingly. “What – what about having a look at the graves and then going back to the cottage? Ron will be wondering where we are.”

Hermione nodded and bit her bottom lip. They turned towards the graves and took a couple of steps forward before finding themselves mere inches away from the gravestones. The grass was a bright green colour, and it seemed soft when Harry knelt down next to them. He stretched out an arm to touch the white marble without brushing it.

Hermione would have stepped back and let him alone, but she didn’t want to stray far from him, didn’t want to leave him. She was attracted to Harry, not in a sexual way, but out of some kind of need for him. She let her eyes move from Harry to the stones. There were no epitaphs or pictures. No ‘Beloved husband’ and ‘Loved wife,’ just James and Lily’s names and the date of that fateful night.

Harry stood up and brushed the earth away from his jeans. He turned towards Hermione with a strange calm in his eyes. She thought that, after all this time without his parents, he must have been beyond the point where he could have shed tears over their graves.

“Shall we go?” he asked her softly.

Hermione nodded. They walked up the hill that would have led them out of the small glen, and back to the church of Godric’s Hollow. They walked side by side, without touching each other, even if that was what they both wanted most at that moment. Hermione tried to convince herself that it was because she was freezing that she wanted to touch Harry’s hand, but she wasn’t so sure it was just the cold.

“Wait,” said Harry suddenly, stopping in his tracks.

“What?”

“Let’s go this way,” he said, nodding towards the tree behind which the old man had disappeared.

“This way doesn’t lead us out of the cemetery,” pointed out Hermione.

“How do you know?” asked Harry, as he started to walk away from her.

“Because there’s only one way out of here and –”

“That man disappeared behind that tree,” said Harry stubbornly. All his awkward feelings were forgotten as he tried to reason with his friend.

“In fact,” said Hermione, and Harry heard her steps behind him. “He disappeared; he didn’t just walk out of here.”

“You think that he Disapparated?” asked Harry as they approached the oak tree.

Hermione shrugged as she slowed down next to him. “I don’t know, but I don’t think he was a Muggle. I mean, he talked about a curse.”

“Yeah, well, I think it’s a travesty to have to stay with my aunt and uncle as well, but that doesn’t mean that I’m cursed.” Harry pointed out.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Okay, whatever.”

They stopped as they saw a stone sticking out of the ground under the tree. It didn’t seem like a gravestone; it was too oddly shaped and ancient looking. It looked more like one of those stones placed on the ground ages ago for some reason unknown to the scholars of the present. But as they bent down, inexplicably attracted to the stone before them, Harry and Hermione saw that something was carved on the rock. To their great disappointment, it was unreadable. The leaves that had fallen over the years had turned the stone a yellowish colour, and the black that must have once been the letters of the name had completely worn off.

Hermione seized Harry’s sleeve and pointed towards a sign next to the trunk of the oak. Harry walked towards it; it was new, and looked almost like one of those signs in a museum that gave information about the objects being exhibited.

The most ancient tomb of this cemetery, it read. This tomb has been dated from 900 to 1200 years ago. Unfortunately, the name of the owner of this grave is unreadable, and there is no reliable information about him. It is thought to belong to someone that was passing by this place, very likely in a time of war, because the village of Godric’s Hollow was built only seven hundreds years ago. Before that time, this valley was completely deserted.

Harry turned towards Hermione. “Do you think that it could be –” He looked around to be sure that they weren’t overheard. He wasn’t exactly sure why, but it didn’t seem like a good idea if they were heard knowing something about one of the tourist attractions of Godric’s Hollow, or better yet, the only tourist attraction. “– Gryffindor’s grave?” Harry finished, lowering his voice.

Hermione took a deep breath before answering. “The date could fit, I mean, Hogwarts was built a thousand years ago, and we don’t know where he died, but it’s so far away from Hogsmeade. What would he have been doing here?”

“He was passing by?” asked Harry, nodding towards the sign.

“Thanks a lot, Harry. I meant why?”

“How should I know? Hermione, if you don’t know it yourself, I don’t really know what to say. I mean, you’re the one who read Hogwarts: A History at least five times, right?”

“It was six,” she pointed out. “But the story talks about Hogwarts, not the Founders.” Harry gave her a peculiar look, and Hermione sighed. “I mean, it talks about the Founders, but not about their private lives. It just says who they were and what their beliefs were, the Sorting Hat gives a pretty nice summary of that. But nothing more.”

“And you read it six times?” asked Harry, impressed. “It must be so boring.”

“It’s not, especially if you had lived all your life with Muggles and wanted to know everything about the new world that awaited you,” she answered.

“I spent all my life with Muggles and I didn’t –”

Hermione placed a hand on his arm. “Harry, I get it,” she said gently. “You would never read it, not even if someone compelled you, right?”

Harry smiled. “Right.”

Hermione shrugged lightly. “Didn’t we have to get back? I’m afraid of what Ron might have done to Malfoy.”

Harry looked at her uneasily. “Yeah, and about Ron –”

“Don’t tell him what happened before,” Hermione cut him off, saving Harry the trouble and blushing furiously. “He wouldn’t understand.”

“No, you’re right,” agreed Harry. And it was true, because they didn’t understand it themselves. How could Ron, who had the emotional range of a teaspoon, understand it?

The wind started to blow harder than before, as if it was pressuring them to leave, to return home. And Harry and Hermione didn’t want to do anything other than that. They turned and walked back on the small path that led out of the cemetery.

They climbed a low hill, and the church became immediately visible, a little stone building with a small bell tower. Hermione admired that building for the second time as they passed it. She would have loved to have a look inside, but they didn’t have time. Maybe when everything was over, and if they survived, she could explore the village.

They walked past the church on a cobblestone path and reached the supermarket. It hadn’t been really difficult to find the way to the cemetery that morning. They had walked to the shopping centre, looking for someone to ask directions, and they had found a sign that didn’t indicate the church, but the cemetery itself. Apparently, the most ancient tomb was rather more important than the building, even if it was less attractive.

They reached the main street, and in a sunny, but cold afternoon, they walked back to the cottage.

***

Ron observed the chessboard intently. He was too good at that game, and his match against himself has been going on for a couple of hours now, and not one of the two colours had won yet. He was too proud to think about making one of the two colours win over the other.

He raised his eyes from the chessboard, as soon as the front door opened and Harry and Hermione walked, shivering, into the house.

Ron looked at them coldly. “Found what you were looking for?” he asked, and from his tone it seemed like he really didn’t care.

Harry sat down on the armchair across from Ron, rubbing his hands to heat them up. “Yes, found far more than what we were looking for, actually,” said Harry. “It’s freezing cold out there.”

“Really?” asked Ron, looking back at the chessboard.

Hermione joined them in the living room; she was shivering and her fingertips were blue. She looked at Ron, but he didn’t even glance at her. “How is Malfoy?”

“Good morning to you too, Hermione. And I’m fine, thank you,” said Ron venomously.

Hermione brought her hands to her hips, and narrowed her eyes. “You are not poisoned, and we have already seen each other this morning,” she snapped.

“He’s fine. I think,” said Ron calmly. “I saw him just once, this morning. I think that you should burn your sheets when come back to your right mind and want to sleep in a bed again.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that tomorrow we’ll probably be having a funeral,” he said slowly, moving the black queen near the white king. “Or a party, if you prefer.”

Hermione frowned slightly, and then she turned and climbed the stairs two at a time.

Ron followed her movements out of the corner of his eyes. He seemed like a snake observing a bird that was looking for worms in the ground. A snake that enjoyed seeing how completely unaware of danger his prey was.

“What did you do?” Harry’s question arrived so unexpectedly that Ron had to look at him for a long moment before understanding he was supposed to answer.

He shrugged. “A little of this, a little of that. I played chess.”

“I thought you would have watched over Malfoy,” said Harry, taking off his coat and placing it on the armchair behind him.

“I did. I went to Hermione’s room this morning and he was fine. Almost near death, so he was fine,” said Ron, laughing.

Harry frowned; there was something different about his friend. As if he wasn’t the Ron he used to know, but someone else who looked like him and spoke like him, but seemed much more treacherous. He knew that Ron didn’t like Malfoy, but… Hell, I don’t like Malfoy either, but I wouldn’t be cheering if he was going to die in front of our eyes, thought Harry heatedly.

“Ron, is everything all right?” he asked tentatively.

His friend smirked, a nasty little smirk that Harry didn’t like. “Sure, Harry. Never been better. I feel so powerful,” Ron said, with a strange light in his eyes. “It’s like I’m changing, I’m becoming potent.”

“Maybe it’s the muffins,” said Harry, grinning.

Ron shot him a glare. “Yeah, maybe,” he said slowly. He looked down, and the black queen ate the white rook. “Checkmate,” he murmured. “The Dark always wins.”

“The black,” corrected Harry.

“No, the Dark.” Ron waved his wand and the pieces of chess returned to their original places. He looked at Harry and stood up from the couch, towering over him. “I’ve already eaten, but I didn’t know what you wanted, so it’s better if you prepare something for yourself.”

Harry nodded, and stood up too, but even on his feet, he was still several inches shorter than Ron. “I think I’ll have a look at Malfoy first.”

“Naturally,” hissed Ron. “Because everybody is so in love with him.”

“I just want to be sure he’s not dead yet,” said Harry firmly. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Should there be something wrong with me? Just because I don’t go crazy at the idea of Malfoy being here under the same roof with us, I’m a nasty evil boy, right?”

“No,” rebutted Harry. “But you seem to enjoy it a bit too much when you talk about him dying.”

Ron didn’t answer. He sneered evilly and walked out of the living room. Harry heard the back door opening and then banging closed. He stood there for a while, wondering what had just happened. He couldn’t believe that he had just criticised Ron for the way he treated Draco. It was crazy. If someone had told him a year ago that he would have this conversation, he would have laughed until his stomach started to hurt.

Harry shook his head to clear his thoughts and then started to climb the stairs that led to the second floor. He headed for the first bedroom to his left and walked in; the door was half-open and Hermione’s shadow was visible on the floor.

She was standing next to Draco’s bed, bent over him, working her hands frantically on his midsection. A pile of gauze dirty with blood lay at the foot of the bed.

“Is he all right?” Harry asked from the door, not so keen to get closer to the figure on the bed.

“As all right as someone who has been sliced in two could be, Potter,” Draco hissed.

Harry didn’t like his tone, but since Draco could still speak, there wasn’t too much to worry about. “Too bad whoever sliced you in twice wasn’t more accurate,” Harry hissed back. “Your vital organs are just a little bit higher.”

“Next time I’ll wear a sign, then,” Draco retorted.

“Oh, stop it! Both of you,” said Hermione, cutting off their fight. “And Malfoy, stay still.”

“Your hands are icy, Granger, how am I supposed to stay still if I can’t bear your touch?” snapped Draco.

“You’re boiling with fever, that’s why you think I’m cold,” Hermione snapped, pouring disinfectant on the wound.

Draco glared at her, and with a slow movement, he brought his arms down and seized her right wrist lightly. Hermione raised her eyes to him, but he didn’t look directly at her. Following the movement of her hand, he brought it up to his chest, without touching his skin, and then pressed it on his forehead. He closed his eyes and smiled softly.

Hermione looked at him, clearly bemused by his actions. She stopped cleaning Draco’s wound and steadied herself on the bed with her other hand. She bit her bottom lip as a wave of heat spread from her hand to her arm and finally up to her face.

“What are you doing, Malfoy?” Harry looked horrified at the scene before him.

“Just heating her up, and cooling me,” Draco answered simply. “If her icy hands have to touch me, at least they should touch me where I like it.”

“Your forehead?” asked Hermione, raising her eyebrows.

“When you have a fever, what gives you relief? Something cool on your forehead,” Draco asked and answered himself.

Hermione withdrew her arm and sighed. “Right, I’ll collect a wet towel for you. And then I think I should try some other potion on you.”

Draco looked at her, and all of a sudden, he felt like a guinea pig, something he didn’t want to be. “Something that is going to work, Granger,” he hissed.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Oh yes, something that’s going to work, don’t worry, Malfoy. Because I’m going to prepare a Blood-Replenishing Potion.”

“That won’t work against poison,” retorted Draco.

“I know,” she said calmly, “but you need blood. The poison may not be the first thing that will kill you.”

Draco looked at her, trying to understand if she was serious or not, but her face was unreadable and she seemed terribly firm about what she was saying. Rebellious curls were framing her features, and her eyes seemed almost sparkling in contrast to her pale skin. Hermione seemed distressed and terribly tired, and for a moment, he felt like he should tell her something nice. Just to let her know that he was grateful she was taking such good care of him. But he restrained himself; he couldn’t have permitted a moment of weakness that would ruin his reputation of a spoiled little brat that had taken his whole life to build.

“Remember to brew some potion for the poison, this pain is driving me crazy,” said Draco.

“Really? Now you know how it feels,” Harry interjected from the door.

“What? Being poisoned and having a wound that cuts across your stomach? I would have preferred not to try it,” hissed Draco.

“Not that, Malfoy. The fact that something is driving you crazy. Just like you are doing with us,” said Harry, smirking.

“Bad news for you, Potty, you are no fun,” snapped Draco. He looked back at Hermione, who sat on the bed next to him and looked in front of her in a thoughtful way. “You know what I was thinking?”

“What? You can think?” asked Hermione, amused.

“Oh my, I’m surrounded by people with terrible sense of humour,” said Draco mockingly. “Wasn’t the poison enough?”

“Cut it short, Malfoy, what were you thinking?” asked Harry, rolling his eyes and crossing his arms on his chest.

“That I’m still half naked after being here almost an entire day,” he said.

“Really? Well, I’m sorry, but we didn’t find your luggage downstairs, where did you put it?” asked Harry sarcastically.

“I had clothes when I arrived here,” Draco snapped angrily.

“They were covered with blood, you are not going to wear them between my sheets,” said Hermione firmly.

“Gosh, Granger, I thought you were more intelligent than that, why didn’t you wash them?” asked Draco. Then he smirked. “By the way, it’s a bit too late to worry about your sheets.” He winced in pain as he moved his hips, and showed her the sheets soaked with blood under his body.

Hermione made a face and paled. “Those were my favourite sheets, and I’m not your house-elf, Malfoy,” she yelled. “And wasn’t your shirt all ripped from the cut on your stomach, I mean –”

“No,” Harry cut her off. “No, his shirt wasn’t ripped.” And as if he just remembered something that he should have asked ages before, he stepped towards the bed. “When did you put that shirt on, Malfoy?” he asked.

Draco looked at him without understanding; his flushed cheeks should have been a darker shade of red from the fever, but since almost all his blood was in the gauze at the end of the bed, his skin couldn’t have turned anything more than a light pink. “What do you mean?” he asked uneasily.

Harry shot him a peculiar look. “I mean that your shirt was soaked with blood, but it wasn’t ripped.”

“I don’t go around with ripped shirts, it’s so not in style,” said Draco, pretending not to understand.

“Don’t be clever with us, Malfoy,” said Hermione. “That means only one thing: that you put that shirt on after you have been wounded. So, when exactly did that happen?”

“Yes, and since you have not yet told us anything about the way you obtained your wound, we would be delighted to listen to you. Right about now, I would say,” said Harry firmly.

“I don’t remember, Potter,” snapped Draco, as the anger revived him. “I don’t know. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

“No, I want to hear what happened. I think it’s very suspect that you keep on saying that you don’t remember, don’t you think?” asked Harry, narrowing his eyes.

“Never heard about Memory charms?” retorted Draco.

Harry pulled out his wand threateningly. “Memory charms can always be broken.”

Draco glared at him. “And make me lose my mind.”

“It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

“Well, I’m not.”

“Too bad I don’t care,” snapped Harry, his eyes flashing dangerously.

“Harry, will you help me with the potion?” Hermione had stood up and now was standing right in front of Harry. “Please,” she added.

Harry looked over her shoulder and glared at Draco before actually turning his attention back to her and nodding abruptly. His cheeks flushed, and Hermione turned her eyes away quickly. Draco couldn’t help noticing that they were embarrassed to find themselves so close to each other.

They walked out of the bedroom quietly, closing the door. Draco didn’t make any remarks to them or about them. He had never seen Harry so resolute on something, and it was scary. Not in the same scary way as Ron, though. No, Ron seemed more like the crazy son of his aunt Bellatrix, but Harry did look very much like Dumbledore in that moment.

The door swung open and Harry came back in, carrying a pile of clothes. Jumpers, jeans, shirts, tee shirts and pyjamas. He walked towards the desk and dumped them on top before turning towards Draco. “These are my father’s clothes. Look through them and see if there’s something that you can wear,” he said curtly.

“Oh yes, from this bed I can see everything,” Draco snapped sarcastically.

Harry grabbed the first thing he could reach. “There’s a jumper,” he said, “jeans, shirts – pyjamas. I think you should wear pyjamas,” he added practically.

“That’s gold and red, I won’t wear anything so Gryffindor-ish,” spat Draco.

“Then stay in your underwear, I don’t give a damn,” said Harry, letting the pyjamas fall back on the desk.

Draco narrowed his eyes, an urge to throw something at Harry rose inside his head, but there was nothing near him that he could reach. He was sure that a pillow wouldn’t have given the desired result, but would have only drawn a chuckle from Harry.

“Hand me the pyjamas,” Draco hissed.

Harry looked at him, while a satisfied smirk appeared on his lips. “I don’t think I heard the magic word,” he teased.

Avada Kedavra?” said Draco maliciously.

“Have fun dragging your body to the desk, Malfoy,” replied Harry calmly.

“You don’t seriously expect me to say ‘please’, do you, Potter?” Draco replied, narrowing his eyes in an effort to determine if he was serious.

Harry leaned against the desk and crossed his arms on his chest. “That would be a start, Malfoy. Since you are not even thanking us for taking care of you, without asking anything from you in return.”

“I don’t remember anything, that’s why you can’t ask me,” hissed Draco.

Harry threw the pyjamas at him and it landed on Draco’s face. “You are such a liar, Malfoy. But I don’t give a damn, as long as you are lying on that bed, I’m fine with you here. But in less than a week we’ll be leaving and there’s no way you’re coming with us.”

Draco looked at him with hatred and fear. Harry thought that it was the fear of the knowledge that he would be left alone and dying from the poison without anybody near him. A shiver of pleasure ran down his spine, as Harry believed that he had just scared Draco Malfoy, even if what he said was a lie. Thanks to his “saving the world” tendencies, Harry wouldn’t let him die without trying everything he could. Or maybe it was just his common sense. But there was no need for Draco to know that.

“Wait for Hermione to bring you whatever she has to bring you, and then put the pyjamas on, I don’t want you to dirty them with your blood,” said Harry, stepping towards the door.

“It’s pureblood, Potter,” Draco called after him, but Harry shut the door without paying him attention.

Draco looked down at the clothes he was holding. It had gold and crimson vertical stripes. The colours were quite dark, nothing too eye-catching, but those were Gryffindor’s colours, and he didn’t like it. Not at all, but it wasn’t exactly like he had much of a choice. This was the only pyjamas in the pile, and, oddly enough, the only clothes in Gryffindor’s colours. All the other clothes were different shades of green and blue. I’m sure that there were other pyjamas, but Pothead had to bring me this, Draco thought angrily.

He tossed the pyjamas on the other side of the bedroom just when the door opened, and Hermione, carefully holding a little bottle, entered. She watched the flight of the clothing and then turned to look at Draco, her eyebrows so high that they disappeared under her curls.

“I though you wanted something to wear,” she said softly.

“Something to wear, not something that says ‘look at me, I’m a Gryffindor fancier’,” he retorted.

“It’s just pyjamas,” she pointed out tiredly, and for a moment Draco thought that he wouldn’t enjoy starting a fight with her, because she didn’t seem ready to argue.

“Give them back to me,” he said slowly, nodding towards the pyjamas.

Hermione seized the pyjamas and put them on the bed. She sat down next to Draco and handed him the bottle that she was holding. Draco looked at it suspiciously; the liquid that whirled inside was a dark shade of scarlet and looked very like boiling blood.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Blood-Replenishing Potion,” she answered simply. “Drink it.”

Draco took it from her hands and made a face. “I’ll drink it later,” he said, placing it on the bedside table.

“Malfoy, drink it,” she said firmly.

“Later, Granger,” he replied just as firmly.

Hermione glared at him. “It’s for your own good,” she said. “You really should drink it.”

“For my own good? I thought it was because you wanted to test your Healer ability on me. I’m not your guinea pig,” he spat.

Hermione smiled bitterly. “I know. I was just trying to be useful. Just trying to save your life. I’m such a stupid girl, aren’t I?”

“You are just testing your potions on me,” he retorted.

“For-saving-your-life,” she said stressing every single word. “Maybe I shouldn’t have watched over you for the entire night.”

“You fell asleep,” pointed out Draco.

Hermione looked at him surprised. “How do you know? You slept all night.”

“I heard you snore,” he said promptly.

Hermione flushed. “That’s a lie.”

“It’s not, you were snoring,” he repeated with a smirk.

“Shut up, Malfoy,” said Hermione, turning her head away from him and exposing a generous portion of her neck.

Draco narrowed his eyes, as he looked at a purple spot that stood out on her white skin. “What’s that?” he asked mischievously. He already knew what it was, but wanted to hear it from her.

“What?” she asked, looking at him.

He stretched an arm towards her and made her turn her head again. He tugged on her chin gently, and brushed her neck with his fingertips. “Who kissed you, Granger?” Draco asked, shocked to hear the bitterness in his own voice.

Hermione automatically brought her right hand to her neck and widened her eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“Whoever did it left a nice mark on your neck,” he said, smirking bitterly.

The colour drained from her face, and came back so suddenly that her cheeks went from a snow-white colour to a bloody crimson in seconds.

“It’s just a hickey, Granger,” said Draco. “Never had one before?”

But Hermione wasn’t listening to him anymore. This was something that she didn’t need at all. Ron was already angry, but if he found out that she had snogged Harry – Snogged Harry? He just kissed my neck – in a very friendly way, she thought. Friendly, friendly, friendly. She was sure that friends didn’t kiss that way, but maybe if she went on repeating that word, it would become true.

“So, was it Pothead or Weasel?” asked Draco, snapping her out of her thoughts. His eyes were fixed on her as though he was trying to read her mind.

Hermione flushed even more deeply and didn’t answer.

“It’s Potter, right?” he asked rather annoyed. “That’s why you two both blushed when you stood so close earlier.” He raised his thumb and index finger in front of her eyes.

“It’s none of your business, Malfoy,” she murmured, still too shocked to answer. She didn’t know why she was more shocked now than before, when it was really happening. While Harry was kissing her. Maybe it was because it took less than five seconds for Draco to understand what happened. Listening to him say it made it so real. And what if Ron found out as well? He would never speak to her again!

“God, Granger, and I thought you fancied Weasel,” he said, shaking his head as if she was a little girl that had just deceived him.

“What do you care Malfoy?” Hermione hissed back. “My love life is none of your business.”

“It’s none of anybody business, since you don’t have any bloody love life,” he snapped.

Draco thought that she couldn’t have turned redder than she did earlier, but he was wrong. He wondered how much she could actually blush, and if she could possibly die from spontaneous combustion, since he could feel a wave of heat rolling off her body.

“Just shut up,” she hissed, and her voice was shaking slightly. “And I really mean it. If you tell Ron something, I swear that –”

“I won’t tell him anything,” Draco replied, cutting her off.

Hermione looked at him as if waiting for him to add something like ‘yeah, sure, believe this, Granger’, but he didn’t. He looked at her seriously and then looked away.

“Why?” she asked softly. She didn’t believe him.

“As you said, it’s none of my business. Plus, I don’t really care,” Draco answered.

“And you would keep quiet only because it’s none of your business?” Hermione asked suspiciously.

“If you want me to tell him –”

“No,” she cut him off quietly. “No.”

Draco nodded curtly.

Hermione stood up from the bed and walked towards the door, her right hand was still covering the mark on her neck. She opened the door and turned to look at Draco. “Thanks,” she murmured, before exiting.

Draco turned quickly towards her, but the door had already closed. He chewed on his bottom lip and took a deep breath, making every rib ache. He turned slowly towards the bottle that lay on the bedside table and collected it. Lifting it above his head, he closed his eyes.

***

Hermione looked frantically at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. The mark on her neck was quite big, and Ron would certainly notice it if she didn’t find a way to conceal it.

She tried to think of a spell to remove it, but her mind was filled with other thoughts at that moment. Why did Harry kiss me? And why is Draco being so accommodating? What Ron would do if he finds out that Harry kissed me?

Hermione was so preoccupied with her problems that she didn’t notice the door swinging open and a red-haired boy peeking inside.

It was only when he said, “What have you done to your neck?” that she became aware of Ron’s presence in the bathroom. And then she heard a scream and everything turned black.


Chapter 6: Chapter Six
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Author's Notes: Thanks to Julie for beta-reading this. And to Agigail who went through it again.



Hermione felt a couple of strong hands seizing her shoulders and raising her head from the cold floor of the bathroom. She felt her head pressed against someone’s stomach, and that same someone called her name, but the sound that reached her ears was so far away and muffled, that it almost didn’t seem real.

A soft light passed through her lowered eyelids, and then a person appeared in front of her, but she was sure that she hadn’t opened her eyes. Maybe she was dreaming or hallucinating; if she had banged her head, it was quite possibly both. There was a girl standing in front of her; she was tall with dark red hair and bright green eyes. She was looking back at Hermione with a mixture of surprise and fear on her face, exactly what Hermione was feeling at that moment.

“Hermione!”

Now her name echoed louder in her mind. She didn’t want to open her eyes, but it seemed like the person shaking her shoulders was getting very worried. She raised her eyelids and gasped for air, noticing at that very moment that she had been holding her breath. A pair of brown eyes was staring down at her, filled with concern and a little relief for the fact that she was awake.

She closed her eyes again and shook her head gently. Nobody, other than her, had brown eyes in that house. Ron’s were blue, Harry’s green, and Draco’s grey. Was she going crazy? She opened her eyes again and now she saw two emerald eyes behind a pair of round glasses, looking at her.

“Hermione, are you all right?” asked Harry, his face coming closer to hers.

Was she all right? She didn’t seem have pain anywhere, except maybe just a little bit in her back, which was probably due to the fact that she had hit the floor. But her head felt perfectly fine, and she could move every part of her body. She nodded and stretched out an arm to Harry.

He let her head down gently and stood up; taking her hand, he helped her on her feet. “Are you sure everything is all right?” he asked again.

“Yes, I think so, I don’t even know what happened,” she admitted, her voice a bit hoarse. And it was true; she just found herself on that floor, while the world around her had disappeared, and a scream had filled her ears. Hermione glanced around at the bathroom and for the first time she noticed that Ron was there as well. He sat on the floor; a long and rather deep cut went from under his left eye almost down to his mouth. He was looking in front of him, his chest moving up and down quickly with the effort of breathing.

Hermione kneeled down next to him, fear in her eyes. “Ron,” she called to him, “are you all right? What happened?”

Ron raised his eyes to her and shook his head.

Hermione turned towards Harry. “What happened?”

Harry shook his head as well. “I don’t know,” he murmured. “I heard a scream and I hurried in here, and found that you and Ron were lying on the floor. Ron was awake, but you weren’t. And Ron was trying to get near you, but he couldn’t and –”

“What?” she cut him off, without understanding.

“He was pushed away every time he tried to get close to you,” explained Harry, kneeling next to her.

Hermione’s eyes travelled from Harry to Ron and back, confusion and a desire to understand what was going on in that bathroom on her face. “And you weren’t?” she asked in a bare whisper.

Harry’s face coloured. He was embarrassed by the fact that he managed to reach her, while Ron hadn’t been able to, but he wasn’t sure why. “No, but maybe it’s because I arrived later,” he mumbled.

Hermione nodded and turned her attention towards Ron. She stretched out an arm and brushed his cheek, causing him to whimper from the pain. “Sorry,” she said hastily, taking away her hand. “I-I heard a scream too.”

Ron gulped and it seemed to take him ages before he was able to gather his thoughts and answer her, and when he did, his voice was hoarse, and his words unsure, as if he hadn’t understood what had happened himself. “It was me,” he admitted. “I’ve been attacked by something.” He sighed. “And it’s the second time in this house, I don’t like it.”

Hermione nodded sympathetically. She could understand him, because she had been attacked by something now as well. But she couldn’t say that it was something unpleasant, on the contrary, it made her feel rather powerful and safe.

“And I saw that you have been attacked as well, because your eyes rolled back and you fell on the floor, and –” He stopped, frowning slightly as something on her neck caught his attention. He stretched out and arm and brushed her skin with his fingertips, just like Draco had done earlier, and she jumped in surprise. The hickey.

She looked at Ron with horror in her eyes, while a thousand excuses were trying to from her brain to explain the mark, but not one seemed good enough. But Ron didn’t seem to be going to get angry with her or anything. He just raised his eyes and locked them to hers.

“You’ve a bruise on your neck, maybe from when you fell – does it hurt you?” he asked caringly.

Hermione’s mouth opened slightly in surprise, and she frowned a little without being aware that she was doing so. For a moment, she was thankful for Ron’s ingenuousness. She brought her hand to her neck and nodded.

“Does it hurt?” asked Ron concerned.

“No,” she answered hastily. “No, it’s just that I must have banged against something.”

“And it doesn’t hurt you?” asked Harry, coming closer to her and eyeing the mark as well.

She turned towards him and shot him a deadly glare. Okay, Ron was naive, but how could Harry have been so stupid? “No, it doesn’t hurt,” she said, emphasizing every single word as if to underline that the conversation stopped there.

Harry nodded and looked back at Ron. “What about you, Ron? Anything broken?”

Ron shook his head. “No, I don’t think so, but I can’t say that I’m fine,” he said. “My cheek is hurting so badly, and my back as well. I’ve banged against the doorpost of the bathroom.”

“Your cheek is bleeding,” stated Hermione. “I can prepare something for you, a Wound-Healing Potion. I was going to prepare some for Malfoy.”

Ron looked at her, and for a moment he had to bite his tongue and restrain himself from saying that he didn’t want to be given the same thing that she was going to prepare for Draco. But instead, he merely nodded. “Thanks, Hermione.”

Hermione smiled and stood up. Harry stood up as well, and they both offered their hands to Ron. He took them and, with a great effort that almost sent Hermione on the floor for the second time, he rose up on his feet and staggered a little before he was able to lean against the door of the bathroom and steady himself.

“Do you think you can climb down the stairs?” asked Harry, guiding him on the landing with an arm around his friend’s back.

“Yes, I’m fine, really,” answered Ron, trying to smile. “It’s just the pain. I mean that force was really powerful.”

“You can lean on my shoulder,” proposed Harry. “If the pain is too excruciating.”

“You are a little bit too –” Ron’s cheeks turned pretty red. “– short, Harry. My back would hurt me even more.”

Harry looked at him, raising his eyebrows. “Why do I never hear you say, ‘I’m a little bit too tall’?” he asked, grinning.

“I’ve never even said that you are too short, this was the first time,” pointed out Ron.

“I was just kidding,” said Harry, raising his hands. “You can lean against the stair railing then, but I’m not sure that it’s taller than me.”

“Oh, stop teasing each other already,” broke in Hermione, following them. “Ron’s cheek needs to be taken care of, so we better get a move on.”

Both boys grinned at her and started to climb down the stairs, Harry jumping on the stairs like a child and Ron following him and wincing every now and then when some part of his body ached. Hermione followed suit, observing Ron’s slow movements from behind.

Eventually they all reached the first floor, slowly and, for some, painfully. Hermione circled Ron and stood in front of him, so close that she could have counted the freckles on his nose, if at that moment she wasn’t more interested in the bad cut that crossed his cheek. “Ron, just sit down while I’ll prepare the potion, it won’t take too long,” she said, nodding towards the couch. “Harry, can you get us something to eat, in the meantime? Maybe some sandwiches,” she added as an afterthought.

Harry nodded. “Sit down. We’ll be right back,” he said to Ron, since he was still standing on his feet.

Hermione walked into the kitchen and stepped quickly towards the sink, turning on the water. Harry entered as well and moved towards the cupboard, looking for the bread. He was stretching out an arm to open the doors when Hermione seized his sleeve and dragged him near the running water. “That’s not a bruise,” she whispered so softly that Harry had to bend closer to her to understand. She fingered her neck and turned her head to give him have a better view of the offending mark.

No?” asked Harry vaguely. Hermione wondered if he was serious, or if he was just pretending not to understand. She could tell that his cheeks were turning a darker shade of red than usual, but maybe it was just her closeness that made him blush. He blushes because he’s near me?

“No,” she answered curtly. “Doesn’t it remind you of anything? Don’t say it doesn’t, because it happened only this morning,” she added warningly.

Harry narrowed his eyes, concentrating as he looked from the mark to her face. When the realization finally hit him, he backed up a little. “W-was I – d-did I –?”

Hermione nodded. “I was trying to cover it when Ron entered into the bathroom, and I was so scared! Luckily that something knocked us both out.”

“Wrong,” said Harry, who couldn’t quite take his eyes off her neck. The thought that it was his fault that she had that thing on her neck made him feel strange. Guilty and proud at the same time. “It knocked you out, but it sent Ron towards the door, nothing more.”

“What do you mean?” she asked without understanding.

“I mean that you fainted, but he didn’t,” he explained, finally tearing away his eyes from the hickey. “And also that it was painful for him, but you are perfectly fine.”

“Should I have been in pain?” she whispered sharply.

Harry came closer to her. “No,” he said calmly. “Can’t you turn off the water? I can’t hear anything.”

“No,” she answered forcefully. “I turned it on so Ron couldn’t listen to us. I don’t want him to know that you left a hickey on my neck.”

“Yeah, pretty awkward, isn’t it?” answered Harry, looking at the door of the kitchen, as if he were afraid that Ron could have entered at any time.

“Awkward?” she asked. “Let’s just say that Ron wouldn’t speak to us for the rest of our lives.”

Harry sighed and leaned against the cupboard, his arms crossed on his chest. “I still don’t get why I kissed you,” he sighed, shaking his head and trying to sound calm and not at all terribly embarrassed.

Hermione lowered her eyes. “And I don’t get why I let you,” she muttered slowly. “I’ll try to cover it.”

“Why? Ron’s already seen it, just wait till it goes away by itself,” he stated simply. “Brew the potion, I’ll make the sandwiches.”

Hermione nodded; she filled a small pot with some water, and put it on the stove. Then she walked out of the kitchen and into the living room, where Ron lay on the couch. Her potions book lay on the coffee table.

Ron looked at her; his blue eyes seemed to be the biggest thing in his white face. The blood on his left cheek had already dried, and now he looked like the main character of The Phantom of the Opera, with ghostly-white skin and half of his features hidden by a mask.

“I forgot my book,” she said him, trying to sound casual.

Ron nodded, he opened his mouth to say something, but at the last moment, he seemed to think differently and smiled a little. A grateful smile that Hermione was sure she would never see on Draco’s face. Even if she found the right antidote to the poison and saved his life, he would probably never do much more than look at her with less contempt than usual. For a moment, her knees went wobbly and something melted inside her. She smiled back at him, before walking back to the kitchen where a sandwich was sitting on the table.

“Should I bring this to Ron?” she asked Harry, who was giving her his back and preparing the second sandwich.

“No, it’s for you,” he answered, squeezing a tube of mayonnaise on a slice of bread. “Ron said that he had already eaten.”

“What?” she asked, opening her book and searching for the Wound-Healing Potion.

“What – what?” questioned Harry, half turning towards her.

“What did he eat?” she asked, narrowing her eyes in the effort to recall the right page for the Wound-Healing Potion.

Harry stopped with a slice of ham in his hand. “How should I know?” he asked her, frowning. “Why are you worried about that? I mean, he just ate without waiting for us. Not so surprising, it’s Ron, after all.”

“I was just curious, there are no dirty plates here,” she said, nodding towards the sink.

“He washed it?” asked Harry tentatively.

“There are no plates that are draining either,” she replied firmly.

“He washed and dried it?” He looked at her, frowning again. “Why are you asking me about Ron having or not having lunch? He said he did, and I know Ron well enough to know that he had certainly eaten something if he says so.” He stopped for a while, looking thoughtfully in front of him. “Bloody hell, I think I would think that he had eaten something even if he says that he hadn’t. It’s Ron, Hermione.”

“Okay,” agreed Hermione, placing the open book on the table and starting to look for the right ingredients in her bottles. “I was just curious.”

Harry nodded and went back to his sandwich. Then something hit him and he smiled as he turned towards her and said, “Very likely he ate a sandwich as well. I don’t think there’s much he can cook.”

***

“Ron, stay still,” Hermione commanded firmly. Her head was bent over him as she was taking a better look at his cut, and her hand stretched towards his cheek as she was trying to spread the potion on his cheek.

“It stings,” hissed Ron, twisting on the couch.

“For God’s sake, Ron, you are exactly like Malfoy,” she snapped. “You just have to stay still for a moment, then you can twist and moan in pain as long as you want.”

Ron looked at her from the couch, his eyes a little bit darker then before, and his expression was anything but grateful. Hermione was sure that he had the urge to tell her to leave him alone. It didn’t matter if his cut was deep and it ached, he would have preferred to feel that pain rather than the one caused by the potion. “Why don’t you prepare something that acts from the inside?” he questioned her, narrowing his eyes.

“Because this is the quickest potion for healing a cut. All the other potions take a day or two, and this will cure your cheek in half an hour at the most,” she explained, trying to sound calm, while she was not calm at all. She was trying to take care of two boys, and both of them kept on complaining about everything she did. Boys, she thought, annoyed, they just think that everything is about them.

“Just be gentle,” he grumbled, snapping her out of her feminist thoughts.

Hermione looked at him and sighed. “And you just stay still,” she retorted.

Ron nodded and followed her hand as she dipped it into the potion, which was a pale green colour. Then, with the moisture on her fingers, she touched his cheek again. Ron bit his bottom lip, and that prevented him from screaming from the pain, but with his jaw set and his facial muscles tensed up, the operation was even more painful for him.

“Relax,” whispered Hermione sweetly. And to Ron’s great surprise, he relaxed. The cut didn’t stop stinging, nor had Hermione taken her hand away, but her voice had the strength to make him feel like he was in safe hands. And plus he had the opportunity to feel Hermione’s hand on his bare skin.

I must not blush. I must not blush. I must not blush, Ron thought forcefully. Hermione was too near and she could have not only seen his crimson colour, but also sensed the burning hotness coming from his face. He didn’t want to let her know that he was sweating too, and he seriously hoped that she wouldn’t place her fingers on his neck to check his heartbeat, although she would have probably been worried because of its pace.

“Ron, are you all right?” asked Harry, towering over him from the back of the couch.

Ron’s eyes focused again and he found himself staring at Hermione, who was starting to flush as well. He thought that it was because she felt observed by him. He opened his mouth to answer, but the wound hurt him badly, and he had to set his lips and close his eyes.

“Maybe you won’t be able to talk for a while,” he heard Hermione say. “But don’t worry, soon you’ll be like new.”

“He won’t be able to talk? What unexpected good news,” joked Harry, grinning.

Ron tilted his neck and glared at him, but couldn’t reply at all, so he hoped that his dark eyes said enough for him.

Hermione took the bottle in her hands. “I’ll see you later,” she said, walking away.

Ron would have asked her where she was going, why she was leaving him there, instead of watching over his cut and ensuring it healed the right way, but he couldn’t speak. And it would also be useless, he thought bitterly, since I know that she’s going upstairs.
His suspicions were confirmed when he heard her steps on the stairs, climbing up slowly, as if she was paying attention not to spill the potion. Ron tried to shake away the jealousy that he feared was rising inside his mind at the very thought of Draco alone with Hermione. Honestly, it’s Malfoy, he thought with disgust.

Ron felt, rather than saw, Harry’s presence close to him. He was still leaning against the back of the couch, but he wasn’t looking at him anymore. He raised his eyes and looked at Harry, and noticed that his friend’s attention was turned towards the stairs that Ron could not see. Harry looked thoughtful, as if he had more things on his mind than he would have ever wanted to talk about. For a moment, Harry’s face overlapped Draco’s in Ron’s mind, and his eyes were lit with the colour of fire.

***

“What happened?”

Hermione didn’t even have the chance to open the door and step inside the bedroom before he was questioning her about something that she wasn’t so keen to tell him. She didn’t want to let him know that she had passed out, that Ron had screamed, and that they had both been assaulted by some invisible force in the bathroom.

She entered and glanced at Draco. He was pale, paler than before, and tense; his head stood a couple of inches from the pillow, and the frame of his muscles was now visible on his stomach. She thought that he must have felt terrible pain, because of the tension around his wound, but his face was set with a look of intense determination.

Hermione stood in the door for a while, looking from his facial features down to his neck, where the veins stood out like little poisoned snakes. She continued to follow the curves of his torso and caress the muscles of his stomach with her eyes. She took a deep breath and shook her head, in the desperate attempt to shove any thought about Draco to the back of her head.

“So?” asked Draco, annoyed by her silence. His head fell back on the pillow and his body relaxed. All of a sudden, the wound on his stomach filled with blood, but this time it was just a tiny line between the greenish edges of the wound, as if he hadn’t enough blood left to fill his cut.

Hermione closed the door and walked towards the bed. She placed the bottle on the bedside table and looked at him, her expression unreadable. “You drank the Blood-Replenishing Potion, didn’t you?” she asked.

He didn’t answer, but shoved into her hands the empty bottle that lay on the other bedside table. The walls of the bottle were a bit red from the remains of the potion, Hermione noted. “When?”

“When what?” asked Draco.

“When did you drink it? Because it seems like it isn’t working,” she answered, nodding towards his cut. The blood had stopped flowing.

“I’ve just drunk it,” he replied darkly.

“Just – when?”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Tell me what happened out there and I’ll tell you when I’ve drunk this bloody potion,” he snapped.

Hermione frowned. What did he care? Why was he so keen to find out what had happened earlier that he didn’t even wait for her to enter that bedroom? Was this just curiosity? She didn’t think so. Then what? Maybe Ron was right, and she shouldn’t have trusted Draco Malfoy in that stupid and dangerous way that she was doing. Maybe he was just preparing a trap for them, and now he wanted to know if that scream he had heard was caused by an attack of his Death Eater colleagues. After all, they still didn’t know much about how he ended up at Godric’s Hollow or how he managed to find them.

“Granger!” he called her forcefully.

Hermione blinked as his voice brought her back to reality.

“What the hell happened in there?” he asked, and she was surprised to hear a note of urgency. No, she wasn’t surprised, but alarmed.

“Why do you want to know?” she asked sharply.

Draco narrowed his grey eyes, and it seemed like he was going to cross his arms on his chest, but he couldn’t, for the pain prevented him from doing so. “Why don’t you want to tell me? I heard Weasel screaming –”

“It’s none of your business,” she cried out.

“– and Potter was calling your name. And he was afraid.”

Hermione looked at him and frowned. “Was he afraid?”

“Why are you asking me? Didn’t you hear him?” he questioned haughtily.

“Oh fine,” she snapped, sitting on the bed next to him. “I fainted, that’s why I didn’t hear him. Are you happy now?”

Draco’s face was indecipherable. “Why did you faint?” he asked flatly.

Hermione bit her bottom lip. “For the same reason Ron screamed. Something hit us.”

“Something hit you?” asked Draco without understanding.

Hermione nodded.

“And this something has a name?”

Hermione pretended to think. “Nasty invisible force,” she answered.

“An invisible force?” asked Draco, and instead of being surprised, he seemed concerned.

“Don’t forget the nasty part.”

“What happened exactly?”

“Why do you mind so much?”

Draco glared at her. “You started to tell, I’m curious.”

“I was in the bathroom,” she started slowly, looking intently at Draco to capture any reaction to her story. Fear, relief, annoyance. “I was looking at the hickey on my neck and was trying to think of some way to hide it, when the door opened and Ron entered. But I didn’t see him until he spoke.”

“What did he say?” asked Draco, poking her into talking.

Hermione half-closed her eyes in the attempt to concentrate. What did he say? Something about my neck… The colour drained from her face as she recalled what Ron had told her.

“Something about the hickey?” asked Draco, and in his voice was cold and calculating, as if he was trying to see if an experiment had worked.

“I-I don’t know,” she answered.

“You don’t know? You are kidding me,” snapped Draco. “You said he spoke.”

“He asked me something about my neck, not about the hickey,” she replied. “No, not about the hickey, because he didn’t know that I already had it before I fell.”

“What?”

“He suggested that it could have been a bruise from the falling,” she explained.

Draco looked at her. “And that’s all?” he asked.

She nodded.

“But you were afraid, weren’t you? And he sounded threatening,” he continued.

Hermione looked at him shocked. “What are you talking about? What should I have been afraid of? Ron?”

“Afraid that he might have found out your little affair with Potter,” he replied.

“I have no affair with Harry, Malfoy,” she snapped. “And yes, I was afraid that he could have seen the hickey, but he didn’t sound threatening.”

“He must have,” murmured Draco.

Hermione frowned. She was giving him the usual look of half hatred and half envy that she used to give him back at Hogwarts when Snape chose his raised hand for answering a question, instead of hers. “Why?” she asked sharply. “And what do you know that we don’t, Malfoy?”

Draco smirked. “Well, I know a lot more than Weasel, and I think I’m better than Potter in some fields as well, about you –”

“You are plotting something,” hissed Hermione, and it wasn’t a question or a supposition.

“Apart from dying for loss of your cures?”

“Don’t be clever with me, I know that you know something that we don’t,” she snapped. “You are plotting something against us.”

“Is it just me, or does this conversation sound a little bit like a Weasley-ish one?”

“It’s you.”

Draco shook his head. “Just give me that potion already, and then go downstairs and tell your little friends that I’m a Death Eater.”

Hermione seemed ready to shove her hands in his wound and pull out his liver and throw it out of the window. But instead, she seized the bottle on the bedside table and poured some of the potion on her fingers, paying careful attention not to spill it on the floor.

She turned, and without looking at his face, she moved her hands towards the wound so quickly that Draco didn’t even have the time to stop or question her about what she was using on him.

But when she started to trace the length of his cut with her fingertips, he pushed her away as he had done every time he felt her touch on his bare skin. For a moment, both of them thought that it was almost a habit, rather than the fact that she was hurting him.

“Stop struggling,” she commanded. “Stop moving. Stop talking. Stop being such a child.”

“Anything else?”

“Yes, stop complaining about everything I do to you,” she snapped.

Draco smirked and was almost certainly going to make quite a nasty remark about her last phrase, if she hadn’t been quicker. Her fingers were already moving to his cut again, sending something very close to blinding pain from his stomach up to his torso and shoulders. And that closed his mouth and took away his breath as well.

“You are just like Ron,” murmured Hermione.

Draco gasped sharply for air as she reached the middle of his stomach, right under his navel. Hermione stopped and raised her eyes to his face; he was a greenish and unhealthy colour, and she couldn’t help feeling a little bad for him. She shook her head. She didn’t want to feel for bad for Draco.

“Why?” he asked, his voice curt of air.

“Why?” she repeated without understanding.

“Why am I just like Weasley? You didn’t exactly pay me a compliment,” he muttered.

She sighed. “Because he complained just like you when I spread this potion on his wound.”

“Is Weasley wounded?” he asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Just a little cut on his cheek,” she answered. “Nothing serious. And with this potion, it’ll be healed in half an hour.”

“How did –”

“When the force hit him, Malfoy,” she hissed. “Are you back with the questions?”

“You didn’t tell me everything,” he hissed back.

“And you didn’t tell me anything at all,” she retorted. “When did you drink the potion?”

“About ten minutes ago. Why are you so obsessed over this potion, Granger?” he asked, his voice weary.

“Because it has not yet worked, evidently,” she explained. “Your wound doesn’t even manage to fill with blood. And you are pale. So pale –” She placed a hand on his forehead and, without noticing, her long hair brushed his naked chest. “– and hot. You still have a fever, and your cheeks should be crimson, but instead they are only a pale pink colour.”

She moved away from his forehead, and Draco opened his mouth to speak, but instead he inhaled deeply, noticing only at that moment that he had been holding his breath while she was so close to him. Why? he wondered, genuinely surprised. And he came to the conclusion that she was giving him something new, something that came close to respect. Not that he hadn’t been respected in his life and especially in the last few months, but this was totally different. She was showing him – he didn’t know what to call it. Affection? Yes, very probably it was that. And he hated her for that, because this was stirring something in him that was sure to make his life all the more difficult.

“Malfoy, are you even listening to me?” she snapped. Draco raised his eyes on her face and blinked.

“Sure,” he answered, smirking. “You were talking about my colour.”

“That was ages ago,” she snorted. “I was asking you if I could go on spreading the potion.”

Draco looked at her uncomfortably. “Now you ask me,” he said, looking at some point past her shoulder. “I thought you liked to catch me off guard.”

Hermione flushed without an apparent reason. “I thought that if I had alerted you, you would have felt less pain,” she murmured. “Because you were ready for it.”

“Of course, and you want to make me believe that you care,” he answered haughtily.

Hermione blushed even more, and this time there was a reason. He had the power to get on her nerves so quickly that it was almost incredible that she had not yet slapped him across his face, just like she had back in their third year. “No,” she hissed. “You are right, I don’t care.”

Draco regretted what he said because she started to spread the potion on his open wound without waiting for his answer or being as gentle as she was earlier. Her fingers sunk into his unhealed cut, and he was sure that she felt a pleasant sense of revenge for the way he was treating her. Not a very nice gesture from the sidekick of the hero to the wizarding world, but he was sure that he would have done the same if he was in her place. He closed his eyes, bit his bottom lip, and clenched his fists. He dug his nails into his palms, dragging away the pain from his stomach to other parts of his body and in someway lessening it. He would not give her the satisfaction of hearing him screaming in pain.

He could tell that Hermione had finished not because he felt her fingers leaving his skin, which was now thankfully numb, but because he sensed her weight lifting from the bed.

He opened his eyes and looked as she collected the bottles from the bedside table and walked towards the door. She placed her hand on the handle and stopped.

“Even if you hate me, Malfoy,” she hissed, “that doesn’t mean that I don’t care for you.”

And she walked out of the bedroom without even turning to glance at him.

***

Ron opened his mouth and closed it. Then he opened it and closed it another time. And then again. He brought his left hand to his cheek and brushed it. It was soft and perfectly smooth, as if he had never had anything, especially not a deep cut that went from his eye to his jaw.

“I think you can also speak now,” said Harry, observing his movements from the armchair opposite to the couch. “Come on, I’m getting bored.”

Ron looked at Harry. “Err – hi,” he stammered hoarsely.

“Yes, well, something more interesting maybe?” teased Harry.

“I was just giving my voice a try,” answered Ron defensibly. “Wouldn’t like it if it resembled the Dark Lord’s.”

Harry laughed. “Why not? It’s so wicked,” he joked.

Ron snorted. “By the way, is Hermione still up there?” he asked, nodding towards the second floor.

Harry shrugged. “Yes, I think,” he answered. “I heard some moans, and I bet that Malfoy is suffering unbearable pain from that potion.”

“I hope so,” murmured Ron coldly.

Harry gave him a peculiar look. Ron hoped that Draco was suffering unbearable pain? Was that normal? Was he hoping that, too? No, he wasn’t. He and Ron had the same experiences with the Slytherin, but Ron seemed much more venomous towards him than Harry had ever been. Why? He remembered the figure of Viktor Krum under Ron’s bed, broken and angrily thrown away only because the real Viktor went to the Yule Ball with Hermione. And now he was acting just like he had in that period with the Bulgarian Quidditch player. Was it possible that Ron was jealous of Draco? Harry chuckled. No, it was impossible. It was just Draco, and Ron hated him. That was all.

“What’s so funny?” Ron asked him.

“Nothing,” answered Harry a little bit too quickly. “What were we talking about?”

“About Hermione being still upstairs,” answered Ron darkly. “Alone with Malfoy. I wonder what the hell is taking her so long to –”

“Just Malfoy’s stubbornness,” answered an icy voice at Ron’s back. “And the fact that he, just like you, didn’t stay still.”

Hermione circled the couch and Ron looked at her, his cheeks the colour of fire.

“What were you saying about me being alone with Malfoy? What exactly do you think I was doing?” she asked coldly, placing her hands on her hips in a way that reminded Ron of his mother.

But she wasn’t his mother and Ron wasn’t a child anymore, so he stood up from the couch, towering over her, and crossed his arms on his chest. His eyes were dark, and Harry had the sudden thought that he was going to slap her. “And what were you doing exactly?”

Hermione glared at him. “Just spreading the potion on his wound, exactly like I did with you,” she snapped.

“It took you long enough,” he hissed.

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “What’s your problem, Ron?” she asked.

“What’s my problem? What’s your problem, Hermione?” snapped Ron. “It’s not me that came down here and started to yell.”

“I didn’t yell,” she screamed. “I’m doing it right now, but I didn’t yell earlier. And I thought the first thing you would have said when you could speak was ‘thank you for curing me, Hermione’, but no, naturally not. You are much too stubborn to think that I might have wanted some thanks.”

Harry observed them with his eyebrows raised. Hermione seemed ready to hex Ron, and Ron looked like he would have hexed her back if she started a fight. He couldn’t fully understand what was going on, though; Hermione had just climbed down the stairs and she and Ron had started to scream at each other, without a concrete reason. But that was not all, because Harry couldn’t comprehend what was going on in his own mind as well. While he looked at his friends, he felt the urge to stand between them and protect Hermione from Ron. He shook his head and shoved that thought to the back of his head, convincing himself that it was useless, since Ron would have never touched her, not even with a finger.

But he was wrong, because all of a sudden, Ron took a step towards Hermione, and for a moment both Harry and Hermione feared that he was going to hurt her. Harry jumped to his feet, but froze when he saw Ron placing his hands on Hermione’s hips and pulled her towards him. His arms slid around her back and circled her protectively, and Ron closed his eyes, leaning his head on Hermione’s bushy hair.

Hermione felt her cheeks blush, as her body was melting against Ron’s. She could feel his tensed muscles under the thin fabric of his shirt, and the image of Draco flashed in front of her eyes as she remembered seeing his bare chest. Ron tightened his grip on her body and her heart skipped a beat before starting to race. She couldn’t hear Ron’s breath, though, as if he were holding his breath to concentrate on her every reaction. And then her mind was dragged away from that whirl of emotions as her skin started to tingle where it was making contact with Ron’s body. At first, it was an imperceptible sensation, as if she were dipping in a tub filled with an effervescent drink and the bubbles were brushing her skin. But then the sensation became stronger and the tickle that she had found pleasant started to transform into something painful, and then it became unbearable, and she felt as if her skin was on fire and at the same time pierced by thousands of needles.

Harry didn’t know what happened. A minute earlier Ron and Hermione were fighting, and a moment later Ron was hugging her. He felt embarrassed because he was just standing there, without doing anything other than watching them. A part of his brain was telling him to walk away, to go into the kitchen, to go upstairs and start a nice discussion about Quidditch with Draco, to do something at least, instead of staying there and watching them, but he couldn’t because there was another part of his brain that was telling him to hex Ron away from Hermione. And after what seemed like ages to him, it didn’t seem necessary anymore. Hermione bit her bottom lip, preventing a scream that almost escaped her lips, and started to struggle under Ron’s arms, trying to find a way to break the embrace.

“Ron,” she moaned, but it wasn’t the same moan that Harry had heard earlier that morning in the cemetery. She was moaning from the pain. “Ron, let me go,” she pleaded, her voice broken.

As if her words had some magical effect on him, his muscles relaxed and he moved his arms away from her back, slowly letting her go. Ron stepped back and looked at her in shock when he saw the intense pain in her eyes. As though he had just slapped her, instead of hugging her.

The silence that fell upon them was so thick that they could have cut it with a knife. The only things that they could hear were their breath and the imperceptible sound of their heartbeats.

Ron frowned, shook his head, and backed away a little. He opened his mouth to say something, but no sound exited. He looked at Hermione, and she looked back at him, locking her eyes into his and rubbing her hands as if she has just dipped them into some bubotuber pus and was now trying to give them some relief.

“Ron, I –”

“Don’t,” he warned her. “Don’t say anything.”

“Ron, it’s not what you –”

“Hermione, just shut up,” he said bitterly. And without even waiting for her to reply, he walked out of the living room, and into the kitchen. Harry and Hermione heard the back door bang and some soft steps on the stairs on the back.

If Harry hadn’t understood what had happened until that very moment, now he was even more confused. He looked at Hermione as she stood there with a crestfallen expression on her face, and tears that were already drying on her cheeks. He hadn’t even noticed her cry. He moved towards her and stretched out a hand to touch her, but Hermione backed away and looked at him.

“Harry, I didn’t mean to…”

Harry nodded. “I know Hermione,” he lied; he didn’t know anything at all. “It must be hard after all –”

“No,” she cut him off. “No, it hurt, it really did.”

“Well, it’s normal, after all the time that you two –”

“No,” she exclaimed forcefully. “No. Look.” Hermione stretched her arms towards him and Harry couldn’t help recoiling in horror. Her hands were red and covered with little pulsating blisters, which seemed ready to burst in any moment. Her long sleeves covered her arms up to her wrists, but Harry was sure that the blisters went on even under the texture.

“What –?”

But in the exact moment he spoke, the blisters were swallowed back in her flesh and her skin paled, becoming the rosy and normal colour that it should have been.

“Hermione?” Harry called her, tearing his eyes away from her hands. Hermione glanced up at him. “What happened?” he asked.

Hermione shook her head. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I just know that it hurt.”

“I bet it hurt. Bloody hell, now I know why you couldn’t help but resist being in Ron’s arms, it must have been an excruciating pain to bear. Let’s go find Ron and explain to him what happened,” he proposed.

“No,” she refused.

“Why not?”

“Because it was Ron’s proximity that caused this,” she murmured. “I didn’t have any blisters or welts before he touched me.”

“You mean that you had this kind of allergic reaction to Ron’s contact?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Allergic reaction?” she repeated surprised. “I don’t know, it never happened before.”

“Have you ever touched Ron before?”

“Of course I have,” hissed Hermione, narrowing her eyes in an effort to recall every time she had touched Ron. All the other times she was perfectly fine.

“Then it’s not something Ron-related, is it?”

“How should I know?” she asked, surprised by the fact that she couldn’t think of anything at all, while Harry came up with so many theories in that short amount of time. She came to the conclusion that she was still upset about the fact that Ron had hugged her, and the fact that her skin had almost cracked in a thousand blisters.

“Want to try an experiment?” asked Harry softly.

Hermione frowned, but when she saw his hand rising towards her cheek, she understood and didn’t move. Harry’s hand brushed her cheek, and then his palm leaned and pressed gently on her skin. Hermione closed her eyes and let out a sigh while the warm hand caressed her. She liked it and again, her heart started to race while one of her friends touched her. She would have stayed there forever, with Harry's hand on her cheek and his soft breath in her ears. His palm was smooth, and contrary to what had happened with Ron, it didn’t give any sign of hurting her.

“Nothing?” Harry’s voice broke into her thoughts.

Hermione’s eyes flew open. “Nothing,” she answered.

Harry nodded, and took away his hand. “I would try another time,” he murmured, without moving. He stood there, looking at her as if waiting for her to do something.

“So?” she asked, smiling a little.

“No, not with me.”

“Malfoy?” she asked surprised.

Harry nodded. “Just touch him.”

“And if he doesn’t want to be touched by me?” she asked darkly.

“Petrify him,” answered Harry simply, with a little shrug.

Hermione frowned, but she didn’t reply; she didn’t even know what to say. She was clueless about what was happening, and the only thing that she felt was the desire to stay there with Harry. But she was too curious, and Harry’s suggestion seemed too good to ignore. She turned and climbed up the stairs as noiselessly as she could, feeling Harry’s eyes on her back.

She reached the landing and walked into the bedroom. She opened the door quietly without knowing why; she wanted to make as little noise as possible. And when she saw Draco, she understood that it had been a good idea not to stomp into the room.

He was sleeping, or better, he was knocked out from the pain. That would let her have her way with him. She walked slowly towards him and looked at him carefully. He was sweaty and still terribly pale, as if the Blood-Replenishing Potion had not had any effect on him. She wondered if she had done something wrong, and hoped that she hadn’t.

Draco’s arms lay at his sides; he had managed to cover himself up to his chest with some of the covers, but his arms were exposed to her. Hermione looked at the bare skin of his neck and his shoulder and wondered if he would have mind too much if she touched him. A filthy Mudblood? she thought sulkily, of course he’ll mind.

She put her hand on his left upper arm, and waited. What was she expecting to feel? Pain? No, she wasn’t feeling pain. He was hot. And she was fine with that sensation under her palm. No pain, no blisters, no red skin.

She sighed, her heart nearly broken by the fact that only Ron caused that reaction in her. She moved her hand away, but something caught her attention, and she seized his arm again, bending over it. There was a black spot on his left arm, right under the hollow of his elbow, almost hidden by the fact that it was on the inside part of his upper limb. She felt her heart racing. Could it be the Dark Mark?

She seized his hand with hers and with the other, she gripped his upper arm, without noticing that she was tightening her grasp almost spasmodically.

Why didn’t she notice it before? She had been too focused on taking care of him. Taking care of a Death Eater, she thought bitterly. But Ron and Harry? They had always been positive that he was one of Voldemort’s followers, why didn’t they point that out to her? Didn’t they look for the Dark Mark? Didn’t they see it? And why hadn’t Malfoy done anything to mask it?

She shook her head. She had not yet turned his arm, and was already coming to a thousand conclusions. Maybe it wasn’t at all what she thought it was. She snorted. How probable was it that he was a real Death Eater at only seventeen years old?

Hermione gulped, and started to turn the arm upside down. But the pressure of her fingers on his arm had become too strong, and Draco wasn’t too deeply asleep to notice it. And Hermione was too focused on what she was going to be aware of his right arm coming closer to her head, taking a fist of her curls and dragging her down on the bed next to him.

She didn’t have the time to understand what was happening, because Draco pressed his left hand on her mouth and she felt his hot breath on her ear as he came closer and cleared his throat before speaking.

Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
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Author's Notes: Thanks to Julie for beta-reading this, and thanks to the wonderful MajiKat for this beautiful banner. It's perfect, isn't it? There's Godric's Hollow, the cemetery and the main characters of my ff (and hopefully this banner will bring me more readers... Thanks to Abigail, who went through this another time. 



“Just tell me what I have to do to keep your hands away from me, Granger,” Draco hissed in her ear, his right hand sliding slowly on her cheek, leaving her mouth free to answer, or rather scream, back at him.

But Hermione didn’t want to scream, nor did she have a clue on what to say to him. She was lost in thought, as Draco’s quick and hot breath echoed in her right ear. She couldn’t take her mind off the fact that he was close to her as he had never been before, unless she considered the previous night. He was on his side, and she had her back against his stomach. She could feel locks of his hair brushing her temple as he bent over her. For some reason, she was fine with his closeness.

“Do you have the Dark Mark on your arm?” she asked, and her voice seemed unrecognisable to herself as much as to him. It was thick with emotion, fear, and excitement.

Draco moved his arm away from her cheek and turned on his back, letting her go. He looked at the ceiling and wondered why Hermione didn’t move away, why she didn’t stand up from the bed or turn to face him. Maybe she was afraid to let him know that she would have been scared if he answered that yes, he had the Dark Mark tattooed on his arm. He smirked, pleased with himself; he loved to scare the little know-it-all.

“Would it make any difference?” he asked sourly. “I tried to kill Dumbledore. Would a bloody tattoo make any difference at all?”

“I don’t know,” admitted Hermione, and it was true. She didn’t know. She had to see it to understand how she would have felt.

“And what if I have it?” he asked, turning back towards her. “Will you kill me? Just like Weasley would love to do.”

“Ron doesn’t want to kill you,” she said, but her voice was unsure. “He simply doesn’t like you. And can you blame him?” she asked sharply.

Draco laughed. “No, how could I? I want him dead.”

“No, you don’t,” she murmured, causing his laughter to stop. “I don’t think you want that at all.”

“And you know everything, don’t you?” he hissed.

“I know enough,” she answered. Her eyes wandered around the bedroom as she still lay on the bed. She didn’t want to stand up; there was something keeping her there. “And if you didn’t have the heart to kill Dumbledore, you would never be able to kill Ron or Harry.”

Draco narrowed his eyes. He turned on his side again; it hurt him a lot, but he would have suffered ten times more than that if he could have the chance to threaten her. He placed his hand on her upper arm and gripped it with a strength that he didn’t know he had and moved towards her. “And what about you?” he hissed. “Do you think that I’d be able to kill you?”

Hermione shivered. His nails were digging in her skin through her shirt, but she didn’t move; she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he was hurting her.

“You wouldn’t,” she answered softly.

“Want me to try?” he asked challengingly, venom in his every word as he gripped her arm tighter.

Now it was Hermione’s turn to laugh. The situation was too strange. An injured boy, who couldn’t even manage to turn fully on the bed he was lying on, was threatening her with death. It was absolutely crazy. She moved her hand up and seized his, tossing it away from her. Then she stood up, smoothed her shirt and glanced down at Draco, who was breathing stiffly, raggedly, from the effort of moving.

“Seriously, Malfoy, we can talk about this when you have your health back,” she teased him. “Can I see your arm now?”

Draco fell on his back again. All of his threatening words and gestures had resulted in excruciating pain in his lower belly. He wasn’t even sure that it was all that effective, since Hermione seemed anything but scared by him. “Go on,” he said softly, offering her his left arm.

Hermione bit her bottom lip and took his wrist in her hand, turning the arm towards her. The dark stain that she had spotted was a bruise. A bruise almost five inches long that ran from his elbow down his arm. It was a dark purple colour with shades of black and violet. It was quite big and stood out on his white skin like a stain of ink on a piece of parchment. “What is it?” she asked hoarsely. She didn’t know if she was relieved or angry.

Draco smirked. “Disappointed?” he asked, jerking away his arm from her.

Hermione raised her eyes on his face. “How did you get that bruise?” she asked.

“I’ve a wound that goes from hip to hip on my stomach, don’t you think that maybe I also received something else with it?” he asked sharply.

“This bruise?”

Draco nodded.

“So there’s no chance that you’ll ever tell me how you got it, is there?”

Draco pretended to think. “No,” he answered, smirking. “Not in a million years.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. How much could a girl hate a boy? If that boy is Draco Malfoy, I can hate him enough to find Voldemort almost pleasant, she thought bitterly. She turned on her heels to leave the bedroom, suddenly boiling with rage.

“Hey, Granger!”

Hermione turned to glance at Draco, an annoyed look on her face. “What?” she demanded rudely.

“There’s still the dirty gauze at the bottom of the bed,” he said, kicking the sheets with his foot and causing the gauze to fall. “Oops, I meant on the floor,” he added mockingly.

Hermione narrowed her eyes, but he was right. That gauze had to be thrown away. Never mind how disgusting it was. It had been there since early that afternoon and it was already starting to smell. She walked towards the bottom of the bed and knelt down to pick up the gauze dyed the colour of his dried blood. As she did so, she noticed something that had been under the bed since two days before. Something that she had almost forgotten, something that she had wanted to give Harry since the very first moment she found it. Lily’s diary. She stretched an arm under the bed and pulled it out, looking at it as if it was as dangerous as the Monster Book of Monsters or Tom Riddle's diary.

“Granger, what are you doing?” asked Draco from the bed. He couldn’t see her or what she was doing. “What’s taking you so long? I need to take a nap, and I won’t be able to sleep if I know that you are crawling under my bed.”

Hermione stood up, the diary clasped against her chest, her eyes flashing dangerously. “First of all, Malfoy,” she answered icily, “it’s my bed. And second, I’ve finished and I’m –”

“What’s that?” he asked, nodding towards the diary.

“Nothing,” she answered, looking down. “None of your business.”

“It’s a book,” he answered for her. “And it’s old. What is it? And why was it under my bed?”

“My bed, Malfoy!” yelled Hermione. “And it’s not a book, it’s a diary. My diary!”

Draco looked a bit taken aback, as if she hadn’t lost her temper before. How could she possibly mind about a diary so much? “Okay, I was just asking,” he said defensively.

“Next time, don’t ask!” she snapped, and walked out of the bedroom with the diary in one hand and the ball of gauze in the other.

***

Hermione looked carefully from the stairs into the living room. The last thing she wanted was to find Harry in front of her while she was reading his mother’s diary without telling him. She felt like someone that was going to do something completely wrong, knew it perfectly well, but couldn't do otherwise. Like a child who steals some chocolate from the cupboard even if his mother had told him that he could not have any until after dinner. There was something irresistible for her in that diary, and she felt like she should be the one to read it, not Harry. But that was wrong. Terribly wrong.

The first floor of the cottage was empty. Harry and Ron were nowhere in sight. She let out a sigh of relief – that meant that she could read the diary without being disturbed. Hermione wondered briefly where her friends could be. Ron, she knew, had walked out of the cottage for the third time. She wondered where he had gone. But what about Harry? Where could he possibly be?

I’m sure that Harry has gone looking for Ron, she thought as a warm feeling bubbled up. Harry was a good friend, and she knew that. The current situation, however, was perfect for her, because she had the whole house to herself. She walked towards the middle of the living room, and kicking off her shoes, she sat on the couch and curled up with her legs nearly against her chest. She placed the diary on her knees and opened it.

She flipped through the pages slowly; the very first one consisted of the passage she had already read, while the other ten or so were just annotations about bills for water, gas, or the telephone. She was surprised to see that they had a telephone, and from the phone numbers reported, they must have used it a lot. She remembered Ron using a telephone once and wondered if James would have been just like him. Naturally, Lily must have been better than her husband, since she was a Muggle-born, but who she would have called was a mystery. Earlier that summer, she and Ron had spent some time at Little Whinging with Harry’s relatives, and she had finally understood why Lily had cut her sister from her life. Hermione thought that Petunia probably wasn’t the one Lily called, and there were no other living relatives left to Harry other than his aunt.

Hermione shook her head forcefully, trying to understand why she was giving so much importance to some stupid phone calls. She turned some other pages and finally found some entries in a more narrative form.

Hermione looked around herself one last time, before leaning her chin against her palm and starting to read the diary.

Day three.

Nothing new. Dumbledore asked us to meet him in the Muggle pub in this village; he said that he had important news to tell us. Apparently this important news was that You-Know-Who is still looking for us up north, and he’s nearly clueless about where we are. At least that’s some good news. Peter is still missing. It’s already a couple of weeks that we haven’t heard from him, I really hope he’s al lright. Dumbledore is really worried about him, but I don’t think for the same reasons. Dumbledore didn’t seem to trust Peter much. I don’t think he will ever betray us, but he’s not as strong as Sirius or as smart as Remus; at least he’s not as eye-catching as they are. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named can’t even imagine that Peter is the one holding the secret to the place where the prophecy will be fulfilled. I’ve also tried to get some more information about this village. I’m sure it has something to do with Godric Gryffindor. Though why a Muggle village is named after a famous wizard, I can’t tell. Dumbledore seems to know something about this, but he just answered in his usual manner with a wink and a smile that could mean everything and nothing. Anyway, the people in this place don’t seem really keen on making any kind of conversation, and I couldn’t learn much more than what I already knew.

Day four.

I’ve been to the cemetery. It’s beautiful, and it opens on the glen behind the village. I love the church; I would like to see the inside someday. James keeps on telling me that I shouldn’t wander alone in this place, but the Muggle newspapers don’t seem to be reporting anything that could link You-Know-Who to this place. I think that we’ll be safe here. Anyway, back to the cemetery subject, I found something really interesting. The eldest tomb here is more than a thousand years old, which is incredible because the first inhabitants settled in this place only seven hundred years ago. Or at least that’s what the sign says. I can’t remember very well, but I’m pretty sure that some famous wizard used to live here in the fourteenth century. I’ll have a look at the books that I’ve brought with me. Harry is crying, I bet it’s because James can’t change the channel on the TV, and he was watching a horror movie. I better go downstairs and check on them.

Hermione turned the page. There was an ink drawing of a baby with messy black hair. He didn’t wear glasses, nor did he have the lightning bolt-shaped scar, but Hermione recognised him immediately. He looked very much like James, or so she imagined, since she hadn’t actually known him. She let her fingers slide on the drawing; the parchment was rough under her skin and she could feel the lines of ink. She turned the page again.

Day seven.

Not much time for writing these days. James was bored two days ago and he decided to go downstairs to have a look at the cellar. Yes, there’s a cellar in this cottage, but we didn’t know how to get into it until we found that small door on the back lawn. It was well hidden by leaves and roots, but still accessible. Downstairs is a mess and James had decided to tidy it up. And since I’ve not much to do while Harry sleeps, I’m helping him. But this morning we found a door that we haven’t been able to open and James said that he wants to knock it down. It seems quite strong and since we can’t perform magic, I don’t know how he’s going to do it. I don’t think that he knows either, and that’s good because it will keep him busy for a while. At least he has something to do.

Day eight.

Dumbledore called. Apparently he’s well accustomed to using a telephone. I don’t know when he learned that or where he calls from, but he keeps in touch. Although we haven’t had any news about You-Know-Who, his fellow Death Eaters have attacked Stratford-Upon-Avon. Lots of people died. I can’t imagine leaving Harry’s side! If James and I didn’t survive or were permanently injured, Harry would end up with Petunia and her husband. No, I don’t think she would keep him, but she’s the only living relative left. The thought makes my skin itch. And I bet it would have the same effect on Petunia. After all, there’s always Sirius, if Petunia doesn’t want Harry...

Later. Oh my goodness! I’m still laughing so much. It was almost four days ago that I was thinking about the name of that famous wizard that used to live here, and couldn’t find it anywhere. And James knew it! Of course, he did! If it has something to do with Quidditch, he always does. Bowman Wright, who invented the Golden Snitch, was from Godric’s Hollow.

Day twelve.

The door is still in place. I told James to let it alone, but he wouldn’t listen to me. He can be so stubborn sometimes. If Harry turns out to be like him when he is older, I’ll have quite a lot of work to do to keep them quiet. I’ve met one of the neighbours today as well. He seemed nice, and that was
strange, since he’s the first nice person I’ve met here. He is old, with snow white hair that frames his wrinkled face like a mane. I wonder how old he could be, very old indeed, but I couldn’t tell his age. James doesn’t like him, he said that he’s strange. I’m not sure what he meant by that, but I think he’s strange too, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not nice. He lives here on the main street of Godric’s Hollow, in a house that I’ve never seen before. I invited him over for tea one of these days and he accepted. He said that he knows a lot about this place, and he’ll… 

Hermione lifted her eyes from the diary when she heard the back door open. She snapped the book closed and hid it under the closest pillow, trying to wear her most angelic expression over her face while the footsteps neared her.

***

Harry looked around. The cold afternoon was slowly sliding into an even colder evening, and the sun was setting behind the hills at the far west of the village. He tightened the coat around his waist as he kept walking unhurriedly in front of the houses on the main street. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for. Maybe Ron, maybe something else. Maybe he just needed to stay away from Hermione. Hermione. Her face was imprinted in his mind like the negative of a picture, and he didn’t know why. He had always thought of her as a friend, a sister. One of his two best friends, she and Ron. And he had always thought that she would end up with Ron. It was so obvious to everyone but them. He had felt the urge to hit his friends during the whole last school year, every time that they proved to be so oblivious of their feeling for one other.

And now the very thought of Hermione with Ron made him feel emotions that he would have never believed possible. He felt angry and sick, as though Hermione was already his, and only his. He hoped that a walk in the fresh air of the evening would help him clear his head, but the farther he got from the cottage, the more he wanted to go back and stay with Hermione.

“Isn’t late for such a young boy to be wandering alone in these streets? Isn’t the lovely milady waiting for you at home?”

Harry stopped. The voice that had spoken – he knew it. He turned to face the old man he had already met twice and that had taken up a part of his mind since that morning. Only a part though, since Hermione occupied the other piece. “I didn’t hear you,” he said flatly. Harry couldn’t find anything else to say.

“Yes, nobody ever does,” murmured the man. “I can be pretty noiseless.”

Harry looked at him, and for the first time noticed that the man had lot of hair. It looked like a mane. The old man was smiling to him, but his smile was strange, as though he held all the mysteries of the world and would never tell them.

“Pretty noiseless, like silent Apparition requires?” asked Harry forcefully. It wouldn’t have been the first time that the man appeared and disappeared, and Harry thought that he had a quite high possibility that he was right. Even if he hadn’t heard the subtle ‘pop’ that usually accompanied an Apparition.

The old man smiled. “I don’t need to Apparate any more,” he replied calmly.

“I can’t remember your name,” snapped Harry, while he was trying to understand what the man’s words meant.

“I haven’t told you.” The man locked his piercing eyes with Harry, and Harry noticed that they were the colour of honey and gold; they were warm and calm. And Harry didn’t even feel the urge to look away, as he thought he would have.

And then, all of a sudden, Harry felt like his brain was split in two and someone was having a close look at his thoughts. He felt the way he felt when he was having lessons from Snape. He knew the man was using Legilimency on him. Harry staggered and stepped back, scared mostly from the fact that he knew he wasn’t able to block the man out.

“You have to forgive me,” said the man, smiling. “I just wanted to see how far you already were.”

Harry brought his hand to his pocket, where his wand lay, but didn’t take it out. The man was strange, but in some way, he didn’t seem dangerous. “Far from what?” he asked suspiciously.

“You are just like I remember,” sighed the man. “You don’t trust me, do you? Your wife. Your wife was much more trusting than you. Wasn’t she?”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “My wife is too trusting,” he answered. Then his hand flew automatically to his mouth and he stood there frozen. My wife? he thought. What…

“Not quite so far, but you are already at a good point, aren’t you?”

“What are you talking about?” asked Harry. His heart beat furiously in his chest. He had the terrible sensation that that man was referring to him as if he were a cake that was baking in the oven. “Who are you?”

“I’ve already told you that you’ll find out everything when the time is right,” thundered the man, and for a moment he seemed ancient and young at the same time, and he stood in front of Harry like a statue. “And believe me, I always keep my promises. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”

Harry felt the urge to scream at him, just as he did with Dumbledore back in his fifth year. He didn’t want to be left so clueless, didn’t want to wait for the right time. He was an adult now. He was ready for some shocking news, like he had been ready for most of his life.

“But what –” His voice died in his throat. The man wasn’t there anymore. Had he been lost in his thoughts so deeply that he hadn't noticed that the man had walked away? Walk away? Let’s say disappear, thought Harry bitterly.

He turned towards the direction he had come from. His parents’ cottage was visible at the end of the main street, and he started to walk back home, wondering just when the time would be right.

***

Ron climbed up the back stairs of the cottage, slowly and unsurely, as if someone was compelling him to do so. His right hand slid into his pocket and he started to play distractedly with the cup that he was still holding. He had had plenty of time to replace it in the cupboard that day, but the idea of separating from it never even crossed his mind.

Ron opened the back door, and the first thing he heard was a hushed noise coming from the living room, as though someone was moving the pillows on the couch. He walked inside, looking around himself like a small animal in the jungle, afraid to find something dangerous in every corner of the house.

When he entered the living room, Hermione looked at him. At first with a smile on her face, then she looked shocked and then she smiled again, an awkward smile, as though she felt guilty about something.

“Hey,” she said softly.

“Hey,” answered Ron, stepping towards her.

“Ron, listen, I’m sorry about before,” she started, looking everywhere but at him. “I didn’t mean to push you away,” she added, lowering her voice.

Ron didn’t move, nor did he give a sign of wanting to talk or stop her from talking. He hoped he was wearing a firm face, but he was afraid that the heat that he was starting to feel on his cheeks would betray his determination.

Hermione lowered her eyes. She had considered the idea of telling him that when he hugged her earlier, her skin was burning, and it wasn’t from the excitement of being so close to him. But she decided against it, finding it not very romantic or useful at the same time.

“You know, I thought you would have…” Ron’s voice trailed away as he looked at her twisting hands in her lap.

Hermione raised her eyes to him, curious to find out why he stopped. But he just didn’t seem able to find the right words to keep on talking.

“Ron?” she called him, snapping him out of his thoughts.

“Hmm?”

“What were you saying?” she asked hoarsely. “What did you think I would have done?”

Ron shook his head and smiled sadly. “Nothing, evidently I was wrong.”

“No, tell me,” she pleaded with him. “Please.”

Ron snorted. “I don’t know, Hermione. I thought you would have wanted to… never mind.”

She couldn’t help noticing that his cheeks were turning a nice shade of red, matching his flame-coloured hair perfectly. “No, please. It’s important to me,” she murmured.

“Really? I thought you didn’t give a damn about what I think,” hissed Ron, suddenly venomous.

“You are wrong, then,” she answered softly.

“Sure, little know-it-all,” he said maliciously, and Hermione suspected that he had taken some lessons from Draco by his new tone of voice. “Because you are always right. Well, if you are really interested in what I thought let’s just say that I was sure that you felt something for me. Because I’m pretty sure that I feel something for you, and you can’t even imagine how embarrassing this for me, since evidently you are not feeling the same as I do and –”

Hermione jumped up from the couch, trying frantically to hush Ron without touching him. “How can you say that I don’t feel the same for you?” she asked desperately. How long had she waited for that? How long had she waited for Ron to declare his feelings for her? But in her dreams it didn’t happen this way. In her dreams, Ron would be twisting a lock of his hair, and he would be shy, and Hermione would silence his clumsy declaration of love with a kiss.

And in her mind, there was only his face, not like now. Now it was completely different, as though her dream had changed into a nightmare. He was saying that he loved her, but also that she didn’t love him back. She didn’t have the heart to touch him for fear that her skin would start to crack in a thousand blisters just like before. And her mind wasn’t filled only with thoughts about Ron, there were also thoughts pf Harry, and, strangely enough, of Draco.

“Do you feel the same?” asked Ron mockingly. “When I kissed Lavender last year, she kissed me back. You know it’s what people that like each other usually do. Hug back if they are hugged, and kiss back if they are kissed. And not push the other person away.”

“I didn’t mean to,” replied Hermione, her fists closed at her side. “I swear I didn’t.”

Ron took a step towards her, standing at only a couple of inches from her. “Come on, then,” he whispered, smirking.

Hermione gulped. “Come on what?”

“Come on, hug me, kiss me, I swear that I’ll return whatever you give me,” he said, stretching out an arm towards her.

Hermione looked at his hand, scared; she took a step back, tripped over the coffee table, and fell on the floor, letting out a small cry of surprise and pain.

Ron withdrew his arm and shook his head, and then a red light flashed in his eyes. He didn’t give any indication of wanting to help her. “I bet that if it was Potter that offered you a hand, you wouldn’t have thought twice, would you?”

Hermione gripped the armrest of the couch and stood up, rubbing her back as she did so. “Potter?” she asked shocked. When has Ron ever used Harry’s last name? Never. And why was he suggesting that she wouldn't have refused an offer from their best friend? For a moment, the thought that Draco could have told him something hit her, and she felt an anger that she had never felt before. But, she reasoned with herself, Draco had promised. And for what a Slytherin’s promise was worth, she believed him.

“Yeah, Potter,” hissed Ron, placing his hand in the back pocket of his jeans and moving it up and down as if to caress something. “Do you think that I don’t see you two?”

“Ron, what are you talking about?” she asked, trying to sound surprise, but the crimson of her cheeks betrayed her.

“You are not the only intelligent one here, Hermione,” he snapped.

“Harry and I didn’t –”

“No, I know.” Ron smirked. “But you are just so attracted to each other that only someone out of his mind would not notice it. And I’m starting to think that you are out of your mind, Hermione.”

“I’m starting to think it as well,” she murmured. If Ron, the one that hadn’t noticed her for six years, was telling her that she was attracted to Harry and vice versa, and she didn’t even have a clue about it, then she must have been out of her mind. Liar, she thought bitterly. Liar. It’s not true that I don’t have a clue about it. I can’t stop thinking about Harry.
“What’s the time?”

Hermione raised her eyes on him. The banality of the question was so disarming that for a moment she didn’t know what to answer him. She looked at him, bewildered. “I-I don’t know,” she stammered.

“Okay, well, never mind,” he answered, turning and leaving the living room.

“Where are you going?” Hermione asked behind him, her voice hoarse.

Ron stopped, but didn’t turn. He shrugged slightly. “Why do you care?”

“Ron…”

“Just go back to whatever you were doing before I came in here,” he answered simply. And he walked out of the cottage.

***

When Harry opened the front door of the cottage it was already dark outside, and some of the brightest stars were already shining in the sky. He hurried inside as a cold wind, that would surely bring rain in the following days, started to blow.

It had been an eventful day, awfully long and tiring, and all he would have liked to do was to lie down with Hermione and – He shook his head forcefully. Lie down with Hermione? What’s wrong with me?
He stepped into the living room and found it empty. The lights were on, though, and the coffee table wasn’t in its usual place, as if someone had pushed it away. He walked into the middle of the room and stopped. “Hermione?” he called tentatively.

Nobody answered, but Harry was pretty sure that the house wasn’t empty. He heard two distinct noises, one coming from upstairs, and one from under the floor. Mice, he thought, stomping on the wooden floor of the living room. The noise stopped and Harry walked towards the stairs.

He climbed them and walked towards Hermione’s room. Draco’s room, he reminded himself. And without knocking, he entered.

Draco was lying on the bed, awake; his grey eyes seemed almost dark compared to the pallor of his skin, and they were the biggest things on his face. Harry walked towards him. He was alone, and for a moment, he felt relieved that Hermione wasn’t with him, but then he was disappointed that he had not yet found her.

“What?” asked Draco sourly.

Harry turned to look at him, he hadn’t said anything, nor did he have any intention to do or say something to him. “What – what?” asked Harry back.

“There are quite a lot of whats, Potter,” growled Draco. “What are you doing here, what do you want, what are you looking for – wait, maybe it’s who are you looking for? Anyway, you choose to which answer first.”

“I just passed by, Malfoy, is it so hard for you to understand that maybe someone doesn’t have any motive other than to pay you a visit?” Harry lied to him.

Draco nodded. “Indeed, since it’s you, Potter,” her answered simply.

“Do you say these things to Hermione as well?” he asked abruptly. “I don’t know why she keeps on helping you.”

“She’s the one that's taking care of me,” answered Draco, and luckily, he hadn’t much blood left, otherwise he would have flushed from the way he was talking about her. “I’m not so stupid as to tell her off.”

“So, should I say that you are being gentle with her?” asked Harry raising his eyebrows.

“You should say that I’ve not yet killed her because I need her,” hissed Draco.

“Sure,” answered Harry, unconvinced. “Like you would have killed Dumbledore.”

Draco narrowed his eyes. “I was given the task to kill him, and he’s dead.”

“Yes, but not because of you.”

“If I hadn’t let in the Death Eaters, he wouldn’t have been killed.”

“He would,” answered Harry, and he couldn’t understand why he was trying to prove his innocence. “You didn’t let in Snape.”

“If Snape hadn't killed him, I would have done it myself,” said Draco venomously.

“You wouldn’t,” answered Harry, sitting down on the armchair. He felt that a long discussion was awaiting him.

“How do you know, Potter?” he asked annoyed. “And I don’t even know why everybody assumes that it was Snape who killed Dumbledore, maybe it was me and he’s just trying to protect me and –”

“You've got to be kidding me,” Harry cut him off. “You're telling me that you didn’t notice me running after you down the stairs of the Astronomy Tower?”

Draco looked at him confused. “You – what? How would I have noticed? Snape kept on pushing me forward. I didn’t even have the time to recognise who was lying on the floor.”

“And why would you have noticed if there was someone lying on the floor?” asked Harry suspiciously.

Draco looked away from him. “I didn’t notice, in fact,” he murmured.

Harry sighed. “As I’ve already asked you, Malfoy, didn’t you see me running after you down the stairs of the Astronomy Tower? And now that I’m telling you, aren’t you wondering how I got up there?”

“What are you trying to tell me, Potter? Give me a little help understanding your ramblings, I think the venom has made my brain slower,” hissed Draco.

“I don’t think it’s the venom, Malfoy, but if you want, you can tell yourself that,” said Harry, grinning.

“Let’s say that I’ll try to convince myself not to Avada Kedavra you, Potter,” murmured Draco darkly.

“Now, I’m really scared,” Harry mocked him.

“Do you think that if I scream Granger will run in here and tell you not to excite me? I would love to watch her lecturing the Boy-Who-Lived,” he said, smirking.

“Oh, Malfoy, am I exciting you? That’s gross,” answered Harry, pretending to be disgusted.

“I hate you, Potter,” hissed Draco. “I really do.”

“Sure, sure,” answered Harry, waving a hand in front of him. “So, you asked for a little help, didn’t you? I was on the Astronomy Tower, Malfoy. And I saw everything. It was me that let everybody know that it was Snape who killed Dumbledore.” He stopped and looked at him firmly, wanting to see the moment his words sank into Draco’s head.

Draco’s eyebrows rose, and his eyes widened, making him look like a young boy, much younger than he actually was. “You what? That’s impossible; I didn’t see you. You weren’t there,” he spat forcefully.

“You didn’t see me because I was under my Invisibility Cloak,” explained Harry. He looked away from Draco, out of the window, and saw that the night was getting even darker than before, and that the stars were now hidden by clouds.

“Potter,” Draco called him. “Potter, look at me,” he repeated, when Harry didn’t give any signal to have heard him. “You are telling me that you were under that bloody Invisibility Cloak – where?”

“Where?” asked Harry, looking at him confused.

“Where were you?”

“On the Astronomy Tower, Malfoy. You know, maybe that venom really has–”

“I’ve understood that, Potter. I meant, where were you on the Astronomy Tower?” asked Draco, his voice stiff because of his difficult breathing.

“Near the door. Close to you and Snape,” murmured Harry. If Draco would have been a little bit more trained in recognising a larger range of human emotions, instead of just fear and will of vengeance, he would have understood that it was hurting Harry to talk about that night.

“You were there and you didn’t do anything to stop me?” asked Draco. He rose from the bed and leaned against his elbows, a pained expression crossed his face for a second, before turning back to his usual cold Malfoy-ish face.

“I couldn’t, Malfoy,” muttered Harry. “I couldn’t, although I would have done it. Bloody hell, everybody always tells me that I’ve got this save-the-world-thing, and you seriously think that I wouldn’t have tried to stop you or Snape?”

“But you didn’t.”

“I couldn’t, Dumbledore petrified me,” answered Harry, trying to sound calm.

Draco seemed to think about it, then he said, “And the charm wore off when he died, that’s why you were able to run after us.”

Harry nodded. “You believe me.”

“I can’t see why you would lie. And that would explain the screams I heard,” answered Draco, if possibly he seemed even more greenish and paler than before.

“The screams?”

“People calling your name, but I couldn’t see you. And you were right behind us,” answered Draco. “And so you saw me, didn’t you?” he continued contemptuous. “You saw me hesitate, you saw me stagger and shake when Dumbledore offered his protection to me, didn’t you? Now you’ll think that I’m not even able to be a Death Eater, don’t you? It’s incredible how you have not yet made fun of me – but of course you already made fun of me, with your friends, right?”

Harry looked at him bewildered. Was it possible that Draco’s mentality was so far away from his own, that he couldn’t understand that his reaction to his behaviour was completely different from the one that he was describing at that moment? “Malfoy, you are completely wrong,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t see things like you do.”

Draco snorted. “Really? There’s only one way to see things, Potter.”

“No, where you see a weakness, I see a strength. Where you see vulnerability, I only see human nature, which isn’t flawless and you –”

“Save your discourses for your followers, Saint Potter,” snapped Draco angrily. “I don’t need them; I don’t need anything from you.”

“I was trying to help, Malfoy,” answered Harry, and he wondered how he could have been stayed so calm through all that dialogue.

“I don’t need your help,” hissed Draco. “I don’t need anybody’s help.”

“You just said that Hermione is helping you, and that you need her. Or maybe…” Harry let his words trail off; he didn’t want to say it aloud.

“Maybe…?” asked Draco, narrowing his eyes.

Harry shook his head and stood up. “It’s late, and I need to find Hermione. She looked tired when I left. Maybe this evening I’ll look after you, instead of her.”

Draco bit his bottom lip, and his hands gripped the covers until his knuckles turned white. “I don’t need you to look after me, Potter.”

“But you need Hermione,” answered Harry bitterly. “I wonder if you are starting to –”

“Don’t,” warned Draco. “Don’t even dare to finish that sentence, Potter.”

Harry shrugged slightly. “See you later, Malfoy.”

***

Hermione looked blankly in front of her. There was something extremely unfair about what she was going through. Something unfair in her life. In her love life, she would have specified, if she wasn’t afraid she'd blush. The light in the bedroom wasn’t dim enough, and he would have surely seen her.

For six years, she had gone on thinking every single moment of her life about Ron. Of course, maybe half of the time she thought that she wanted to kill him, and the other half that he was really annoying. But somewhere in her heart she knew that she felt something for him. And now that Ron had seemed to realise that he felt the same way towards her, she wasn’t even able to touch him.

She shook her head, and for a moment, she felt like she wasn’t paying enough attention to what was happening to her. It wasn’t normal that she couldn’t touch Ron, but she wasn’t even trying to understand why that had happened. And Harry wasn’t helping.

She smiled without noticing. Harry. And it wasn’t normal that she felt something for him as well. For six years, he had been no more than a close friend for her, something like a brother. The brother that she had never had, while she hoped to be the sister that he had never had the chance to have. And now, all of a sudden, she found herself inexplicably attracted to him, and it was something much more intense than just physical attraction and friendship. She knew that it was love, and it was driving her insane.

“What are you smiling for?”

She looked at Draco and blushed. He was looking back at her with narrowed eyes that were shining into the semi-obscurity of the room. On the bedside table near his head, an empty bottle was glowing in the dark from the remains of the potion it had contained; another healing potion that she tried on him and that had the interesting characteristic of glowing in the darkness. Behind it, there was also another thing that was shining: the dead plant in the vase near the bed. But Hermione was sure that it was just mirroring the brightness of the bottle.

She didn’t answer Draco. Draco. Naturally, there was him. She felt so ashamed when she thought about him in a way different from the usual hate that she had felt for the past years, that now she was trying to block him out of her mind. But it wasn’t easy. She had to take care of him, and that was one of the reasons he was always in her thoughts. The other reason was that she was starting to believe that his eyes were looking at her with less hate and contempt than just a day before.

Draco turned his face away from her, muttering a sentence that contained ‘stupid’ and ‘girl’. Hermione sighed. She didn’t know why she had almost fought with Harry for another night on the armchair in Draco’s company, but she had won and now she was there. She sank into the armchair and pillowed her head with her arm, closing her eyes. She could hear Draco’s breathing, soft and stiff, until she fell asleep and no sound reached her ears anymore.

***

Hermione murmured something in her sleep and moved slightly. Resting her head on the armrest, she could feel a pillow under her cheek. It was strange, since she didn’t remember that she had a pillow when she had laid down. A pale ray of sun reached her closed eyes, and she covered her face with the cover that rested on her chest. She didn’t remember having a cover, either.

She was on her side and when she moved to make herself more comfortable, she understood that she wasn’t on the armchair any more. Now she was lying on something much cosier and longer. And the movement caused her to feel that something was resting on her stomach as well. She slid her hand down and placed it over the thing touching her.

When another hand enlaced its fingers with her own, her eyes flew open and she turned slowly towards the figure that was lying behind her. She let out a strangled cry when she spotted the boy that was lying there with her.

And then she threw herself on the floor, bringing the cover with her and waking up the boy.

Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
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Author's Notes: Thanks to Abby Jack for beta-reading this chapter. And, well, not much to say here. Especially because if I have something to say to my readers, I answers to their reviews.







Harry felt his cover pulled away, and the source of warmth that had been leaning against his stomach disappeared so abruptly that for a moment he felt terribly exposed. He opened his eyes and looked in front of him. There was the TV, the coffee table and the armchairs. When I’ve come into the living room? he wondered sleepily. He was sure that he had gone to sleep upstairs, in his bedroom, with Ron next to him on the double bed. He remembered it pretty well, because he had tried to talk to him, but couldn’t find anything to tell.

He heard a choked cry and lowered his eyes to the floor. His heart skipped a beat when he saw Hermione. She was looking back at him, her eyes huge and scared. She was lying on the ground, leaning on a hand while with the other she gripped the cover at her chest. Harry took a moment to realize that under that cover she was naked, and that the source of warmth on his stomach had been her back.

He opened his mouth for speaking, but no sound exited. Then something hit him, and he made his hand slide down his chest and hip, too afraid to know if he was wearing something from his waist, down, to even peer. When he brushed the texture of his pyjamas, he let out the breath that he didn’t know he was holding.

Then Harry looked back at Hermione and gulped noisily. “Tell me that you are wearing something under that cover,” he whispered hoarsely.

Hermione looked at him blankly, still too shocked for even answering. Her naked feet appeared at one end of the cover, but that didn’t mean anything because she wouldn’t have gone to bed with her shoes; but yet again, she hadn’t gone to bed. She was lying on the armchair upstairs.

She sneaked her own hand under the cover and felt her knickers at their place, but her pyjamas were completely gone. She raised her eyes on Harry and nodded. He sighed in relief.

“If my knickers count as something,” she murmured.

Harry gasped. “Nothing else?”

Hermione shook her head, then, unexpectedly, a desperate sob escaped her lips. Harry stared at her, while she started to shake and cry in a heartbreaking way. He didn’t know what to do or say, didn’t think for even a second to get closer to her. He was petrified with embarrassment and fear that her cover could have slipped down from her chest, but she was holding it firmly and he knew that she would have never let that happen. Even if her hands was torn away from the edge of the cover, she would have held it with her teeth rather than let it fall down in front of him.

“Hermione?” he called, but it was just a bare whisper and she didn’t even hear it. He cleared his throat, hoping to capture her attention. “Hermione,” he called a bit louder.

She raised her eyes, and looked at him, still crying.

“Hermione, Ron is gonna hear you,” he whispered frantically.

Hermione sniffled and another louder sob escaped her lips. Evidently she didn’t care if Ron heard her and if he came downstairs and saw the two of them half naked in the living room. She was well beyond caring at that moment, and Harry could understand her perfectly well. He really didn’t mind if Ron would have climbed down the stairs at that very moment too, he was so sure to have done nothing at all with Hermione that he felt ready to turn down every accusation Ron would have made.

Even if we were both lying half naked under a cover in the living room, that doesn’t mean anything, he thought. Then, the fact that he didn’t remember how he had got there; that he couldn’t remember anything at all of the past night and that Hermione was crying, made a shiver run down his spine.

“Hermione?” he called awkwardly for the third time.

She looked at him and sniffled again.

“What happened?” he asked, and all of a sudden he knew that it was such a stupid question that he wouldn’t have been surprised if she would have burst into laughter.

But she didn’t. She just wiped away some tears from her face, and took a deep breath, trying to regain her composure. “I don’t know,” she answered.

Harry raised his eyebrows. “Then what are you crying for?” he asked bewildered.

Hermione stood a little bit more up, and leaned her back against the coffee table, looking at Harry with a shocked expression. “Harry,” she murmured. “We were lying half naked under a cover in the living room, what do you think it happened?”

Harry gulped. “I don’t remember anything,” he admitted.

“I don’t remember as well, but it’s – it’s clear,” she whispered, her cheeks suddenly the colour of the fire.

“It’s not,” replied Harry, trying to sound firm. “It’s not.”

“What – what do you think happened, then?” she asked weakly.

Harry frowned. What do I think happened? That’s a smart question, Hermione. “I-I don’t know.”

“Harry we--”

“No we didn’t!”

Hermione raised her eyebrows and looked at him with a concerned look. “I was going to say that we should dress,” she muttered.

Now it was Harry’s time to blush. “Oh,” he murmured. “Oh, sure. I thought – I think I’ll wear my – have you seen my pyjamas?” He stood up from the couch and looked around, but there were no clothes or pyjamas in sight in the living room.

Hermione grabbed the edge of the coffee table and stood up as well, tightening the cover around her chest. She gave a look around as well, but she didn’t spot anything. Just some of the cushions that lay on the floor instead of the couch, as if someone had thrown them down. And they both had a vague idea of who could have done that. They flushed again.

“Where the hell are they?” Harry hissed under his breath.

“I don’t know, it seems like they are nowhere in sight. We didn’t make them disappear, did we?” asked Hermione worryingly.

“Why should we have?” asked Harry without understanding.

“I don’t know. Why were we lying on the couch?” asked Hermione desperately.

Harry looked away from her, stubbornly searching for the clothes all around that place, but after a couple of minutes he had to surrender to the evidence that they weren’t in the living room. “We couldn’t possibly have walked naked through the house, could we? I mean somebody should have seen us.”

“And who tells you that nobody has seen us?” asked Hermione frantically.

Harry turned towards her and seized her bare upper arms with his hands. He bent a little for watching her into her eyes, and took a deep breath. “Hermione, we don’t remember what happened, maybe it’s because nothing happened at all.”

“Harry something must have happened, or how do you explain that?” she asked, jerking her chin towards the couch. “And this?” She fingered at her and then at him.

“Maybe someone has charmed us,” suggested Harry slowly.

“A Memory Charm?” she asked, unconvinced. “And who should have cast it?”

Harry looked over her shoulder, lost in thoughts. Who could have cast a Memory Charm on them? And what was the point of setting them on the couch half naked and then charm their memories? Maybe because whoever did that wanted to catch them together, and then – then what? Harry couldn’t understand what the aim of that whole thing was. If there’s an aim at all. Still, he was sure that he hadn’t done anything at all with his best friend, but that conviction was starting to shatter a bit while he held her so close to him.

“Harry?”

He looked at her, and flushed. “What?”

“Who could’ve cast the charm?” she repeated patiently.

“Malfoy?” he suggested.

“Malfoy can’t even stand up from the bed, and-” She narrowed her eyes. “-now that I think about it, he doesn’t even have his wand.”

“He had his wand when he attacked you,” pointed out Harry.

“I know, but he doesn’t have it now.”

“Maybe it’s still out there,” said Harry, nodding towards the window.

“Maybe,” conceded Hermione. “Then who? Ron?”

“Don’t be silly Hermione,” Harry replied, but his voice shook while he talked.

Hermione lowered her eyes on her hands which were still holding the cover, and Harry felt her muscles moving under his fingers, noticing only at that very moment that he was still holding her. He let her go slowly, making his hands slide down her sides.

“I’m afraid of Ron,” she murmured so softly that Harry had to stop breathing to hear the end of her sentence.

“What?” he asked incredulously. “You’re afraid of Ron?”

Hermione nodded and lowered her eyes. “He scares me.”

“Because of your reaction yesterday?”

“No – not only that, at least. He’s strange lately, isn’t he?” she asked softly.

Harry eyed her, trying to keep his face unreadable, but he couldn’t do that for a long time and for a moment some concern appeared on his features. “Strange?” he asked, pretending not to understand her. But she was right, and he knew that. Ron’s behaviour was strange, and he couldn’t deny it. He felt almost awkward when he stood next to him, and it felt like he didn’t know his best friend anymore. It was only a couple of days before that he used to laugh with him.

Harry felt towards Ron, almost what he used to feel towards Dean when he was still dating Ginny back that year. Harry used to treat Dean with a cold gentleness, while in his mind flashed imagines of him kissing Ginny desperately. Hermione, he thought so softly that he wasn’t even sure if he had actually thought of her or not. Harry bit his bottom lip, and for a moment he understood that his awkwardness towards Ron didn’t start because of Ron’s behaviour.

“Hermione, I have to tell you something.” He looked at her seriously and took a deep breath, as if it was difficult for him to speak about whatever he was going to talk about.

“Yes?” asked Hermione, not at all assured by his tone.

“Hermione, I-I’ve had dreams,” he stammered. “Or better, I’m having dreams about…” But his sentence trailed away when he noticed Hermione going completely white. She was looking at some point above his shoulder and Harry feared that Ron was watching them, but when he turned there was nobody there. “What?” he asked, turning again towards her.

Hermione looked at him questioningly. “What – what? You were talking,” she said gently, regaining some of her colour.

“But you looked above my shoulder and I thought you saw something,” said Harry. “And you paled as well, as if--”

“Harry, it’s because I’ve had dreams too,” she cut him off frantically.

“What kind of dreams?” asked Harry suspiciously.

“You? What kind of dreams are you having?” she asked back, not so keen to talk about that subject.

“Embarrassing ones,” muttered Harry, and his cheeks coloured again.

“Me too,” said Hermione.

“You mean we had the same dreams?”

“You still didn’t tell me what you dreamed,” pointed out Hermione.

“Right,” sighed Harry. “But can’t you just imagine? It’s very embarrassing.”

“No, I can’t, but maybe I can help,” said Hermione, trying to smile a little. “I was there.” Harry nodded. “And you were there too.” He nodded again. “Okay, and we were--”

Harry pressed a hand on her mouth, cutting her sentence off. He nodded. “Yes, we were,” he said, blushing furiously. “We were and we enjoyed that a lot. But then there was something else, something even more embarrassing, something that you’ll never imagine and that I’ll never tell you, not even under torture.” He released her mouth.

“Were your parents there?” she asked softly.

Harry looked at her, while his jaw dropped. He backed up a little and sat on the couch, from where he looked at Hermione with his eyes wide. “How do you know?” he murmured.

“I’ve dreamed them too; and Harry, I’m so embarrassed, you can’t even imagine how uncomfortable I am right now,” she said, looking everywhere but at him.

“How long have you gone on with these dreams?” asked Harry, seizing her wrist to capture her complete attention.

Hermione looked up at him. “Just since we’re here, I swear!” she said in a shaken tone of voice.

“Me too,” answered Harry. He looked at her. “But when I dream about my parents I dream that I’m father and there’s my mother there and…” His sentence died in his throat as the embarrassment resurfaced on his face.

“I dreamed that I was your mother instead, and--” She looked at him, frowning. “Do you think that we are having those dreams at the same time?” she asked unexpectedly.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that maybe we aren’t only dreaming the same things, perhaps we are having the same dreams,” she explained rather cryptically.

“Sorry, I can’t follow you,” murmured Harry.

Hermione freed her wrist from his hand and sat down next to him, her embarrassment of being half naked next to him almost completely gone as she started to illustrate her own theory. “I mean that maybe we aren’t simply having similar dreams, we aren’t just dreaming about the same thing. Very likely it’s exactly the same dream we have, I mean, while I dream of you, you dream of me, and we kind of meet in that dream, and--”

“Hermione, even if we do have the same dreams, what’s the point in all this? And how did this start? I mean, it’s six years that we have known each other, and I’ve never thought about you as more than a friend, and I don’t think that you’ve ever seen me differently as well, but now all of a sudden, I can’t stop thinking of you, I dream of you and I kiss you,” he spoke so quickly that he barely understood himself. Hermione though seemed to understand pretty well, because she blushed.

“Harry, I think of you too, but that’s not right,” she whispered, twisting her hands in her lap. “It’s not right.”

Harry took her hands in his own, he lowered his voice and said, “Hermione, what if we are falling for each other?”

Hermione raised her eyes and met his. She hadn’t thought even for a mere second about that possibility, and now that Harry mentioned it, it seemed so natural, so obvious that she couldn’t believe she hadn’t even taken it into consideration. Was she really falling for Harry? How was that possible? She thought she knew what she wanted and she thought she wanted to be with Ron, but now her world came shattering down on her shoulders, as she couldn’t even recognize her own feelings.

She jerked her hands away from his and looked away. “No,” she murmured. “No, it can’t be.”

Harry placed a hand on her cheek and made her turn her head again. “Why not?” he asked softly.

“I know how it is to fall in love, and it’s not like this,” she answered.

“What do you mean?” asked Harry rather deluded that his pleasant theory was so quickly turned down.

“I mean that this is unnatural, it happened all so quickly, and--”

“Quickly? Hermione, what don’t you understand of the ‘we have known each other for six years’ part?”

Hermione blushed. “I mean that from a day to another we have fallen in love, Harry,” she murmured. “That’s not normal.”

“Maybe it’s love at first sight,” said Harry tentatively.

“Harry.”

“Okay, I was just trying to explain. Would it be so bad if you were seriously falling for me?” he asked bitterly.

Hermione bit her bottom lip, why was he torturing her so badly? I don’t want to answer him, don’t want and surely I’m not going to, she thought forcefully. First of all because I don’t know what to answer him, and that’s very annoying, and secondly because if I say that it’s a bad thing to feel something for Harry I know that it will be a lie, but at the same time I’m afraid to admit even to myself that I’m actually falling in love with him.

“Hermione?” Harry snapped her out of her thoughts.

“No, it wouldn’t be bad,” she answered, surprising herself as much as him. “But, Harry, it’s just not true. It must be a charm or something.”

“Why? Why it couldn’t be just love?” asked Harry frantically.

Hermione placed a hand on his leg, and that sent shivers up his back, and, unfortunately had the same effect on Hermione as well. She took it away and blushed. “Because love doesn’t work like this.”

Harry snorted and rolled his eyes. “And you’re an expert, aren’t you? How many boyfriends have you had? One and a half? Because you can’t really say that McLaggen has been your boyfriend, can you? It just lasted one evening. And what about Krum? That Bon-bon which really has nothing pleasant on his--” He stopped his angry flown of words by placing both his hands on his mouth. He looked at Hermione with wide eyes and murmured, “Was I just sounding like Ron?”

Hermione nodded sadly.

“I-I can’t--, I mean, it’s clear that Ron is madly in love with you.” And while he said that he felt his anger boil. “And that’s why he talks like this, but I – Hermione I must be in love with you, although I don’t really know how to explain all this.”

Hermione nodded gently. “Do you think that I don’t get mad when I think of Ginny?” she demanded, causing Harry to gasp. “But Harry, you didn’t even wait for my answers. I fell in love with Viktor, or so I think, and it was different. It was like a pleasant walk downhill towards a lake, and the closer you got to the glen the better the surroundings were. You could feel butterflies in your stomach and--”

“And who tells you that that was love, while this isn’t? Who doesn’t tell you that this is love, while the other thing you felt for Krum was just a crush? The crush of a fourteen-year-old girl towards a famous older wizard,” replied Harry.

Hermione looked away from him; her convictions shattered. He was right. What made her so sure to be able to recognize her feelings? If that was not love, what could it have been? A charm, a charm, a charm, she kept on repeating in her head. But that possibility was slowly fading, like a dream that appears clearly in your mind when you wake up, but then it slowly grows fainter in your memory, and she felt her protests became less and less concrete every time she opened her mouth.

She stood up from the couch. “I think I’ll go put some clothes on,” she murmured.

Harry stood up as well and seized her arm. “And you want to go into the same room with Draco Malfoy with only this to cover you?” he asked, eyeing her.

Hermione flushed. “No.”

“I’ll go and get something for you,” he offered.

And my embarrassment will be complete when you’ll look at my underwear and pick up a bra for me, she thought, blushing furiously.

“What do you want?” he asked her.

“I think a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and…”

“Yes?”

“A bra,” she said so quietly that Harry had to bend over her to hear, and when he understood he blushed as well.

“W-where can I find all these things?”

“In the wardrobe in the middle, I put all my clothes in there,” she explained.

Harry nodded, and without adding anything else, he turned and walked up the stairs towards the second floor. But as she looked at him, Hermione saw him stopping half way towards the landing, bending and picking something from the floor. When he turned, Hermione saw that he was holding her bra between his fingers, touching it as little as he could without making it fall. He climbed back down those few stairs he had already taken, and handed it to her.

“Was it on the stairs?” she asked. She already knew, but just wanted to say something to avoid an embarrassing silence falling over them.

Harry nodded, but didn’t answer. And Hermione thought he wasn’t much help.

“I’ll put it on,” she murmured, lowering her eyes.

Harry nodded dumbly and stared at her.

Hermione bit her bottom lip. “Would you please turn?” she asked after a while.

“Oh,” muttered Harry, turning. “Oh, of course. I’m sorry.” He heard something falling softly to the floor, and imagined that the cover that had been wrapped around her torso was now hanging at her feet. Then he waited for some sound coming from the clip of the bra, but it never reached his ears, instead the brush of the cover against her skin was quite audible.

“I’m done,” she whispered. “You can turn.”

When he turn there was nothing different in her figure except for the strips of the bra now visible on her shoulders.

“I think that we’re going to find something else up there.” She nodded towards the landing. “Better if we get a move, the sun is already high in the sky and I’m sure that Ron won’t sleep forever.”

Harry nodded and, turning, he started to climb the stairs two at a time. Hermione was right, their pyjamas were up there. They lay on the floor as if they had thrown them away carelessly, maybe too busy in discovering what they hid to even notice that the floor wasn’t the cleanest of places to throw the pyjamas. Well, they were noticing it now as they picked them up and looked at the dust all over them.

“I thought the floor was cleaned,” said Harry, and Hermione almost felt relieved that his tone was a bit accusatory and not awkward.

“I cleaned it, but that was three days ago. We should clean up again,” she hissed back, relieved that she was feeling a little less embarrassment than before.

“Clean up again? I can’t take it,” murmured Harry.

“Yeah, why, how long did it take you? Ten minutes at the most? Poor boy, it was too stressful for you, wasn’t it?” she asked mockingly.

Harry glared at her, but didn’t reply. Too afraid of being heard by Ron to start a discussion with her. “Just dress, I’ll do the same, and then – then you’ll go to your room and have a look at Malfoy, and I’ll go see Ron. Try to see if he had heard anything at all tonight, but don’t be too specific. I don’t want Ron to know what happened, and I especially don’t want Malfoy to be the one to tell him.”

“He wouldn’t tell him,” murmured Hermione, flushing and looking down at her pyjamas.

Harry looked at her unconvinced. “How do you know?” he asked sceptically.

“He didn’t tell him about the hickey,” she answered.

“Because he thinks it’s a bruise, doesn’t he?”

Hermione shook her head. “No, he doesn’t. He knows that it’s a hickey. He knew it even before I did, he pointed it out.”

“And he didn’t tell Ron?” asked Harry suspiciously.

“No, he swore he wouldn’t have told him,” muttered Hermione.

“And what exactly made you believe him?” His tone was as cold as the wind that was blowing outside these days.

“He didn’t tell him,” pointed out Hermione.

“He’s waiting for the right moment, evidently. Hermione, how could you have been so incautious Why don’t you tell him all your private life next time then?” asked Harry bitterly.

He looked at her and she narrowed her green eyes, while a flash of anger made them sparkle. Green eyes? Harry shook his head, why every time he looked at her in a moment thick of emotion he thought that she had green eyes? He had green eyes, he and only he.

“I was inconsiderate? You left me a hickey, how do you call this if not inconsiderate?” she snapped, her voice gradually raising.

“Lower your voice!” hissed Harry frantically. “Ron will hear you!”

Hermione bit her bottom lip, knowing that she had been a bit carried away. She couldn’t understand why she was defending Draco. Maybe it’s because he’s mean, she thought, like he’s always been, and that means that he’s the only one here who hasn’t changed. That thought gave her an odd feeling of calm. If I don’t know my friends anymore, at least I still know my enemy.

“Turn. I’m going to wear put on my pyjamas,” she murmured, lowering her eyes slightly. Harry turned and Hermione kept her eyes on his back while he covered it with his pyjamas, and smothered it. Then she put on her own pyjamas as well. “I’ll go and ask Malfoy if he’s seen something strange tonight.”

“Like you and me having fun?” asked Harry hoarsely. “Don’t be too direct!”

Hermione nodded curtly. “See you later?”

Harry nodded back, and she stared at him until he entered into the room he shared with Ron, then she turned and, taking a deep breath, she went into Draco’s room.

“It took you long enough,” hissed a deadly voice from the bed.

Hermione stopped in her track and looked at Draco, a slight and at the same time terrible fear invaded her mind. He was, if possibly, even paler than before, his chest raised and lowered quickly under the covers, and his breath was laboured and stiff. She took an uncertain step towards him, and placed the cover she was holding on the armchair.

“M-Malfoy?”

“Just give me the potion and leave me alone,” he snapped with great difficulty.

“Wh-which potion?”

He looked at her, and very probably he was trying to understand if she was serious or not. “You are not funny, Granger. Just give me the potion and go,” he repeated, while his white arm surfaced from the covers and he stretched it towards her.

Hermione bit her bottom lip and looked away from him, uneasily. “I don’t have any potion with me,” she barely whispered.

Draco’s eyes became two slits. “What have you done until this very moment?” he asked suspiciously.

Hermione gulped. “What did I tell you before I went away?” she asked back, obviously trying to avoid giving him an answer.

Draco withdrew his arm and shot her a peculiar glance, his blond eyebrows linked together while some soft wrinkles formed on his forehead in his effort to think. Hermione hoped that he was trying to recollect what she told him the evening before, but she was almost sure Draco was searching for a sour retort to spit at her. She knew that he thought she was just making fun of him. She would have thought that herself.

“You said that you would brew me some more healing potion,” he said abruptly, snapping her out of her thoughts. A soft sneer made Draco’s lips curl. “But what were you actually doing?” he asked mockingly.

Hermione’s cheeks flushed as she looked away.

“Something naughty with one of your boyfriends?” questioned Draco mischievously.

Hermione gasped and she took a step back, her head buzzing with a thousands nasty answers to give him, but her mouth dry as she felt a wave of sickness invading her body. Her eyes wandered for the room and for a spare second they met his, she wouldn’t have bet on that, but she thought she saw a hint of delusion in his grey pools.

“Oh my God, you were really--”

“That’s none of your business, Malfoy!” she shrieked, gripping the back of the armchair for support as she felt herself staggering.

“Was it Potty or Weasel?”

“Shut up!”

Draco opened his mouth, but he closed it almost immediately without letting a sound escape, strangely he didn’t feel like teasing her. He let his eyelids fall on his eyes and waited for her to say something. Now that he didn’t look around he could concentrate on the sounds that reached his ears and he heard her laboured breath, as if she was struggling to control it and keep it soft and regular.

“Didn’t I say anything else?” she murmured after a while.

“What should you have told me?” he asked, keeping his eyes shut. “That you were going to--”

“Okay,” she cut him off. “What potion did I tell you I would have brewed?”

“A healing one,” he answered, opening his eyes and glancing at her.

Hermione nodded stiffly, she took a couple of steps back and reached for the handle with her right hand. Before she actually opened the door she lowered her eyes and, flushing, asked, “Did you hear anything?”

Draco sneered, but he shook his head. “No. Even if now that you told me what happened, I wish I did,” he mocked.

As an answer Hermione blushed even more deeply and walked out of the room, closing the door at her back and leaning against it heavily. She gulped and closed her eyes. If Draco hadn’t heard anything, then maybe nothing had happened. Anyway, Hermione wasn’t sure about what kind of things he could have heard, and the very thought of Draco listening to her while she and Harry—No, Harry and I didn’t do anything at all, she thought forcefully, hoping that repeating it would make it come true.

“Hermione, you all right?”

Her eyes opened wide in surprise when she heard Ron’s voice so close to her ear. Her best friend was standing right in front of her, his shoulder slightly curved towards her, his eyes fixed on her face.

She took a deep breath and nodded softly. “Yes,” she murmured. “I think so.”

Ron smiled. He was wearing one of the jumpers Molly used to knit for her children for Christmas. This one was purple and with a big ‘R’ embroidered on it. It made him look like a young boy and for a moment Hermione was reminded of one of the many Christmases they have spent together at Hogwarts.

“Harry said that he moved to the couch because I disturbed him with all my snoring tonight,” growled Ron, turning his shoulders and heading towards the stairs. “I disturbed him! As if he’s always been quiet, he keeps on talking in his dreams.” He turned and looked at Hermione, who hadn’t moved from the door. The calm and honest nature of Ron’s discourse startled her, as if she hasn’t been ready for that, but rather to hear some screaming from him.

“Aren’t you coming?” he asked her.

“Where?” she asked back rather dumbly.

“Downstairs,” he answered, casting her a peculiar look. “I thought you wanted to have breakfast.”

Hermione shook her head. She wasn’t hungry. “I have to brew a healing Potion for Malfoy, though. He’s not feeling well,” she murmured.

Ron’s eyes became suddenly cold. He turned towards the stairs and started to climb them down, without waiting for Hermione. She stared at his back as he walked away from her and for a second she felt as if she would have never seen him again. Hermione shook her head, feeling stupid. She entered into the bathroom, changing her pyjamas into the clothes that she had left there from the evening before. When she exited, she walked briskly towards Ron and Harry’s room. The door was half-closed; Harry was sitting on the bed, staring in front of him with something in his hands. She knocked on the door and pushed it open wider without waiting for Harry to answer.

“Hey,” she whispered.

“Hey,” he answered back, raising his eyes on her. “How is Malfoy doing?”

“Bad,” she murmured. “He needs some more healing potion.”

Harry flushed. “Did he--”

“No,” answered Hermione, cutting him off. “No, he didn’t hear anything.” She paused for a while. “Ron?”

“Same thing.”

Hermione nodded, she lowered her eyes to what Harry held in his hands and stared. She stretched out an arm towards him, but before she could reach him, Harry tightened his fingers around it and withdrew. She looked automatically up at him and saw that he was staring back at her with a grave expression in his eyes.

“It was my mum’s.”

Hermione nodded. “I know.”

Harry shook his head. “You can’t know.”

Hermione’s cheeks coloured as she collapsed on the bed next to him. “Can I see it?”

“What for?” he asked rather rudely, without intending to do so.

“Just see it,” she replied, shrugging.

He opened his fingers and showed his palm on which a small piece of parchment lay. Hermione looked at him before taking it from his hand, and when he didn’t move she picked it up. It was folded four times, and when Hermione opened it, she saw the tidy and beautiful writing on the inside that she already knew so well. Lily had written only a word, quickly and with a pen instead of ink and quill as she used to do with her journal.

“Hufflepuff?” Hermione read it aloud with a questioning note in her voice, as if waiting for Harry to answer her doubts or resolve the mystery.

Harry nodded.

“Where did you find it?”

Harry jerked his chin toward the wardrobe, the same place where Hermione had found the diary two days before. She looked back at the paper in her hand and recognized it as a page from Lily’s journal. Her heart started to beat furiously in her chest, as she felt a wave of guilt.

“What does it mean?” asked Harry slowly.

Hermione shrugged and shoved the parchment back into his hands. “I don’t know. Maybe that Helga Hufflepuff and Godric Gryffindor had a love story and they had lived here?” she asked.

Harry’s lips curled into a soft smile. “Interesting theory.”

“Thanks,” she answered, feeling relieved that some of the embarrassment felt before had faded away. “Shall we go downstairs and have some breakfast?” Her appetite was back.

Harry nodded; he pocketed the parchment and followed her down the stairs.

***

Draco lowered his eyes to the small golden serpent that hung loosely around his neck. He tentatively brought his right hand to it, and raised it in front of his eyes, casting at its shape a longing glance. He couldn’t believe that his master’s suppositions could have been wrong, but he felt so weak, so tired, so powerless; as if he was soon going to die. He knew that he still had some time before the venom started to kill him, but the possibility that the calculations were all wrong started to consume him.

He let the pendant snake fall on his chest, he knew that he had to pay attention not to let too much time pass. If they – If Hermione Granger, he corrected himself – wasn’t able to cure him, he should have used it. But if he used it, then how could he have explained what he did? Harry, Hermione and Ron would have surely questioned him until they found out the truth. And he couldn’t have permitted it. First of all, because he still had some pride, and he didn’t want to lose it; and secondly because that would have meant placing his schoolmates in danger. And, oddly, he didn’t want that as well.

That stupid Granger, she thinks she’s so damn intelligent, but she isn’t. There aren’t many poisons that can harm the human body as badly as this one, but maybe she already knows the cure, and she’s enjoying playing the part of the little nurse. She thinks she can come here and smile and be all gentle and —Draco’s thoughts were interrupted when the door crept open and Hermione entered with a smoking glass in her hands.

She walked slowly, paying lot of attention not to drop even the smallest part of potion on the floor, and while she was concentrated on the liquid Draco let out a relieved sigh, she was going to try something new, something that would have given Draco some more time. If she only knew…

“Almost time,” he exclaimed impatiently. “I thought you would have let me die.”

Hermione gasped softly on the glass, and raised her eyes for looking at him. “I would never let you die,” she said firmly. Even if the temptation is really strong, sometimes, she silently added.

Draco narrowed his eyes. “Should I thank you?” he asked rudely.

“I guess that’s what normal people do.” She glared at him. “But you aren’t a normal person, are you?”

Draco sneered. “No, I’m not. I’m much better than all those normal people you know, Muggle-born.”

Hermione placed the glass on the bedside-table. Her eyes lamping dangerously. There were two possibilities, either Draco was a real bastard, or he was truly stupid. Or both, she thought wearily. He doesn’t really get the fact that I’m helping him, does he?

She seized the glass again and gave it to Draco, a firm expression on her face. Draco looked from the glass to Hermione, his head didn’t lift from the pillow.

“Well?” snapped Hermione.

“Well – what?” he snapped back. “Can’t you see that I can’t even raise my head?”

Hermione bit her bottom lip, but she kept her eyes firmly on him. “Do you need help?” she asked unsurely.

“What do you think?” hissed Draco.

Hermione bit her tongue and swallowed the words she would have loved to scream at him. This was not the right day for Malfoy to start acting like a brat even more spoiled than usual. She had no patience left, even though it was only morning; but the situation in which she found herself from her very awakening had already frayed her nerves greatly.

Hermione mentally counted to ten and took a deep breath. Then she rounded on Draco, making her right hand pass under his head. She tangled her fingers in his soft hair and pressed gently upwards, helping him.

“Be careful!” he snapped. “It hurts.”

She rolled her eyes and without giving him an answer, she brought the glass to his lips. Forcing him into swallowing most of the amber liquid. The moment he felt the stinging liquid flowing down his throat, Draco opened his eyes wide, he pushed away her hand with his own and coughed, spitting out the potion all over the covers. Hermione let his head fall back on the pillow unceremoniously, and looked at him patiently, waiting for his coughs to fade away.

“Are you alright?” she asked slightly concerned.

“Of course I’m not, Granger,” he answered venomously.

“You need to drink some more of this potion,” she replied curtly.

“You’ll have to force it down my throat, because I won’t be able to swallow anything else for the rest of my life,” he murmured. “That thing’s terrible.”

“It’s not exactly pumpkin juice, but there’s no need to make a fuss about it,” she answered, her lips curving in a soft and almost amused smile. “You have to finish the potion.”

“Leave it on the table, I’ll drink it later,” he answered slowly.

Hermione eyed him suspiciously, but then she put down the glass. “Drink it,” she repeated.

“I’ve always drunk your stupid potions, Granger, haven’t I?” he snapped annoyed. “You’ve always found the empty glasses on my bedside-table, haven’t you?”

Hermione narrowed her eyes and, against her will, she had to admit with herself that he was right, she had always found the empty glasses on the bedside-table when she had left him potions to take. Anyway she didn’t know why, but she didn’t trust him completely, as if he asked for antidotes and potions just to throw them away when she wasn’t looking. Or maybe it’s just me the one that is losing her hopes, after only a couple of days trying. Maybe I’m the one that isn’t good enough to save a human life.

She raised her eyes on Draco, and nodded. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours, do you want something for breakfast?”

“Oh, I can have breakfast now?” he asked mockingly.

She twisted her hands. “If you ask for something that we have bought when we went to the supermarket, although I can always go…”

“You are lucky, Granger, I don’t feel like eat anything at all,” he snapped, but not as rudely as his Malfoy-ish way would have requested.

“You should eat something,” insisted Hermione.

“Thanks, Granger. I should eat something, I should drink these potions, I should rest… something else?”

“You should shut up,” suggested Hermione.

Draco smirked. “Thanks.”

Hermione walked towards the door, she pushed the handle and opened it. “Just try to get well soon, okay?” she asked, placing a foot on the landing.

Draco looked at her, taken a bit aback, but recovered almost immediately. “Worried about me, are you, Granger?”

Hermione looked at him firmly. “No, I just want my sheets back,” she answered curtly. And before Draco had the time to answer something nasty, the door closed behind her.

Hermione climbed slowly down the stairs that led into the living room. Her eyes wandered around the house as she tried to recollect all the events that had occurred to her since that very morning, when she woke up half naked and absolutely unaware of what had happened during the night. But, strangely enough, that was not the thing that worried her most at that moment. No, there was something else; and that something answered to the name of Ron. What’s wrong with him? Why was he so nice this morning? Yesterday I thought that he wouldn’t have spoken to me anymore, and this morning it was like nothing at all had happened. How could he—Hermione’s thoughts were interrupted when she reached the first floor, Harry stood right in front of her, so still that he could have been petrified. When he saw her, his index finger flew to his mouth, gesturing her to be quiet and listen.

Hermione looked at him inquiringly, but nodded as she stood as still as him. At the beginning she didn’t hear anything at all. The house seemed just as quiet and peaceful as she has always perceived it. But both her and Harry were standing so immobile that slowly the smallest and usually imperceptible sounds typical of the old houses started to reach her ears. Water that dropped from the roof, wind that passed through an open window, the cracking of the walls, rats in the cellar.

Rats? She had never heard rats do that kind of noises. Instead of the quick and soft scratch typical of the small mammal, there were some hits on hard rock, broken by steps and stiff breaths, and then some louder bangs, as if someone was trying to shatter a door.

Hermione looked at Harry apprehensively. “What--?”

Harry silenced her with a glance. He took out the wand from his pocket and nodded towards the door. “There’s an entrance to the cellar in the back lawn,” he whispered simply, starting to walk towards the kitchen.

Hermione would have wanted to ask him how he knew about the access to the cellar from the garden, but she didn’t. She knew that he wouldn’t have been able to provide her any kind of explanation, since she too knew exactly where that entrance lay without having seen it once.

Taking a deep breath, she took out her wand and followed Harry, under the pale rays of the August sun.


Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
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Author's Notes: Thanks a lot to IllyriaBeta for beta-reading this chapter. She did a very good job. ^_^ So, I just discovered that I'm really stupid--or better, I just discovered that this site is incredibly inconvenient for posting a story. If I don't use the plain text button my paragraphs space up several times, but if I use the plain text option bold/italic/underlined text comes back to normality. So, I'm currently wondering how many characters' thoughts or words that in my original documents I wanted to underline have completely gone in the past chapters.. But I don't want to think about this, especially because very soon my account on this site will be deleted. Oh, but wait a minute, why am I telling you this? Nobody gives a damn about it.. ^_^ Except my two faithful readers.. Thanks MK and DMG, I'll let you know where else you'll be able to find this story. --> Ok, this was the original Author's Note I wrote for this chapter, a couple of days before receiving a few more reviews than usually. I was pretty frustrated.. But now I'm no more sure that I'll delete it. :) But I wanted to say something to all the people that have started reading it rather since I updated last chapter. You are pretty perverted, aren't you? If I knew that all I had to do to make you read this story was to select the pairings, than I would have done it ages before... lol!







Hermione followed Harry onto the back-lawn, where the cold wind whipped her face mercilessly. The sun shone high in the sky, but it didn’t heat the icy air. Harry stopped in the middle of the garden, his wand raised in front of him, his breath slow and hushed, as if he tried to modulate it for making as little noise as possible. Hermione placed a hand on his upper arm and he turned towards her. She had her wand raised in front of her as well and she was looking at Harry with big brown eyes filled with fear. Harry instinctively placed his wand-free hand on her arm and smiled a little.

“Don’t worry, Hermione,” he whispered. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow quizzically. Was he really thinking that she was afraid about what they were going to find in the cellar? Doesn’t he remember that I was the one that helped him with Snape’s task in our first year? The one that followed him back in time when we had to save Professor Lupin? The one that didn’t hesitate to go with him at the Ministry of Magic, even if I knew that it was a reckless action? The one that sacrificed her life for our--. She closed her eyes and shook her head. That last thought that has almost formed in her mind was not hers. She hadn’t sacrificed her life for anybody, yet. What was she thinking?

She felt Harry’s hand squeezing her own, and she raised her eyelids to look back at him. “What?” she asked in a bare whisper.

“Are you alright?” asked Harry, looking at her intently. “You seem distracted. You need to concentrate.”

Hermione slid her hand from under Harry’s one, she turned and looked away from him. “I am concentrating. I’m just afraid.”

“Hermione, I’ve already told you. I’m here and I won’t let--”

She placed a hand on his lips, cutting off the sentence that she didn’t want to hear again. Did he really think that she wasn’t able to take care of herself? She should feel offended that he didn’t think very highly about her, but she couldn’t. All she was able to sense at that very moment was an intense and mutual feeling of love and adoration towards Harry, who was scared that something bad could have happened to her.

“I’m not afraid that we are going to meet something of dangerous down there,” she murmured, her hand still gently pressed on Harry’s lips. “I’m afraid because I know where the door that leads to the cellar is, and I don’t know why.”

Harry seized her wrist and moved away her hand from his mouth, casting her an odd glance. “I know where it is as well, but I’m not afraid for that.”

“You should be,” she murmured.

“Why?” asked Harry impatiently, looking towards the cottage. They were loosing precious time, and without any apparent reason. “Hermione, I can’t understand what you are talking about. Can’t we talk about it later?”

Hermione’s eyes darkened. She gritted her teeth and hissed a ‘fine’ in a poisoned tone so similar to Draco’s that Harry feared for the first time that they were passing too much time together. She passed him by, walking quickly towards the corner of the house. The trees and bushes in that place had grown so wild that the passage there would have been much more difficult if there wasn’t already a path of broken branches and walked on leaves.

“Somebody has been here,” noted Harry in a low tone of voice. “Recently.”

Hermione nodded curtly. She would have answered him with something sarcastic, like ‘I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t pointed that out, Harry,’ or ‘Oh my, so clever;’ but she didn’t feel like talking to Harry at all. She didn’t know why, since less than thirty seconds before all she wanted to do was to confide him why she felt so scared, but now she just wanted to shut her mouth and glare sporadically to Harry. It’s because he doesn’t understand a thing. If he only understood how important it is that we keep remembering things that we shouldn’t, he wouldn’t ignore the matter with all this stubbornness, she thought bitterly.

A thorny branch cut her cheek as she took a step ahead. She let out a small cry of surprise and pain as the blood reached her lips with a sour and metallic taste.

“What?” asked Harry, alarmed. His wand stretched in front of him right next to Hermione’s ear.

“Nothing,” she answered, wiping away the blood with her fingers. “I cut myself.”

She felt Harry’s wand lowering slowly, and she took another step. Then, as if she had already done that thousands of times, she stopped abruptly and waited for Harry to almost bump into her. But he didn’t. He halted as suddenly as she did, as if he knew that that was the right place to stop.

Hermione turned towards him and he nodded. In front of them there was a thick hawthorn bush, with sharp leaves and covered with white poisoned berries they had to jump to get past, since they had the trees at their left and the house at their right. Hermione cut her left ankle as she landed too close to it, while Harry jumped it quite agilely after years passed escaping Dudley.

“Do you want me to heal your cuts?” asked Harry gently.

“Later,” answered Hermione. She nodded towards the wall of the cottage and Harry turned to look at it. A small wooden door with a rusty handle and a sign with the word cellar on it stood in front of them. Harry took a step forward and examined it, the first thing he noticed was that it wasn’t closed. There was a chain and a lock, but the chain was broken and the lock was rusty. He took another step and saw that the door itself had been taken off the hinges. It was now only sitting against the opening. Not the work of an incredibly strong person as someone could have supposed though, because the wood was rotten and the door weightless.

Harry seized its edges and moved it away without much effort, freeing the small passage that led to the cellar. In front of them there was a stair, with wooden steps that disappeared into the darkness of the bowels of the house, from where a sharp smell of fetid decay reached their noses.

Harry raised his wand. “Lumos.” The light showed a big empty room with the walls covered in wood panels. The top of the stairs, where they stood, was close to the roof of the room, while it developed its structure towards down below, and the floor was several feet below them. The ground was scattered with dead bodies of rats, evidently what was making the air so putrid and hard to breathe.

Hermione nodded towards the floor, Harry hadn’t noticed her standing next to him until that very moment. She had a hand on her mouth as if attempting to block out that horrible smell. Harry looked where she was indicating, and saw a big square on the floor, as if it has been drawn with a black pencil. He half-closed his eyes and from behind the glasses he tried to concentrate on it. The square wasn’t drawn, it was cut from the floor. It was a trapdoor, and with a more attentive look he also noticed a round handle. It looked almost like the trapdoor that had taken them to the chamber where Dumbledore kept the Philosopher’s Stone, the only thing missed was an enormous three-headed dog to look over it. Stupid, thought Harry, every trapdoor must look like this one. What else could they look like?
“Shall we go downstairs?” asked Hermione. Her voice reached Harry’s ears like a soft murmur, there wasn’t any trace of fear, only a great determination and curiosity.

Harry nodded, he climbed down the first stairs with hesitation, and looked around when a rat passed by his right foot, letting out a squeak that gave a foreboding feeling of evil. He felt Hermione’s hand on his shoulder as she climbed down behind him; felt her stagger on the slippery stairs, and her grip on his shoulder tighten for a moment. When they reached the floor, they walked quickly towards the trapdoor, nudging aside the carcasses of the rats with their feet. The trapdoor was lighter than what it seemed. This wood was rotten as well and Harry and Hermione thought that it must have been only a cover to a real floor in stone or bricks, because otherwise they would have sunk downstairs, into the place where the trapdoor led.

Harry kneeled on the edge of the hole and saw another stair. But if the one that they had just descended from was in wood, this one was in stone, and it looked like it was ancient. Hermione lowered her wand into the hole and muttered a ‘Lumos’ just as Harry did before. The staircase wasn’t very long, after only a dozen of steps started a long and sombre passage that looked like a tunnel dug in the bare rock. They couldn’t see the end, only a bottomless passageway that disappeared into the darkness, the walls were rocks covered with drops of water and the floor was dark humid ground.

Both Harry and Hermione had the strange sensation to have already been there. Harry felt like he knew that place, as if he had explored it several times in the past; while Hermione had a weak feeling of déjà-vu, as if she had already been there once or twice. They exchanged a look and, without talking, Harry stepped down the stairs with Hermione close behind him.

Harry stretched an arm towards her and she took his hand; his sweaty palm against her cold one.

“There must be a door,” whispered Harry.

Hermione nodded, but Harry couldn’t see her.

They looked around, with their wands high in the air, and saw that there were small lines that ran along the walls. They weren’t as they first thought, flaws of the rocks, but little drawings and writings.

Hermione let Harry’s hand go and stepped towards the wall at her right. She raised her wand near her eyes and looked intently at the lines, trying to understand what they could possibly mean.

“Hermione, what are you doing?” whispered Harry with urgency, stopping in his tracks. “We have to go. Remember the noises? We have to see what they were.”

Hermione didn’t turn to face him. She simply stood there, with a hand placed on the wall, in an attempt to find something legible, or at least something with that made sense. She traced the small lines and followed them with her gaze. There was something of obscure in them, something ancient, something of magic. She heard Harry sighing and knew that he was standing close to her, looking at the walls as well.

“What are these? Strokes on the rock?” Harry asked.

“They don’t look like strokes on the rocks,” observed Hermione. “It seems as if they were done with a purpose.”

“Maybe when they dug the tunnel, they must have left those scratches,” replied Harry. He didn’t know why Hermione seemed so interested in those things, they were just lines. And those were just rocks, humid, cold rocks that somebody had decided they would have made wonderful walls for that passage. Yes, but who could have possibly decided to dig a tunnel right under this cottage? Harry half-closed his eyes in the effort of concentration. Stupid! The right question is, who built a house right above this tunnel? This place is ancient. And I don’t believe that they didn’t notice that there was this huge passage when they--. For a moment his thoughts stopped flowing in his head, and a soft buzz started to blow in his ears. His eyes blurred for a minute before focusing back on the piece of wall that he was looking at.

“This cannot be,” he murmured so softly that Hermione didn’t even notice he said something. He had to elbow her in her ribs to capture her attention.

“Harry, what--” She couldn’t finish her sentence, because when her eyes caught what Harry was gazing at, she couldn’t even remember what she was going to tell him.

“Oh my!” she exclaimed quietly. “Is it – does it--.”

Harry nodded, his eyes still fixed on the wall. He stretched out an arm and brushed the cold stone with his fingertips, following the lines. He traced the odd shape and then the four forms of the animals. Starting from right to left, he zigzagged slowly for the mane of the lion, followed the smooth line of the snake’s curved body, traced the big shape of the badge and went down from the beak to the claws of the crow. And then the words. Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus. As if it was a ritual or an incantation, as if, by saying that words, something would have happened.

“What on Earth is the Hogwarts’ crest doing here?” said Harry without recognizing his own voice.

Hermione shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t have any theory at all? I mean, you are the one that read ‘Hogwarts: A History’ and--”

“Do you even listen to me when I talk?” asked Hermione unexpectedly heatedly. “I told you that there’s no hint to the founders’ private lives in that book.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Hermione, there’s Hogwarts’ crest on this wall, in which way this would concern their private lives?”

“We are not close to Hogwarts, nor to Scotland. And I’ve never heard of another school of magic built in this place, or better said, built in any other part of the United Kingdom rather than Hogsmeade. What did you think? That this was a school?” she asked, gesturing around herself.

Harry turned his back to her. “I was just trying to understand,” he answered rudely. “We better get a move on. And--”

“But of course!” Hermione patted her forehead. “Harry! Your mother!”

Harry didn’t turn to look at her, but his ears were listening carefully to her. “My mother what?” he asked without understanding.

Hermione seized his sleeve and made him turn. “She wrote on that piece of parchment ‘Hufflepuff’, which is something Hogwarts’ related, or better, founders’ related. Maybe they knew something. Maybe this place was the house of Helga Hufflepuff.”

Harry looked around sceptically. “You said that this place doesn’t look like a school, should it look like a house?”

Hermione snorted. Was he trying to annoy her? If it was like that, he was succeeding. “Harry, this place – Godric’s Hollow – not--” She stopped the very problem of her reasoning.

“Well, that would explain--”

“No, no it doesn’t work,” she murmured, cutting him off. “Godric’s Hollow had not yet been built at that time. Remember what the sign said? That the first houses appeared about seven hundreds years, and the founders have--”

“I know, Hermione you said the same for Gryffindor,” sighed Harry.

Hermione opened her mouth to reply, but Harry never got the chance to know what she was going to say, for their attention was captured by a harsh noise at their left. They both turned their heads so quickly towards that direction that for a moment the crack of their necks covered that sound. They stood extremely still, holding their breath and narrowing their eyes in the effort of making out any details in the places that weren’t reached by the light of their wands.

What happened next was a quick and chaotic series of events. Hermione grabbed Harry’s hand exactly the moment before their wands turned off, she felt Harry tightening his fingers on the back of her hand and then something passed quickly by them in the passage. Harry stretched out an arm for blocking the way to whatever was trying to escape, and at the very moment that he touched that thing, he wished he had never moved.

Cold and slimy fingers reached for his wrist, as if, even in the darkness, they knew perfectly well where to find it. He felt nails digging into his flesh and the pain spread from his arm to all his body at the same moment when the sour smell of blood filled the air. Harry had to let Hermione go when that thing pulled him towards itself, a wave of disgust raised from his stomach as he felt something hot and slippery on the cuts that the nails had left. A soft and creepy noise followed, as if that something was licking its wounds with its tongue. He felt a strong hand on his arm, and the moment when it closed around his flesh, he knew that that thing was trying to make the blood flow better.

He heard Hermione scream ‘Lumos!’, but it only got the effect to attract that thing towards her. Harry searched in the darkness for her, but his fingers didn’t meet anything other than the stone of the walls.

“Run, Li--” But his warning died in his throat when a white blinding light filled the tunnel. Harry had just the time to see a pair of red eyes, and a snake-like face, before he heard someone scream ‘James’, and everything turned black.

***

Draco raised his eyelids when he heard the scream. He heard it as if the girl that was yelling was right next to him, and for a moment he thought that he had just dreamed it. But it was so real, so harsh and painful, that for a spare second his heart started to ache as if he was linked to the one that sent that cry.

He raised himself up onto his elbows, the wound on his stomach stinging painfully, and looked towards the window. It was closed, no real scream could have ever gone through the glass without being muffled, which was not at all like what he had heard. And it seemed to come from downstairs. What did his master say? That there was a cellar in that place. Some kind of long and ancient dungeons that spread under that cottage. And what did he tell him? He couldn’t remember. His thoughts were starting to confound in his head, the pain was taking away his breath and his memories as well.

He wondered where Hermione, Harry and Ron were. Hermione hadn’t said anything at all when she exited, apart from that she wanted her sheets back. He turned towards the potion that she had placed hours before on his bedside-table, and bit his bottom lip.

“I hate you, Hermione. I seriously do,” he murmured, glaring at the potion as if it were Hermione herself. Then he closed his eyes and rested his head back on the pillow.

***

Hermione felt a hand on her upper arm. Someone was shaking her body, someone was calling her name. She opened her eyes slowly and looked around. For a moment she didn’t know why she was lying on the cold floor of a tunnel, for a moment she had no memories at all. Then she remembered everything. She remembered her and Harry looking at the walls, their wands that turned off as if an invisible force wore them out, Harry screaming and something slimy and cold that embraced her.

“Hermione, how are you feeling?”

She raised her eyes to the boy who spoke, and for a moment she felt disoriented to see Ron’s face. His blue eyes were looking at her with apprehension, his red hair was framing a scared and white face, where his freckles stood on it like measles.

“Ron,” she murmured. “My head--”

“What happened?” asked Ron, cutting her off. “Where’s Harry?”

Hermione stretched out an arm towards Ron and he took it, helping her to her feet. “Isn’t he here?” she asked, regaining her forces more quickly than she had expected. “He was here.”

“I don’t know,” he replied, looking around. He held his wand high in front of him, trying to light up the tunnel in the research of Harry. But, instead of his friend, he found two wooden sticks in front of his feet and knelt down to pick them up.

“I think one of these is yours,” he said, turning to hand Hermione her wand.

She nodded. “And the other is Harry’s.”

Ron nodded back. “Let’s go,” he murmured.

“Go? Where?” asked Hermione, looking around.

“We have to find Harry, don’t we?” Hermione nodded. “I come from that way, and I didn’t see him there, nor did I meet him upstairs. So, since this tunnel only goes this way, he must be in that direction.” He fingered in front of them.

Hermione frowned. How was even possible that Ron was so rational in a moment in which she couldn’t even understand what she had to do? She stretched a hand in front of her and placed it on his back. She felt his muscles tense under her touch, the light in his hand shook slightly as he understood that Hermione was close to him.

For a moment Ron forgot why he was there, with his wand raised in front of his eyes, in a cold and humid tunnel under the cottage of Godric’s Hollow. For a moment everything disappeared from his mind; Harry, the cup in his pocket, the taste of blood in his mouth. For a moment there was only Hermione for him. He took a deep breath, swallowing the nauseating air. “Hermione, I--”

Her hand slid from his back and she stopped. “Ron! Listen!” she cut him off.

Ron bit his bottom lip, he wanted to turn and seize her upper arms and scream at her to listen to him; but instead he stood still and listened. The tunnel seemed perfectly silent, just like the moment before when they had started walking. Then, slowly, something reached his ear, for a moment Ron thought it was one of those rats walking in the tunnel, but then the noise became something more distinct. It was a breath, a laboured breath, broken every now and then by a lament of pain, and a scratch on the floor as if someone was trying to drag himself towards them.

Ron felt Hermione’s hair brushing his cheek as she stepped forward and passed past him. “Harry?” she called uncertainly, her voice shaking.

The breath and the scratch stopped, and a deadly silence filled that place. “Hermione?” Harry called back weakly.

“Harry! Where are you?” Hermione’s voice was filled with excitement and fear. “Keep on talking, we are coming!”

Harry nodded in the darkness. He didn’t know why he did that, because nobody could see him, but he was so tired that he didn’t feel like talking at all. But he had to do that little effort for letting Hermione find him.

“I’m here. I cannot see anything, but I can feel something. There’s a door, a big door. And I think-” He gasped in disgust. “-I think I just crushed the carcass of some animal. The air is sickening here and--” He stopped the flown of words that he had tried to say with such difficulty, now he didn’t need to keep on talking anymore, because a light had appeared at the end of the tunnel and Hermione and Ron were walking quickly towards him. Their wands raised in front of them to light up that place and when Hermione saw him she started to run.

“Harry!” she exclaimed, kneeling next to him. “What happened? Are you alright? What was that thing?” She stopped and looked intently at every inch of his body. “Harry, you are bleeding!”

Harry half-closed his eyes. “And my head is hurting me badly, so could you please not yell?” he asked, bringing his hand to his forehead and grimacing in pain.

“Is it your scar?” questioned Hermione, lowering her voice.

Ron’s arrival prevented Harry to answer to any of Hermione’s questions. He looked at Harry and his face became a ghastly green colour, he seemed ready to throw up.

Harry looked back at him with a mixture of happiness and mistrust in his eyes, how could that be? For a moment he forgot about the pain that he was feeling and forgot that Hermione was there. “Ron, what are you doing here?” he asked slowly.

Ron tore away his eyes from Harry’s wrist and raised them on his friend’s face. “What?” he asked back without understanding.

“What are you doing here? How did you know that we were here?” Harry asked again, his voice gradually harsher. He didn’t know why, but he didn’t like Ron being there with them.

Ron gulped. “I heard you screaming,” he answered slowly.

“Where were you?”

“When?”

“When you heard us screaming.” Harry’s eyes had become a couple of slits, and his hands had closed into fists. Hermione was looking from him to Ron without understanding what was going on. Without really knowing why Harry seemed so upset that Ron was there.

“In the cottage,” answered Ron curtly, and Hermione couldn’t help noticing that his voice was becoming harsher as well. She wondered if they could have started to fight over something so stupid like the fact that Ron was there.

“Hermione and I were in the cottage before coming here,” replied Harry sharply.

“What’s your problem, Harry? If it wasn’t for me, Hermione would still be unconscious in that tunnel and you would have still be here all alone. Would the great Harry Potter find the way home all alone?” Something in Ron’s voice made Hermione and Harry’s hair raise at the base of their necks.

“You are my--”

“Okay, that’s enough!” Hermione looked at them sternly. “Just shut your mouth, both of you.” She looked from Harry to Ron. “And now, Harry, let me see your wounds and tell me what happened.”

Harry shot a glare at Ron, then turned his attention towards Hermione. “You were with me, don't you remember what happened?” he asked more rudely than he had intended.

“I couldn’t see anything,” she rebated icily. “And while you are talking, give me your wrist.”

Harry snorted, as he stretched out his right wrist towards Hermione, so that she could see the gravity of the wound. “Our wands turned off and something crashed against us. Then you screamed, I saw a light and I can’t remember anything else, until I woke up in this place.”

“Nice summary, Harry,” commented Hermione sarcastically. “What’s wrong with you? We came here to save you.”

“Maybe he crashed his head against something,” suggested Ron evilly.

Harry glared at him. “I think I saw Voldemort,” he murmured through gritted teeth.

Ron stood still. Hermione stopped examining his wrist. “What are you talking about?” she asked while the colour drained from her face.

“Exactly what I said. I think I saw Voldemort.”

“You just think you saw him, don’t you?” asked Hermione, looking away from Harry.

“What is this supposed to mean?” asked Harry back without understanding.

“That Voldemort couldn’t have been here,” murmured Hermione. “Maybe it was a hallucination.”

“Are you saying that I’m lying?” asked Harry heatedly.

“No!” Hermione bit her bottom lip. “Harry, if Voldemort would have been here, he would have killed you. But he let you go. Maybe it’s just…”

“He tried to kill me,” snapped Harry. “I think he hit me. I saw a light and I was sent against the wall.”

“I saw a light too, Harry, and it wasn’t an Unforgivable Course,” said Hermione patiently. She sat on the floor next to Harry and circled her knees with her arms.

“How can you say that?”

“It was white,” she explained. “The light, I mean. It was white, not green like the Unforgivable Courses. And the light didn’t come from that thing that you claim was Voldemort.”

Harry looked at her, half surprised and half disappointed. “How do you know?”

Hermione lowered her eyes. She felt Ron and Harry’s eyes on her, they were holding their breath, waiting for her answer. “Because, it was touching me at that moment. It had its arms around my back when the light lighted up the tunnel, and it seemed as surprised as you and I.”

“You saw its face?” asked Ron, his voice disgusted.

Hermione shook her head. Her hair seemed such a crimson colour at the light of their wand that it looked like a cascade of loosen bloody curls. “No, the light was blinding, I couldn’t see anything. But it touched me.” She shivered as if the memory of that touch on her skin was enough to make her feel sick. “It touched my back and my arms, with his long and slimy hands. It was cold, and--”

“Yes?” pressured Harry.

“And I think that it could have been just like Voldemort’s touch, but how am I supposed to know this? He has never touched me,” concluded Hermione with a sigh.

“Well, he touched me and I can tell you--” Hermione pressed a hand on Harry’s mouth, cutting off the end of his sentence. She already knew, he had already told that. What did he think? That she was stupid?

“We understood, Harry. Now, I think we better carry on this conversation upstairs, in the sunlight and maybe in front of a hot cup of tea. I’m freezing, here,” she said, standing up and offering a hand to Harry. “Can you walk?” she asked gently.

Harry took her hand and nodded curtly. “Yes, I can walk, and I’ll follow you out of this place, but only after we’ve had a look at what’s on the other side of that door,” he snapped in a tone that didn’t accept any reply.

“Which door?” asked Ron, raising his wand in front of him. And when the light lightened up the other side of the tunnel, he didn’t need for Harry to answer anymore. Right behind Harry and Hermione stood one of the hugest door that he had ever seen. It was made with wood and had no knob or lock, one could have told that it was a door only because of the little shiny hinges at the left side of that panel.

Hermione turned for having a look at the door as well, and when she did she let out a desperate sigh. Not again, please, she thought. Not again with this stupid door. Lily and James were not able to open it, what would be different with us?
“I don’t think we should waste our time after a stupid door,” she snapped, rather more rudely that she had intended. “I think we'd better go upstairs as soon as possible, and try to cure your wounds Harry.”

“What are you afraid of, Hermione? As you said, it’s just a stupid door,” murmured Ron, stepping towards the door as if he was enchanted by it. He placed a hand on the wood and made it slide down.

Hermione glared at him. “I’m not afraid,” she hissed. “It’s just common sense. Why do you want to open a door which clearly doesn’t want to be open?”

Harry, unexpectedly, burst into laughter, causing Hermione and Ron to turn and look at him. When he regained some composure he looked at Hermione. “A door that doesn’t want to be open? Hermione, I totally have to agree with Ron, you are just afraid to open it.”

Hermione crossed her arms on her chest, her face deadly serious. “Really? Let’s hear, why should I be afraid?” She stopped and looked from Harry to Ron. “No, wait a minute. You are saying that Ron’s right? You were ready to jump on him just a few minutes ago, and now you are saying that he’s right about something? What’s wrong with you?”

Harry shrugged his shoulders, but Hermione was sure that his pale cheeks coloured with a shade of red. “You are afraid because you don’t know what’s going to be on the other side of the door,” Harry walked towards her and whispered into her ear. “And you hate to not know something.”

He reached Ron and placed a hand on the door as well. “Let’s see how to open this thing, Ron.”

Hermione took a deep breath and bit his bottom lip. She wasn’t afraid. She was sure she wasn’t afraid. How could he say something like that? She turned to face them. “Your parents didn’t manage to open it, Harry. You think you’ll be able to do it?”

“How do you know that his parents didn’t open it?” asked Ron, looking at her with curiosity.

She opened her mouth for answering, but before she could make up any kind of lie, Harry turned and spoke before her. “I know,” he said confidently. “But my parents couldn’t use magic while they were here.”

Hermione looked away. It was true, it was true and she hadn’t thought about it. What was happening to her? She wasn’t concentrated. She snorted. How can I concentre with all the things that are happening to us?
“Really?” asked Ron surprised. “Why?”

Harry didn’t take his eyes away from Hermione, even if she was suddenly interested into the floor. “Because then Voldemort would have found them.”

“Oh, I didn’t think about that,” commented Ron quietly. “Was he able to control magic just like the Ministry of Magic does?”

Harry nodded. “Or so I think.” He turned towards the door and pointed his wand towards it. “Alohomora!”

The door creaked and trembled, some sand and little rocks fell from the roof, as if someone was trying to move that huge wood panel. But the door didn’t open.

And now it was Hermione’s time to laugh. She let out a soft snort of half laughter and half irritation, causing both Harry and Ron to turn and look at her. She was leaning against the wall, her wand in her hand, her face, covered with dirt from when she fell, and had something that looked very like a mocking smile on it.

“What’s so funny?” asked Ron, cocking an eyebrow.

“You know what is the Alohomora spell is used for?” she asked.

“Open a door?” snapped Harry.

Unlock a door, Harry.”

“Well, what’s the difference?”

“This door doesn’t have a lock, how do you think you can unlock it?” Hermione asked, tapping her foot on the floor.

“What do you suggest then, miss Know-It-All?” replied Harry.

“Apart from go back into the cottage?”

“Yes, apart from that,” answered Harry, half smiling.

Hermione sighed deeply. She pointed her wand towards the door and waited for Harry and Ron to move away. “Door Evanesco,” she murmured. A yellowish light hit the door, and spread on every inch of the wood, from the floor to the roof and from right to left. The light seemed to swallow the material, and where it hit it first it created a hole, which enlarged and made the whole door disappear.

“Simple and effective,” said Hermione, pocketing her wand and smiling at her friends, who were looking back at her with their mouth open. “Aren’t you going to see what is there on the other side?” she asked nodded towards the new tunnel that now lay in front of them.

“You know what? The future pupils of Hogwarts are lucky that you won’t be a teacher, because although they would feel terrible every time you pointed out that they were doing the wrong spell,” said Ron matter-of-factly.

“Really?” asked Hermione, flushing. “I was just trying to explain something to you two.”

“In fact. You have that Know-It-All aura around you, which is quite unnerving sometimes,” commented Ron.

“Nothing new here, mate,” murmured Harry. “Now better if we have a look a around and then come back upstairs. My wrist starts to hurt me, and it’s really painful.” He turned and started to walk through the arch left from the door.

He wasn’t sure what he was going to find on the other side of that door, the only thing that he knew was that, when he stepped inside, he was deluded. Highly deluded by his expectations. He raised his wand in front of him, and heard the steps of Hermione and Ron close behind him. When he stopped, he heard the steps of his friends stop as well, but he couldn’t hear their breaths, as if they were holding them for the surprise. And he couldn’t understand why.

The room they were in was a quite big one. It was circular, with a tall roof and it was almost completely empty. The walls were irregular and rough, and there was no light at all, except for the one brought in by the trio’s wands. The only thing that stood in the middle of that space was a rock, it had the shape of a cylinder and Harry noted that it reached his chest when he took a step towards it.

Harry felt a hand on his upper arm, someone was trying to restrain him from getting even closer. “What is it?” whispered Hermione. Harry saw the light from her wand lighting the top of the cylinder. It was plain and smooth and seemed made for having something placed on it. And, actually, there was something.

Harry stretched out an arm and picked up the small piece of parchment that lay there. “Dear finder of this letter,” he read out loud. “It’s a note,” he said, turning towards Ron and Hermione and holding it out to them.

It was a small piece of yellowish parchment, with a short note on it. Hermione narrowed her eyes and got closer it, there was something wrong there. That place seemed ancient, she had expected whatever they were going to find in there to be antique as well, but instead that parchment looked only like it was ten or twenty years old, and the ink used looked very like the one they used at school. The one that they could buy in Hogsmeade.

She scrolled down the parchment with her eyes, and when she reached the end of it, she couldn’t help gasping and seizing the parchment from Harry’s hands.

“Pay attention, it’s ancient,” warned Harry, afraid that she could have destroyed it with the very touch of her hands.

“It’s not that old,” she pointed out. “Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.”

“What?” asked Ron without understanding.

“It’s signed by Dumbledore,” explained Hermione, fingering at the end of the parchment, where the long signature of their dead Headmaster filled a couple of lines with all his names.

Harry took the parchment back from his friend, and stared at the signature. His head started to buzz and his vision blurred a little as he thought about what he had found. For a moment he wanted to rip the parchment in small pieces and set them on fire with his own wand. Why? Why? Why? Why do I always have to find notes? Why I never find the thing that there was before someone placed a note? First with R.A.B. and now with Dumbledore. Why do I always arrive too late?

“Harry?” Ron’s voice had the power to snap him out of his thoughts.

“What?” he asked turning towards him.

Ron nodded towards the parchment. “Aren’t you going to read it?”

“What? Oh, sure,” answered Harry. He cleared his throat and started to read the content of the note with an oddly high pitched voice. “Dear finder of this letter,” it said. “If you are reading this, then my calculations were wrong. Voldemort hadn’t been the last menace that had walked on this Earth, but the ones that will come after him don’t have the same quality that he had, but if you have found this note, then the Curse has begun and this means that he is not dead.” Harry frowned, that wasn’t the first time that he heard about a curse. “You won’t find what there was here, Helga Hufflepuff’s diary is too dangerous for being left here. I brought it away, where it cannot be found, except from the ones who really desire it. But don’t worry, the diary didn’t say anything that would have helped you understanding how the Curse works, it just confirmed my suspicions, and gave me an interesting reading. If you accept an advice from an old man, who claims to have seen enough of this world, you better not interfere with the Curse and with who is cursed. There’s a more ancient and powerful magic working here than you would ever imagine, let happen what has to happen. Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.” When Harry’s voice faded away, the room was swallowed by an unnatural silence.

“A curse?” asked Ron after a while. “What did he mean?”

Harry and Hermione looked at each other, they didn’t know what it meant as much as Ron, but in someway they felt like there was something wrong in what Dumbledore wrote down, as if he knew about that curse, but didn’t know how that curse worked.

“We don’t know, Ron,” murmured Hermione. “How can we?”

Ron shrugged. “I don’t know. I was just trying to understand.”

Harry pocketed the parchment. “Okay, we better get a move on and go back upstairs. I’m tired and this stupid note doesn’t say anything at all.” Except that we missed Hufflepuff’s diary by only a few years, thought Harry bitterly. He walked away quickly, leaving Ron and Hermione behind. His throat burned with thousands of questions, and he didn’t know anybody to whom to ask them. Hermione and her books were of no help at that moment. Ron knew, if possible, even less than he did. And Draco, Harry was sure, didn’t know anything at all, and even if he did he would never tell him or anybody else in that house what he was knowledgeable about.

Think Harry, think. The curse, someone else talked about a curse. Who was that? He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes in the effort of remembering. Of course! That man in the cemetery! He knew something, he talked about a curse! Is that possible that this is just a coincidence? No, it’s unlikely just a coincidence. These two things must be linked, and I want to know everything. I need to know everything.
Harry stopped abruptly, so abruptly that Hermione bumped into his back. He turned and looked at her with his green eyes wide. “The cemetery,” he whispered.

“What?” asked Hermione, rubbing the shoulder that banged against Harry’s back.

“The cemetery, we have to come back to the cemetery,” he murmured. “We have to understand what this curse is about.”

“And why do you think you’ll understand this curse by going to the cemetery?” asked Ron, stepping towards them in the dark tunnel.

Harry turned and started to walk again briskly. “Because I have an idea,” he said.

“What kind of idea?” Ron didn’t seem ready to drop that conversation any time soon, while, on the contrary, Harry was trying to let out the least possible. He didn’t know why, but he wanted to tell Hermione, and only her, about his idea, he wanted to go to the cemetery with her and meet that man again. And Ron, well, he could have just stayed home and play another game of chess with himself.

“I’ll tell you later,” snapped Harry without knowing if he was talking to Hermione or Ron or to both of them.

They reached the stony stairs, and Harry turned to help Hermione climbing. He stretched out an arm towards her, and waited for her to take it, but she just stared at him and flushed slightly.

“I can climb by myself,” she murmured. “Go on.”

Harry looked at her inquiringly, but didn’t lose time asking her about that behaviour. He was sure that it was something that had to do with Ron, maybe she was afraid that he could understand something about their affair, or maybe--. Affair? Hermione and I have no affair! Of course we found ourselves on the couch without knowing why or what we did, but we have no affair, he thought forcefully.

“Harry, watch out!” Hermione’s warning didn’t prevent Harry from banging his head against the roof of the tunnel. He was too busy telling himself that Hermione was just a friend for to see that they had reached the top of the stairs.

“Thanks,” he hissed, rubbing his head. He took another step and walked onto the wooden floor of the cellar, followed by Hermione and then Ron. They exited in the cold air of the garden, and Ron, who was the last one, placed the door back against the hole, in the same place where it was before Harry and Hermione had entered.

Harry quickly circled the cottage, and without waiting for his friends, he climbed up the stairs that led to the back door, two steps at once. He stepped into the living room, and practically ran towards the corner of the room where there was an old clothes hanger, and where his coat still hung from the day before.

“What are you doing?” asked Hermione, out of breath since she ran after him, stepping into the living room whilst Harry was wearing his coat. He didn’t answer, but grabbed her coat as well and threw it to her. Hermione seized it and looked from it to Harry bemused.

“I’m going to the cemetery and I want you to come with me,” Harry said, buttoning up his coat.

Hermione’s eyes widened with surprise. She opened her mouth to reply, but when she heard Ron walking behind her, she just turned and smiled to her red-headed friend. “Ron, can you please go and have a look at Malfoy? I can’t hear him lamenting, and that’s not a good sign,” she asked Ron as gently as she could.

Ron looked at her, then he shot an odd glance to Harry, who was busy smoothing the edges of his coat, and nodded curtly. “Okay, if you’ll hear me singing ‘Weasley’s Our King’ that means that the poison has been useful.”

Hermione gulped and nodded, trying to smile for the joke. I hope that it was a joke, she thought.

When Ron’s steps faded away on the stairs she turned towards Harry, who was now looking at her with a mixture of impatience and excitement on his face. “Well? Aren’t you going to wear your coat? It’s cold outside,” he exclaimed, nodding towards the coat in her hands.

Hermione lowered her eyes to the coat as well and threw it on the couch without much grace. “No,” she said forcefully.

“Well, do whatever you want,” snapped Harry. “But it’s really cold outside.”

“No!” repeated Hermione. “Harry, we can’t go to the cemetery. Not now, at least.”

Harry darkened. “Why not?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. She would have loved to slap Harry hard across his face. She remembered the wonderful sensation when she did that to Draco back in their third year, and for a moment she had to close her fists and count to ten for calming down. “For a thousand reasons!” she exclaimed furiously. “First of all we have just been attacked by something in the cellar of the house where we are living; second, it’s a whole day that I’ve not had a look at Malfoy, I better go and check him for a while; third, you’re wounded and I’ve cuts on my cheek and my ankle, we should take care of them, and eventually, we have to eat something.”

Harry crossed his arms on his chest. “Now you listen to me,” he snapped. “First, that thing was Voldemort, I’m sure about this, and I don’t know why, but he didn’t manage to kill me, so I wouldn’t mind too much about this. Secondly, you went to see how Malfoy was doing right before we went into the cellar, and he wasn’t better or worse than usually. Thirdly, I don’t give a damn if I’m wounded. Fourth, we’ll eat something when we get back.”

“Harry, look at your watch! It’s not morning anymore! We have been in that cellar for the whole day, it’s almost sunset and I’m not so keen to walk into a cemetery while it becomes dark. I’m not coming with you and you can’t make me!” she screamed.

Harry narrowed his eyes. “What do you suggest then?” he asked calmly.

Hermione bit her bottom lip, while she took a deep breath. “We can go to the cemetery tomorrow,” she proposed. “When we’ll be calm and we’ll have reflected on what have just happened to us. And especially when there’ll be the sun, okay?”

Harry seemed to think about her words, as if he was trying to understand if his curiosity could have bared the waiting. He wanted to know what that curse was, since everybody else seemed to know about it, except for him. He wanted to understand, for once, what was happening around him. But Hermione was right, he hadn’t noticed that the afternoon sky was already colouring with yellow and orange lights, and that the sun was already disappearing behind the mountains that circled the village of Godric’s Hollow, he thought that he wouldn’t have liked to find himself face to face with the old man right in the creepy cemetery of that place.

“Okay,” he agreed after a while. “We’ll go there tomorrow morning.” He started to unbutton his coat again, but then he stopped and looked at her. “Damn Hermione, aren’t you curious?”

Hermione nodded. “I’m very curious, Harry,” she admitted. “And hopefully we’ll learn something tomorrow.”

Harry nodded, he finished unbuttoning his coat and then hung it back on the clothes hanger.

“Can you boil some water? I’ll be right in the kitchen, I just want to wash myself a bit,” said Hermione, trying to smile a little.

“Okay,” answered Harry. “But tomorrow morning--”

“Yes!” Hermione cut him off with a much more rude voice than a the one she used for asking him to boil the water. “Yes, Harry. Believe me, we’ll go to that damn cemetery.”

Harry glared at her and walked into the kitchen. Hermione waited for the door to bang behind him, before turning to the couch and walking towards it. She looked towards the stairs, Ron didn’t give any sign to come downstairs, then she glanced at the door of the kitchen and listened. Harry was opening the cupboard for the kettle, she knew it because it was creaking, and then Hermione heard the metallic noise, and she understood that he was placing it on the stove.

Hermione lowered her eyes to the floor, her heart beating furiously in her chest, she bent forward and placed a hand under the sofa, reaching for the small journal she was looking for. Harry was right, Dumbledore wasn’t the first person from whom they heard about that curse, there was also that old man in the cemetery. But Harry didn’t know what Hermione knew, she was sure that there was another place where she would have found some information about it. Lily, I need to know something about this thing that it’s hunting us. Please just tell me that I’ll find something in your diary, thought Hermione, tightening the journal to her chest.

With a guilty look over her face, she climbed up the stairs and held her breath until the lock caught behind her in the bathroom, then she sat down on the edge of the bath tube and opened the diary from where she had interrupted her reading.

Day twelve.

The door is still at its place. I told James to let it alone, but he wouldn’t listen to me. He can be so stubborn sometimes. If Harry turns out to be like him when he’s older, I’ll have quite a lot of work to do for keeping them quiet. I’ve met one of the neighbours today, he seemed nice, and that was strange, since it’s the first nice person I’ve met here. He is old, with snow white hair, that frames his face like a mane and a wrinkled face. I wonder how old he could be, very old indeed, but I couldn’t tell his age. James doesn’t like him, he said that he’s strange. I’m not sure what he meant by that, I think he’s strange too, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not nice. He lives here on the main street of Godric’s Hollow, in a house that I’ve never seen before. I invited him over for tea one of these days. He accepted. He said that he knows a lot about this place, and he’ll…


Chapter 10: Chapter Ten
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Author's Notes: I’m so sorry for the long waiting. I really don’t know what to say, except that I had to change beta-reader again, and that’s why it took me forever to update. Anyway, this time I didn’t want to look for another beta-reader (another person who would have taken my chapter and kept it for a month without sending it back, like most of them do), so I looked for a tutor in the flesh, and I think I found the most patient boy ever: I keep asking him explanations about everything he corrects, and he always answers me, no matter how annoying my questions are. Anyway, he really helps me, and maybe (just maybe, I’m not sure) I could also start doing less mistakes. So, thanks a lot Andrew. And if you want to mention him in your reviews that would be great (and maybe that would make him a faster beta-reader? You never know…). Thanks for reading and reviewing, btw.




Day twelve.

The door is still in place. I told James to leave it alone, but he won’t listen to me. He can be so stubborn sometimes. If Harry turns out to be like him when he’s older, I’ll have quite a lot of work to do keeping them quiet. I met one of the neighbours today, he seemed nice, and that was strange, since it’s the first nice person I’ve met here. He is old, with snow white hair, that frames his face like a mane and a wrinkled face. I wonder how old he could be, very old indeed, but I couldn’t tell his age. James doesn’t like him, he said that he’s strange. I’m not sure what he meant by that, but I think he’s strange too, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not nice. He lives here on the main street of Godric’s Hollow, on a house that I’ve never seen before. I invited him over for tea one of these days. He accepted. He said that he knows a lot about this place, and he’ll answer all my doubts. I wonder how he knows that I have questions about this place. Maybe he’s a wizard…

Day fifteen.

I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. Seriously, I can’t believe that James got angry with Dumbledore. And I can’t believe that I’m silently agreeing with my husband. But I better write down what happened in the last two days, because there are so many things that I can’t understand, and that’s very frustrating. Dumbledore came here two days ago. He didn’t even telephone this time, he just knocked on our door with a little toy broom for Harry, and the latest edition of the Daily Prophet. It seems that people have been arrested, since the Ministry thinks they are Death Eaters. Dumbledore reckons that they should concentrate all their efforts on finding Voldemort himself, instead of these supposed Death Eaters. I used the word ‘supposed’ because I know some of the people that they have arrested, and I’m sure that they wouldn’t have the heart to perform an Unforgivable Curse without feeling guilty for the rest of their life, let alone think about carrying out Voldemort’s orders. They cannot be Death Eaters. And then, Dumbledore had insisted to see the cellar as well whilst he was here. James wanted to go with him, but the Headmaster preferred to go downstairs alone. He said that he had to control something, but that didn’t explain much. Not at all. I just knew that it passed a couple of hours before he came back, and when he did there were spiders on his hat and webs entangled in his beard. He wore an odd expression over his face, like someone that has found what he was looking for, but now that he had found it, he has just realized that he felt better without knowing anything at all.


Hermione stopped reading. How was that possible that someone felt better without knowing something? She couldn’t imagine Dumbledore not being happy for a new discovery. For a moment a smile played on her lips, if Harry would have read those lines he would have totally disagreed with his mother.

Dumbledore said that it was better if James left that door alone, he said that it was advice, not an order, but he was serious about that, he was telling us that for our own sake. Naturally James, who had spent the last days trying to open it, didn’t want to hear Dumbledore’s explanations. He was sure that he managed to open the door and that he had found something, but Dumbledore didn’t say anything. And when James started to tell him that he couldn’t always keep every secret for himself, and that we weren’t at school anymore, I couldn’t do anything else but silently agree. Dumbledore said that he would tell us, as soon as we were ready, but for now it was better if we didn’t know anything at all. I think it’s not fair, but I trust Dumbledore, and I don’t think that he would ever do something that could harm us in any way. After tea, Dumbledore left us, he said that he would come back when there is news. I really hope that they’ll find Peter, I’m seriously worried about him. Anyway, next Thursday will be Halloween, and I’m sure that Peter won’t lose the chance of doing something funny with Remus and Sirius that day, I would love to be with them as well. But we can’t. Anyway, this was two days ago, other things happened yesterday. Without even informing us, the old man that I met in the cemetery knocked on our door as well. We weren’t expecting anybody at all, so we were at least a bit scared when we heard the knock. Oh my, I have to agree a hundred times with James, that man is strange. I offered him tea and biscuits, but he didn’t touch anything. He seemed very interested in our story, he wanted to know everything. We had to make up our past and tell him a big fat lie. He was very interested in Harry, though. And Harry seemed to like him back. I don’t know what to think about him, seriously, he didn’t even say his name. He said that it was not important, for me it was. It looked almost like I’ve already seen him somewhere, and his name would have helped. James joked about that, he said that I could have seen him on a card in the Chocolate Frogs. I answered that it might be, maybe he’s Bowman Wright, or better his ghost. James started to laugh so hard that he almost chocked on the roast beef I cooked. 


Hermione raised her eyes. A ghost. She hadn’t thought about that. Why didn’t she think about that? Because all the ghosts that she had seen in her life didn’t look like that man. Not at all. He was so solid, so substantial, he had placed his cold hand on her shoulder and she felt him, she felt its weight. And his face was pink and red from the cold and his clothes were brown. And his eyes, there had to be life behind those eyes. Nearly-Headless-Nick, the Fat Friar, the Grey Lady, Moaning Myrtle, the Bloody Baron, they were real ghosts. They levitate around the castle and if you looked at them you looked through them at the same time, and if their hands touched you, you would have felt as if you were taking a cold shower, but you wouldn’t have been able to feel their weight. He can’t be a ghost. James was right.

She turned the page, the next one was completely untouched. No writing, no drawing, and for a moment Hermione’s heart skipped a beat as she thought that the diary stopped there. She turned another page, and then another, and another. They were all completely white. She let out a frustrated cry. There was nothing there, nothing about the curse, and nothing that she didn’t already know about the old man. She was ready to throw that journal in a corner of the bathroom, when she noticed a wrinkled piece of paper, inserted between the last page and the cover of the diary. It was the same exact paper of that pages, and it seemed torn down from that very same journal.

Day twelve. Halloween.

Dumbledore has been here today. There’s no way this is going to be a happy Halloween. Peter is still missing, the Death Eaters have killed two Aurors and I feel Voldemort’s presence threateningly close to this place. James says that I’m imagining things, I don’t think so. We fought this morning, he wanted to have a proper Halloween party tonight. I told him that I don’t think Dumbledore would be too happy, better if we keep quiet and spend the evening at home. Dumbledore agreed with me. I also told Dumbledore about that old man. It was strange, but he seemed very interested, in fact he asked me to tell him everything I knew. Well, I didn’t know much, anyway, he said that he would have paid a visit to the cemetery. Before he came back to Hogwarts, he told us something about what he found in the cellar: it was a journal, a diary in which there was what he called it ‘another plan’, in case Voldemort would find and kill us. Unluckily, he didn’t want to say anything else, and apparently our death is required for this plan to occur. I don’t think I would be able to find out what this secondary strategy is all about in the future, especially if we have to die. Oh! And he also added that the diary is from… 


Hermione raised her eyes, the note stopped there, the paper was ripped, but she was sure that the name that was missing there was ‘Hufflepuff’. The same name that Harry had found on that parchment and that now was lying in his pocket close to Dumbledore’s note. She snorted with frustration as even that last page of Lily’s diary didn’t say anything useful at all. She had hoped to find out something that would have had the consequence to make the trip to the cemetery, the next day, an utterly superfluous thing. Instead, now, she was even more curious and confused than before. There was Hufflepuff’s diary, there was a curse and there was that old man. How were these three things linked? What did Hufflepuff’s diary say? Who was that old man? And above all, what was that curse about? So many questions, so few and inconsistent answers. And now, just like Harry, she couldn’t wait for the next morning to come.

***

Ron bent over Draco’s bed, and looked intently his chest. For a moment he had thought that he was dead, and for a moment his heart had skipped a beat. But Draco’s breast was rising and falling gradually and almost imperceptibly; his breath was soundless, his eyes shut. He seemed very close to a slow and painless departure.

Ron stepped back from the bed and, as he turned, Draco whimpered. Ron turned again and looked at him. Draco had his eyes open and was trying to focus on the person that stood in the room next to him. His face seemed to pass from a hopeful one to a very deluded one, and Ron knew that he was expecting to see Hermione.

“My wand,” grumbled Draco softly.

“What?” asked Ron rudely.

“My wand, Weasley,” repeated Draco. His face was white, his lips dry and cracked. It looked almost like his body had been drained of all its energy and blood.

Ron smiled. An evil and sneaky smile. “I thought you were threatening me to tell Harry and Hermione that I stole your wand,” he hissed with a smirk. “But neither Harry nor Hermione mentioned anything to me. What happened? Did you forget to go crying to them?”

“I don’t need their help to get my wand back from your dirty hands, Weasley,” snapped Draco wearily. He narrowed his eyes, trying to look threateningly, but he only caused Ron to raise his eyebrows disdainfully.

“Malfoy, why on Earth don’t you just close your eyes and see if you can die slowly and painfully?” asked Ron calmly. “And silently?” he added.

Draco glared at him. “Give my wand back, Weasley,” he repeated.

“What part of no is not clear to you?” asked Ron mockingly.

“The part where you don’t give my wand back. It’s mine, and you are not a thief,” hissed Draco. “Little Harry Potter’s sidekick would never do something so mischievous. He’s one of the good guys, always doing the good things, always behind his best friends. Not enough smart, like Granger, or rich, like Potter, you--”

Silencio!” Ron yelled, his wand was raised in front of him, his jaw set.

Draco’s voice died in his throat. He glared at Ron with all his force, years and years of frowning and glaring had to be useful for something, but at that moment Ron didn’t seem impressed at all.

“Look, Malfoy,” Ron hissed, pulling out Draco’s wand and pocketing it back in one of his jeans pockets. He stepped back from the bed and smirked. “If you can reach it, you can have it back.”

Draco shook his head, as if he was talking to a wayward child who had deluded him. Ron didn’t look like the Ron that he used to know at school, he was treacherous and too much self-confident for Draco’s pleasure.

Draco was starting to firmly believe that he should have called his master, after all he wasn’t so sure anymore that the situation wasn’t slipping away from his hands. But he couldn’t. For once in his life he should have bring to an end the assignment that he had been given. And this time he should have done that all alone.

“Well, Malfoy, what a pity.” Ron’s mocking voice snapped Draco out of his thoughts. “I think that if you survive this poison, you better pay a visit to Ollivander’s. Too bad nobody knows where he is, right?”

Draco narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth for saying something, but no sound left his lips.

“What Malfoy? I can’t hear you,” mocked Ron. “Oh, sorry, I almost forgot. Finite incantatum.”

“It’s better for you if you keep me silent, Weasley; I have too many things to tell you and I don’t think that you’ll like any of them,” hissed Draco. “Or maybe you are afraid that Granger will tell you something if she sees that you’ve hexed me?”

Ron looked at him, a glance full of hate and contempt. “I don’t give a damn what that Mud--” Ron stopped. For a moment he seemed he was going to hate himself for what he was going to say. He shook his head forcefully, as if to clarify his thoughts, and finished, “Muggle-born. That damn Muggle-born.”

Draco stared at him, his mouth slightly open in surprise. “You were going to call her a Mudblood, I know that, Weasley,” he murmured. “Wow, what the hell is happening to you?”

Ron seemed ready to snap something back as an answer, but instead, he just stepped back and, before Draco could even think about something else to tell him, he has gone. The door that slammed downstairs was the last thing he heard before his mind was invaded by a thousand conjectures and thoughts about what was happening in that house.

***

Hermione knew that the water downstairs was already boiling, and she was sure that Harry would come knocking on the bathroom’s door, soon or later. Maybe annoyed that she had not yet come downstairs, or maybe afraid that something had happened to her.

She turned on the water in the basin. She would have loved to take a shower, but she decided that it was better if she went downstairs and prepared the Healing potion for Harry, his wounds on his wrist didn’t look like something that should be ignored. She looked at her reflection in the mirror. The blood on her cheek was already dry, and it looked like a crimson tattoo. She took out her wand from her pocket and healed her wound. She knew that Harry had volunteered to do that, but she didn’t need him to cure that small cut.

When her cheek was healed, she washed it with freezing cold water and shivered. Then she remembered that her ankle was cut too. There was that little and annoying slash from when she jumped that bush early that morning. She kneeled down and as soon as she curved, she felt a blinding pain coming from her back. She stood up quickly and rubbed the source of that soreness. It was right under the elastic band of her bra, and it went from side to side of her body. She raised her tee-shirt and placed a hand on her bare skin; she took it away quickly, scared and disgusted. On her back there was a stripe of pulsating measles that seemed ready to break and soak her clothes with blood. She raised her tee-shirt above her head and turned her back towards the mirror, trying to have a better look of that mess from above her shoulder. The measles were huge and disgusting and she didn’t remember where and how she got them. They are even more horrible than last time, she thought and her heart skipped a beat. Last time? When Ron had touched her, when Ron had tried to hug her in the living room, also that time her skin covered with measles. She glanced another time at that disaster, and tried to recall what had happened to her. When I was in the cellar did Ron touch my back? No, he didn’t. But something else did. She let the tee-shirt fall and brought both her hands to her mouth.

“That thing touched my back, that thing that attacked me and Harry, it touched me in the exact place where these blisters are,” she murmured to herself. “But it couldn’t have been Voldemort, there is no reason for him to let us go almost undamaged and alive.” She shook her head. “Whatever that thing was it had the same effect on my skin of Ron’s touch, what’s happening here? What’s happening to me?” She looked at her reflection in the mirror, her long red hair framed her scared face, her greenish eyes fixed on her reflection as if she was looking to a ghost.

“Hermione, are you alright?” Harry’s voice through the door seemed worried and annoyed at the same time, and it had the power to snap her out of her thoughts.

She shook her head vigorously as if to clarify her ideas, she turned towards the door and opened it. “Yes, I’m alright,” she answered, lowering her eyes.

“You’ve been in here more than an hour, I thought you--”

“Yes?” she cut him off, without knowing why, she didn’t want to know what he thought she could have done.

Harry shook his head and looked away. “I think that you have already checked on Malfoy, haven’t you?” he asked calmly. “So, does he need it?”

Hermione frowned without understanding. “Does he need what?”

“The Healing Potion,” answered Harry.

“I’ve not yet checked on Malfoy,” replied Hermione. “I’ve just been into the bathroom. Washing myself a bit and healing my wounds. I’m going to see him right now.”

“That’s strange,” said Harry, casting an odd glance to the door at his right. “Ron ran out of the cottage a few minutes ago. I thought that was because he had fought with you and Malfoy.”

“He went out a few minutes ago?” asked Hermione, starting to understand what was happening there every moment less. “Where did he go?”

“How should I know?” snapped Harry back.

Hermione looked at him as if he was from another planet. “Didn’t you ask him?”

“Hermione, maybe you’re not exactly clear about the situation, here,” answered Harry. “The only things that told me that Ron has left this house were his quick steps on the stairs and the banging of the front door, I didn’t even see him.”

“Okay, sorry,” she replied. “I just thought that—never mind. I think I’ll go and have a look at Malfoy and then I’ll prepare the potion and heal your cuts.”

“If you’re too busy looking over Malfoy, then I can always heal my cuts by myself,” snapped Harry suddenly heated.

Hermione gritted her teeth. If she weren’t positive that it was impossible she would have believed that her friends were going through their periods these days. It was impressive how quickly they changed their minds about something, impressive how they could pass from happiness to jealousy to rage in less than five seconds. She was sure that she couldn’t stand the situation much longer, soon or later she would jump down the throat of one of them or would have a nice long and liberating fight.

“I just want to be sure that he’s still alive, okay? It won’t take me more than five minutes, in the meantime, why don’t you wash yourself a bit?” she asked, curling one long lock of red hair between her fingers. She would have bet that just a couple of days ago her fingers could fit perfectly well in her curls, but now she had to twist the hair herself around her fingers.

Harry looked at his hands. They were black with dirt, and covered with blood from the cuts on his wrists. Around the cuts there was also a thin layer of a sticky liquid that had dried on his skin, he looked at it with disgust. For a moment he frowned, earlier he was almost going to leave with those dirty hands and that wounded wrist, was his desire to understand what was going on so intense as to make him forget about the fact that he desperately needed a shower? Evidently, it was.

“I’ll take a shower,” he murmured. “I’ll take a shower and then I’ll come and have a look at Malfoy as well.”

Hermione nodded and smiled. Harry nodded curtly, then he walked past her and Hermione didn’t need to turn to know that he was locking himself into the bathroom. She took a deep breath, and turned towards the room where Draco should have been asleep. She took a couple of steps to her right and stopped right in front of the closed door, her hand pushed down the handle, but she didn’t push open the door.

She smiled and thought about Draco. Strangely enough, she was happy. Happy to see him, happy that Harry was in the bathroom and that Ron had gone somewhere outside, so that she could talk to Draco all alone. Wait a minute, she wondered, what’s wrong with me? Why am I feeling this way? She stomped her feet on the floor with rage. I don’t like Draco Malfoy. I don’t like Draco Malfoy. I don’t like Draco Malfoy! I’m just happy that he won’t be all sweet and nice with me and a moment later he won’t verbally attack me, just like Harry and Ron seem to constantly do. Honestly, those two need to chill out a bit, at least Malfoy is a bastard, but he doesn’t change his mind every second.

She nodded, pleased with her explanation. She didn’t like Draco, it was already surprising the fact that that idea had brushed her mind for even considering something like that. She pushed the door open and walked cheerfully into the room.

Hermione stopped in her tracks when she didn’t hear Draco say anything at all.

She looked at the bed, and for the first time in her life she hoped that Draco Malfoy was alright. Her heart skipped a beat when she noticed that Draco’s half covered chest wasn’t moving, and that his skin was as white as the sheets that covered his body.

“Malfoy?” she called hesitantly. “Malfoy, are you alright?”

There was no answer to her questions. Not a sound or a movement from the bed.

And then she didn’t know what she was doing anymore. She just knew that a qualified Healer would have calmly taken out her wand and tried to reanimate the patient that looked like he wasn’t going to breath anymore. But Hermione wasn’t a qualified Healer, and she wasn’t calm at all at that moment, so she simply collapsed on the bed next to Draco and, seizing his shoulders, she started to shake him lightly.

“Malfoy,” she called again. “Malfoy, please, just tell me that you are alright.”

As Hermione shook his upper torso Draco’s head bounced on the pillow, the golden snake-shaped pendant that he wore around his neck fell behind his back and the chain deepened into his skin.

Hermione opened her mouth, but Draco’s name died in her throat. Her vision blurred while her eyes filled with salty tears. She had never imagined it. Never thought even for a spare minute that she would have wept for Draco Malfoy. And there she was, shaking his motionless body and crying without even being able to call his name anymore.

Hermione lowered her eyes on the sheets that covered his chest. She felt a couple of tears caressing slowly her cheeks and there they were, fell on the sheets, like two stains of dirt. She couldn’t believe that she had failed to save the life of the very first person that she had tried to restore to health, she felt a wave or rage against herself for her inconstant cures towards him. And then she couldn’t help thinking about Ron and Harry who had been so childish to keep on saying that she was spending way too much time with him rather than with them. Evidently she hadn’t spent enough time at all with him.

She bent over him and leaned her head on his chest. Then the sporadic tears that had watered her eyes turned into a salty river that soaked the sheets like the rain itself would do. She clasped the cover with her fingers until her knuckles turned white, and sniffled loudly before starting to cry.

“Draco, please, forgive me,” she sobbed between tears. “I failed to cure you, but I would do anything if I could still save you.”

“Even getting off me, Granger?”

“Anything, I…” Hermione’s words faded away, and she raised her head so quickly that she heard a loud crack coming from her neck. She brought her hands to her mouth and looked at Draco. He was looking at her with weary grey eyes and his mouth slightly open.

“Y-you,” she stammered, pointing a trembling finger towards him. “You—I thought you were--”

Draco took a sharp and deep breath. “I’m not, if dead is the word you were looking for,” he murmured. His voice seemed to come from the hereafter.

Hermione nodded.

“But you were almost going to cut off all the air from my lungs,” Draco pointed out weakly. He looked at her face and for a moment he thought he saw something of sparkling in her eyes. “Granger, what were you…” He let his sentence hung in the air as he stretched out a shaking arm towards her face and wiped away a tear from her eyelashes. He brought his finger in front of his eyes and studied the drop that was trembling on it, like a pudding that was carried to the table on Christmas day. Then, he brought the finger to his lips and licked it, feeling the salty savour in his dry mouth.

“You’ve been crying,” he exclaimed, his voice was high with surprise and difficult from the pain.

Hermione didn’t answer, nor did she nod. She stood up from the bed and took a couple of steps backwards, just like Ron had done an hour before, her eyes wide with shock. Draco was alive, and he had caught her crying for him. Was it possible for her to be in a more awkward situation than that?

“Granger, you’ve been crying,” repeated Draco, and it wasn’t a question nor an accusation.

“I thought you were dead,” she whispered so softly that she wasn’t even sure that he had heard her.

“You already said that,” murmured Draco. Now his chest raised and lowered quickly for the effort of talking or maybe for the excitement to have surprised Hermione weeping over him. It was the most unexpected thing, yet he couldn’t say that it was something unpleasant.

Draco opened his mouth for speaking, but he closed it without letting any word escape his lips. Then he slowly lowered his eyes, caressing Hermione’s body with his gaze, and when he reached the floor he seemed to find the nerve to speak. “Were you crying for me?” he murmured hoarsely.

Hermione felt her cheeks going on fire, her mouth dried all of a sudden and her brain emptied as if every coherent thought had been sucked away from her mind. What was she supposed to say?

“Would you make fun of me if I told you that I was crying for you?” she asked back, not too keen to reply to his embarrassing question.

Draco closed his eyes. Would he make fun of her? He didn’t know. He probably should have laughed at her behaviour, he surely would have done that back at Hogwarts. But back at Hogwarts Hermione would have never cried for him. Now, he didn’t want to make fun of her, he wanted her to keep on crying for him forever, and at the same time he wanted her to stop and go away; because the sound of her cry was the most lovable and, at the same time, heartbreaking noise he had ever heard in all his life.

He raised his eyelids again, but didn’t dare to watch Hermione. “No,” he simply murmured.

“I was crying for you,” said Hermione, flushing. “I thought you were dead.”

“And you would cry for me if I died?” Draco asked, and only when the question was spoken he understood how stupid it should sound.

Hermione’s eyebrows joined together on her forehead. “I was already crying for you,” she whispered.

“I know, I know,” said Draco quickly. “I—it was just—nothing…”

“No, what?” plied Hermione. Her cheeks were still on fire, but the fact that Draco was stubbornly looking everywhere but at her was slowly making her embarrassment fade away, because she knew that he was as uncomfortable as her.

“Nothing,” repeated Draco. He sunk his head into the pillow and closed his eyes again, as if just keeping them open was a great effort for him. “What did you come here for?”

Hermione looked at him deluded. She wasn’t waiting for a declaration of love, but she could have surely done with some excuses. Excuses? For what? For the fact that he caused me to worry? And because he caught me in the most embarrassing position he could find me? She snorted, being given excuses from Draco Malfoy was like receiving Galleons for free from the Goblins.

Hermione walked towards the window and looked outside, deliberately taking her time to answer his question. She turned towards the bed and looked at Draco. Now he was surely breathing, and if he was like that also before, it was a mystery how it was possible that she hadn’t noticed it. She stepped towards him and stopped near the bedside-table.

“I came to check on you,” she finally said. “Like I do every day. But you weren’t breathing and so I thought that you were dead.”

“A little sped up conclusion you came up with, didn’t you?” asked Draco, and despite his serious tone of voice, Hermione was sure that his lips were slightly curled into a soft smile.

She looked around and her gaze fell on the plant in the vase on the bedside-table. It was lush and there were little shiny silvery buds coming up on the top of every stem. Without any reason, except to keep her hands occupied, she started to caress the leaves, which were smooth and warm under her touch. For a moment she understood that there was something strange about that plant, but her brain put aside every preoccupation about the little vegetable and her attention turned towards Draco. “Malfoy, you weren’t breathing, what should I have thought?”

Draco’s lips definitely curled into a smile. “No, you are right. I wasn’t breathing, you did think right. I could have been dead. But I’m not.”

“What happened to you, then?” she asked, and the curiosity to know something that was completely escaping her mind added a note of urgency in her voice.

Draco looked at her the way she had looked at Harry a moment before, as if she was coming from another planet, as if the consideration that he used to have for her intelligence was hastily decreasing. “I was holding my breath,” he answered as if it was the most normal thing on Earth.

Hermione’s mouth slightly opened in surprise. She seized the leaf that she was smothering a little bit too forcefully and a second later she found herself with the foliage in her hand. “You were holding your breath?” she asked, without believing that the answer was such an easy one.

Draco nodded in response.

“Why?” she demanded as comprehension still didn’t strike her.

“I don’t think you have ever had your stomach sliced in two, Granger, have you?” he asked as if he was talking to a little girl. Hermione shook her head, the leaf still in her hands. “Well, it hurts. It hurts even when you are talking, even when you are breathing. You can’t even imagine how hard it is for me to keep on talking to you.”

Hermione gulped. She knew that it wasn’t pleasant to be practically split in two like Draco has been, but she couldn’t imagine that he was suffering even with the simple act of breathing or talking. “You were just trying to lessen the pain, weren’t you?” she asked, feeling suddenly guilty and stupid at the same time.

Draco nodded. “And you--” He stopped dead. His eyes widened as he stared at her hands, and for a moment he seemed to turn even paler than before, but that was surely impossible.

“What?” asked Hermione, still waiting for him to finish the sentence.

“Your hands,” he murmured, without quite being able to take away his eyes from her fingers. “You’re bleeding.”

Hermione lowered her eyes automatically and stared. Her hands were covered with blood, a sticky crimson blood that her brain couldn’t figure out where it came from. She didn’t have any cuts, nor any bruises. And that leaf in her hand couldn’t have cut her skin. And she didn’t feel any pain at all, it was as if that blood wasn’t coming from her.

“Granger, you’re bleeding!” repeated Draco, and Hermione swore that he seemed a bit worried.

She raised her eyes on him and cocked an eyebrow. “I’m not bleeding, Malfoy, I’m not cut.”

“That’s blood on your hands, isn’t it?” asked Draco sourly. “And since I don’t think it comes from the--” He stopped and Hermione thought that his white skin was turning a ghastly shade of green.

“The--?” she questioned, but there was no need for him to go on talking. He meant the ‘leaf’, Hermione was sure. She turned her attention to it and then she glanced at the plant itself. The stem that she had broken was bleeding as well. She got closer and frowned. It looked almost like she had torn off the arm of a human being, it was exactly the same blood as a man or a woman’s. She had heard that there were people who talked with the plants and that some of them answered to some stimulus like music or the changing of light, but she had never heard of a plant that bled. Not even in the Wizarding World.

“This plant is bleeding,” she murmured, feeling suddenly stupid. She waited for Draco to snap, to manifest his incredulity in some way, but he didn’t say anything. The plant was bleeding, what could he have said? If he didn’t believe her, she could have placed the vase under his nose and made him touch the blood with his own fingers.

A plant can’t bleed, she tried to reason with herself. A plant cannot bleed at all, it doesn’t have blood in its veins—bloody hell, it doesn’t have veins in the first place. She narrowed her eyes. Now that her attention was completely focused on that plant, she started to remember. Only a couple of days earlier that thing was dead. It seemed dead, evidently, but it wasn’t, she thought sourly. It wouldn’t be the first time that I think that someone is dead when he’s not. She felt her cheeks burning with embarrassment as she thought that she had made the same mistake twice in a day.

She straightened her back and looked back at Draco. He seemed ready to throw up, Hermione had to suppress a fit of giggles as she thought that the very sight of blood was enough to have that effect on him. But her amusement faded away when she remembered that he hadn’t reacted like that when he saw the river of blood flowing from his stomach. What was he so shocked about, then?

“Malfoy, what--” But Hermione’s question was interrupted by Harry’s entrance into the bedroom.

Harry’s eyes wandered from Hermione to Draco, who were both looking back at him with big eyes and surprised expressions as if for a moment they had forgotten that they weren’t alone in that house.

“Am I interrupting something?” he asked sourly.

Draco opened his mouth to reply with something nasty, but luckily Hermione was quicker. “No, but there’s something that you should see here,” she said, raising her hands covered with blood.

Harry’s lips parted in an ‘oh’ of surprise, and before Draco and Hermione could even see his movements he pulled out his wand and pointed it at Draco.

“What did you do?” he hissed dangerously.

Draco glared at him coldly. “You’re crazy if you think that I did something,” he replied tiredly.

“Why is she bleeding?” asked Harry, raising his voice.

“I’m not bleeding, Harry,” broke in Hermione, stepping between Harry and the bed, in an almost protectively way. “I’m not bleeding, and Draco didn’t do anything at all.” She smiled. “How could he?”

“Hey!” protested Draco weakly.

Harry frowned. He looked reluctantly from her face to Draco, who was glaring back at him with all his forces. Then he felt a hand over his own stretched one, Hermione was trying to make him lower his arm-wand. He looked away from her and pocketed his wand.

“Than why are your hands covered in blood?” Harry asked, taking her wrists and observing her palms closely.

“It’s the plant,” she explained. “I broke a leaf and it started to bleed. I didn’t know that plants could bleed, but this one is doing it right now.”

“Are you sure that it’s the plant?” asked Harry. He glanced at the plant in the vase and saw that there was blood on the bedside-table, and some was still dropping from the broken stem. “Plants can bleed?”

Hermione sighed. “I don’t know. I didn’t think so, but evidently I was wrong.”

“Maybe it’s some kind of Wizarding plant,” commented Harry. “I think we should ask Neville, if we ever get the chance to see him again.”

“Ask Longbottom?” snorted Draco. “That’s really one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. What would he know?”

Harry looked at Draco over Hermione’s shoulder. “Neville knows quite a lot about plants, he’s very good in Herbology.”

“And do you think he would know more than Granger, here?” asked Draco, nodding towards her back.

Harry glared at him. “Just shut up, Malfoy,” he snapped.

“I will shut up when I want to, Potter,” rebated Draco sourly.

“Maybe I should--”

“Okay, guys, I think that’s enough,” Hermione interrupted them. “I don’t think we should make a fuss about this plant, evidently it’s just a species that we don’t know about. I think that if we look in a big Herbology tome we’ll find something about it.”

Harry and Draco glared at each other for the last time, then Harry turned his attention towards Hermione and nodded curtly. “Are you coming?” he asked her.

“Where?” she asked back, without understanding.

“Downstairs, remember you said you would have healed my wounds and prepared some potions, as well as something to eat?” he reminded her.

“Are you wounded, Potter?” hissed Draco in a cold tone of voice.

“It’s none of your business, Malfoy,” snapped Harry.

“Harry!” Hermione reproached him. “He was just asking.”

“What does he care?” retorted Harry.

“Why do you have to jump like that for such a stupid question?” she questioned, shaking her head lightly. “He was trying to be nice.”

“What?” exclaimed both Harry and Draco incredulously. They looked at each other and then Draco spoke first. “I’m not trying to be nice, Potter. I want you to know that,” he said firmly.

“I really hope so, Malfoy, that would make my skin itch,” replied Harry coldly.

Hermione looked from one boy to the other, her eyes wide in surprise and exasperation. She opened her mouth to reply, but then she seemed to think against it and closed it, she shook her head forcefully and rolled her eyes, a mixture of gestures that pointed out how annoyed she was.

Then she turned towards Draco and asked him, in her most serene voice, how his wound was doing. She just wanted him to answer her simple question so that she could go downstairs, heal Harry’s wounds, brew the potion and eat something. And then she couldn’t wait to lay down her weary head and sleep.

“It hurts,” complained Draco.

“Tell us something we don’t know,” snapped Harry impatiently.

“Maybe you don’t know that you are a big son of--”

“Did you drink the potion I gave you this morning?” Hermione interrupted Draco, her voice high.

Draco rolled his eyes. “I did, Granger, why do you keep on torturing me with all your questions?”

“Oh sorry, Malfoy, I think I’ll just let you die, then. Maybe you’ll be happier once you won’t have to drink any more potions that I’m going to brew for you,” she hissed.

“I’m sorry to delude you, but I wouldn’t be too happy, and I don’t think that you would be too joyful either,” he said seriously, looking Hermione in her green eyes. Didn’t she have chocolaty eyes?

Hermione blushed furiously, she lowered her eyes, bit her bottom lip and, turning away from Harry, mumbled something impossible to understand in response. Was he referring to her crying when she thought that he was dead? Obviously he is. For a moment she felt terribly exposed, and for a moment Harry felt like he was missing something, as if Draco and Hermione knew something that he didn’t. And suddenly he felt a wave of jealousy invading his mind and blurring his senses. Being jealous towards Ron was normal, if not even legitimate, but Draco, he surely wasn’t worth it.

“I’ll bring you another potion, later,” murmured Hermione to Draco. “Something for your wound.”

“What about the poison?” asked Draco weakly. “Aren’t you going to try another antidote on me?”

Hermione nodded. He was right, she couldn’t forget that he had also been poisoned and time was passing too quickly. Seconds became minutes, minutes became hours, hours became days, and every single moment that passed the poison was taking its toll on Draco’s body, like a high tide advancing up a beach. “I’ll prepare another antidote,” she answered.

Draco nodded. “Hurry up,” he said curtly while Harry practically dragged Hermione out of the bedroom and closed the door behind them.

***

Harry lay with one arm behind his head. The moonlight filtered through the window in his parents’ bedroom and hit the half-empty bed. Ron hadn’t come home, and Harry hadn’t a clue about where he could have gone, and he was too tired to wander around Godric’s Hollow looking for him in the middle of the night.

Harry lazily stretched his right arm in front of him and studied his wrist. His skin was smooth and perfect, as if he had never had any cut at all. Hermione had done a great job, and he wondered what kind of evil poison was running through Draco’s veins, rejecting any kind of potion or cure the way it was doing. If only Hermione had brought a Bezoar with her. Harry thought that there was a very good possibility that that was the only way to eliminate completely the poison from Draco’s body.

Harry turned in bed, he was tired and excited, so excited that he couldn’t sleep. He kept on thinking about the upcoming day and about what he would do when he saw the old man again. If I get the chance to see him, he thought bitterly. No! Be positive, Harry. You’ll find him and this time he will answer all your questions. The time is ripe, and he can’t avoid giving you a proper explanation; you’ll let him read your mind and he’ll see that you already know enough, he said to himself.

Harry had already planned every second of the next day from his very awakening to the moment in which they would see the old man. He would wake up Hermione, who was sleeping on the couch, with a kiss and then he would make her some breakfast and--. Harry shook his head. He wouldn’t do something like that. Wake up Hermione with a kiss? Have I gone crazy? he thought, blushing in the darkness of the bedroom.

Hermione. Harry couldn’t stop thinking about her. If he thought about the next morning, he imagined her sleeping figure; if he looked at his wrist, it reminded him of her skill with healing charms and potions; even if he meditated on Draco he couldn’t help thinking about her in the end.

He had heard Draco’s yell of pain when Hermione had gone upstairs with the potions, and for a moment he felt bad for him, but when he realized that while he suffered Hermione was with him, Harry couldn’t help feeling a little jealous. He didn’t know why, nor he was able to repress that feeling, but he didn’t like it when Hermione was alone with Draco. He didn’t want him to die, and he knew that Hermione was just trying to saving his life, but he wandered if she couldn’t do that by standing at least a couple of miles away from him.

Harry hid his head in the pillow and let out a cry of frustration, muffled by the texture of the cushion. He knew that Draco wasn’t indifferent to Hermione, how could he be? She was taking care of him, she was trying to save his life. Harry had once heard that saving someone’s life was the greatest gift that a person could give to another. He frowned, his breath stiff and sharp. If Hermione saved Draco’s life things would definitely change between them. He would owe her his life, she would become the most important person to him. And what about him? What about Harry Potter? She would forget him.

Harry hit the pillow with his fist. What was he thinking? Those thoughts were driving him crazy, he couldn’t believe that he was seriously considering the fact that Draco and Hermione could have become more than just friends. Friends? They aren’t friends, they hate each other, he thought forcefully. But the more he repeated that to himself, the less he believed in it.

At least I convinced her to sleep on the couch tonight, he thought sourly. I’m sure that Malfoy isn’t too happy about that. And he couldn’t help letting out a soft snort of laughter, which faded promptly away as he remembered that Hermione herself wasn’t very happy about sleeping away from Draco. She just wanted to look over him, didn’t she?

Harry tried to push Hermione to the back of his mind. He had to concentrate on something else, he had to take a break from her and think about something different. He knew that he could have gone on reflecting on her for the whole night, but he was sure that that would have ended up with him sneaking into the living room to simply have a look at her while she was sleeping. He wondered if Hermione thought about him as much as he thought about her.

He brought his fists to his temples and knocked on them. No! No! No! Stop thinking about her! Think about something else – think about Ron! Where the hell is Ron? His friend would have been of great help at that moment, they would have laughed together about Harry’s fears about the possibility that Draco could turn out to be a rival for Hermione’s love, and that would have dissipated a bit his worries. But, Harry was sure, this time Ron wouldn’t have laughed, on the contrary he would have probably come up with a plan to get rid of Draco forever.

Harry closed his eyes. What was happening to him? What was happening to his friends? What was happening to Draco? Why did it look like the world had turned upside down? He and Ron were constantly fighting, and Hermione and Draco were becoming closer every moment that passed.

But maybe… Harry smiled sleepily, his eyes still closed and his breath regular. Now he understood; it was so clear, so easy that he felt terribly stupid for not having thought about it earlier. Now that he realized it, he would have surely been able to slip into a peaceful sleep… or did he?

***

Draco gritted his teeth. He didn’t know why he was so angry with Harry. Apart from the fact that he’s Harry Potter? He snorted. If he didn’t know Harry better, Draco would have said that he was jealous that Hermione had slept in his bedroom the last few days, on the armchair next to his bed.

Hell, Potter! I’m wounded! he screamed in his own mind. He would have loved to hex Harry right at that moment, but unluckily he didn’t have his wand, nor he could wake up from the bed, so he closed his eyes and started to imagine himself using the Cruciatus Curse on Harry. And imagining was even better than really doing it, because he knew that in the real life he wouldn’t have been able to use an Unforgivable Curse on anybody at all.

He shook his head vehemently as if to clarify his mind and understand what was going on inside his brain for thinking all those things. And he didn’t think it was the poison. He was seriously irritated with Harry because he convinced Hermione to go downstairs and sleep on the couch that night. What was he thinking? Did he think that Draco Malfoy was a threat to the innocence of Harry Potter’s sidekick?

The only time that he had touched her while she was asleep had been the first night that he was there. She was sleeping on the armchair, and was shivering, her teeth were chattering with cold, and her lips had turned a nasty shade of blue. He had looked down at his bed, she had sacrificed her warmth for his since he was wrapped with several covers. He was sure that he didn’t need so many covers, so he regained his strength, sat up from the bed and covered her. His hand had brushed her cheek delicately and he had felt how frozen she was. But that was the only time that he had ever touched her while she was asleep.

I did it because her chattering teeth wouldn’t let me sleep, he said to himself stubbornly. But that theory didn’t work for him anymore. Now he was sure that he did it because he was worried about her, and he was sure that he was angry with Harry because he was preventing him from sleeping with Hermione sat on the armchair next to him.

What was wrong with him? Why did he feel that way towards that Mud--. He shook his head, he didn’t want to say that word. Not even in his mind. What’s happening to me? he asked himself. How can I fancy Hermione Granger?
He gritted his teeth. There was no way that he could like her. He should have hated her. Damn Granger, how can I hate you if you cry for me? You should cry because of me not for me! How can I even try to hate you if you don’t give me a reason for doing so?
He looked down at his stomach. The new bandage was already dyed with blood. He shook his head and wondered when all that reasoning would come to an end. He was becoming more tired every day of all these things, and he had been terribly imprudent with the plant. Luckily both Hermione and Harry didn’t seem to be too much interested in that stupid incident, but Draco had felt the already almost non-existent colour draining from his face when he understood that the plant was bleeding.

He sunk his head into the pillow and grasped the sheets spasmodically with his hands. I can’t take it anymore. I’m sure I won’t be able to carry on with this much longer, he thought as tiredness got the better of him.

***

The street where Harry stood didn’t have anything familiar about it. He couldn’t remember if he had been there in the past. There was nothing, not even a sign, that pointed out the name of the road, and it looked like any other normal street that he had crossed in all his life, nothing recognizable, no details at all.

He walked towards a street lamp and looked down at his hands. He didn’t recognize them. His fingers were longer and his nails were encrusted with dried blood and dirt. Harry frowned. He was sure that he had washed them. He tried to have a look at his clothes as well, but the light of the street lamp was turned off suddenly, causing him to narrow his eyes to get accustomed to the unexpected darkness.

Harry raised his eyes. The nightly sky was moonless and the stars weren’t bright enough to let him distinguish anything except the vague profile of the houses that stood at his sides. He wondered what he was doing there, the last thing he remembered was that he was trying to fall asleep and he was thinking at Hermione.

Harry’s heart jumped when a cat meowed and leaped on a bin. He heard the squeak of a mouse and the soft noise of the cat that landed on the ground chasing it. The top of the bin flew at Harry’s feet and the dead body of the cat followed suit.

“I hate cats,” grumbled a voice in front of Harry. He narrowed his eyes to try and distinguish the man that was talking, but he couldn’t make out much of the figure in front of him. He was short and pretty fat, and his voice was rather familiar to Harry.

“I wonder why,” said Harry mockingly and coldly at the same time. And then his heart skipped a beat and he just wanted to scream, to jump, to shake his head and yell at himself that he had to wake up. That was not his voice. And that was not his body. He wanted to have another look at his hands or at any other part of his body, but he couldn’t, even if his eyes were starting to get accustomed to the dim light, he didn’t have any power on that body.

The man growled. “You should pay more respect to your elders,” he barked.

Harry raised his arm, a wand between his fingers. He felt a wave of depravity invading his mind and a moment later his mouth was murmuring ‘Crucio!’. Harry felt the power of that curse taking away his breathe, and the pain that he was causing reminded him of the one that he had felt two years before in the cemetery at Little Hangleton.

As the red light invested the man, Harry saw his plump face and his metallic hand, the almost hairless head and the round evil eyes. The face of the man twisted in pain and he let out a desperate cry.

“No, p-please!” whimpered the man. “Stop it!”

Harry raised his hand, and broke contact with his victim. “Haven’t I been clear about what happened, Wormtail?”

“Y-yes, master,” stammered Wormtail.

Harry kneeled next to him and took a fist of his hair in his hand, pulling his face backwards. He neared his mouth to his ear and a stinking smell reached Harry’s nostrils.

“Yes what, Wormtail?” Harry asked in a low whisper. “Yes, I’ve been clear; or yes, you have not understood?”

“Y-yes, m-master, you’ve be-been clear,” sobbed Wormtail.

Harry let him go and stood up. “Very well, because I don’t want to repeat it again,” he hissed, and Harry knew that Wormtail had just avoided being cursed another time, because his hands were still caressing the wand dangerously. Harry looked down and a sparkle escaped the wand as if he was trying to make his threat even more effective. He narrowed his eyes. He knew that wand. He knew it and it wasn’t Voldemort’s. He knew that wand, but where had he seen it?

“Y-you said you had a message.” Harry looked down at Wormtail again, he was kneeling in front of him, and for a moment Harry tasted the astonishing pleasure of being feared and respected.

“In fact, I have one,” sneered Harry. “Tell your master that I’ve got them.”

Wormtail raised his eyes on Harry’s face. The surprised look on his face was very unflattering, as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Harry feared that Pettigrew would suffer under the Cruciatus Curse another time before that night was over.

“That’s impossible,” he whispered.

“Do you doubt my words, Wormtail?” Harry roared.

“N-no, master. No, never,” he whimpered, covering his head with his hands. “It’s just that we have looked for them for weeks, and we didn’t find them. We have--”

“We, we, we,” mocked Harry. “You are not me, evidently. I have them all. There’s the boy and the traitor.”

“And the girl,” added Wormtail shyly. “There must be a girl.”

Harry moved so fast that he thought he was going to fall. He seized Wormtail’s throat and raised him from the ground, with a force that he didn’t believe any normal man could have. “You must not touch the girl,” he hissed. “She is mine. And I’ll dispose of her as I prefer.”

Wormtail let out a strangled cry and nodded. Harry let him fall on the ground while he coughed and sucked in some air, his face red and his throat slightly purple where he had kept hold of him.

Harry sneered, satisfied with himself. “You may go now, Wormtail.” And he knew that it wasn’t a suggestion, but an order.

“W-when shall we--”

“Your master will know when,” hissed Harry. “I found the thing he has been looking for in these last months, but I still need to find out what the curse is about.”

Wormtail nodded. “Y-yes, master,” he said.

“Go now, and don’t talk to anybody except to your master,” Harry commanded, gesturing impatiently with his hand to go away.

Wormtail kneeled another time and then he Disapparated. Harry stood there in the darkness, with his eyes fixed on the place where he had heard the subtle ‘pop’, his mind racing and his heart beating furiously in his chest. Where was he? Whose was that body he was in?

The light of the streetlamp turned on suddenly. Harry looked at his feet, the dead body of the cat lay on the ground. Wormtail’s little revenge. Then a door opened behind his back and someone dressed in a nightgown appeared and screamed…


Harry woke up suddenly. He sit up on the bed and looked in front of him, his breathe laboured, his heartbeat fast. The sheets slipped down his chest and he shivered. He passed a hand behind his neck, he was frozen and sweaty. Harry stood still, the bedroom was completely silent. He stretched an arm towards the bedside-table and turned on the light.

He was invested by the dim light of the lamp, he narrowed his eyes and wore his glasses. When he turned to look at the bed he wasn’t all that surprised to find out that his friend still wasn’t there.

He placed his finger on the floor and tried to stand up, but he couldn’t. It was as if he had run for miles. He felt his lungs on fire, his legs were wobbly as if he couldn’t feel his muscles anymore.

What was that dream? It didn’t look like a dream at all, it looked more like—but no, Dumbledore had told him that Voldemort decided to block him out of his head. Why would he have changed his mind now? And if he has changed his mind, why had he decided to make him witness to such an important conversation? But maybe he hadn’t done that on purpose. Could he have been distracted for a second that had let Harry enter his mind? And who was this other master Wormtail and Voldemort were talking about?

Harry shook his head forcefully, his breath was slowly going back to normality and his heart was finding its usual pace. That was not Voldemort, he thought. I’ve been in Voldemort’s body, he’s not like that. But then who was he?

***

Hermione blinked a couple of times in the sunny morning. She was wearing a grey skirt and a black jumper over a white shirt, and everything was well hidden by a long black coat; but Harry remembered her outfit pretty well, since that morning he had thought that she was the prettiest girl he had ever seen: he had always had a thing for red-haired girls. Hermione’s hair is brown, he had to remind himself.

“Are you absolutely sure it was Wormtail that you saw?” she asked for the tenth time, as they walked past the church at the edge of the village.

“Hermione I didn’t just see him,” Harry told her. “I called his name. It was him.”

Hermione nodded. When that morning Harry had started to tell her about his dream, she had to listen to it several times before understanding every single detail. She has been sitting at the kitchen table, with Crookshanks purring in her lap, and tea and cookies in front of her. Harry sat across from her, while Ron was still sleeping upstairs. Their friend had come back in the first hours of the morning, and without talking to anybody, he had gone to bed and fallen asleep.

“And you didn’t recognize anything that you saw?” she asked, moving a straight lock of hair away from her eyes.

“Nothing,” replied Harry frustrated. “Except for the fact that I had a vague sensation I’ve seen his wand before.”

“But you don’t remember where, right?”

“Right,” answered Harry sighing.

“Or who that wand belonged to, correct?”

“Correct.”

Hermione nodded again. The sun that August morning was almost pleasant, it wasn’t warm, but it wasn’t as cold as it had been the last few days either. And until that moment it was an incredibly nice day for her: she had woken up that morning, relaxed and rested after a night of sweet dreams about Harry; she had managed to have a civil conversation, without fighting, with Draco, when she asked him how he was feeling; and she was happy that Ron had come back home, safe and sound, even if she hadn’t seen him at all.

“Are you sure that it wasn’t just an ordinary dream?” she asked.

“I know how it feels to have an ordinary dream, Hermione,” answered Harry a little impatiently. “And that was definitely not just a dream. I was there, in that body. I could feel the excitement when he used the Unforgivable Curse on Wormtail, and the satisfaction when Pettigrew kneeled in front of him. I could sense Wormtail’s fear and I liked it.”

Hermione bit her bottom lip. “But it wasn’t you,” she told him. “It was that person, you were feeling what he was feeling. It wasn’t you.”

Harry glanced at her. “So, you believe me,” he murmured. “You believe it wasn’t just a dream.”

“You’re sure, and that’s enough for me,” she said, lowering her eyes.

Harry looked at her and smiled. “Thank you,” he answered her.

“Well, you saved Mr. Weasley when he was bitten in the Department of Mysteries,” Hermione reminded him. “It’s not like it’s the first time that you saw through Voldemort’s eyes. But you have to be careful, Harry. Remember in our fifth year when Voldemort let you believe that he had Sirius, but in reality--”

“Yeah, yeah, I remember,” Harry interrupted her with a pained expression, the memory of his godfather made his throat heavy, and he didn’t need to feel that way at that moment. “Anyway, I don’t think I was in Voldemort’s body.”

Hermione ran a hand through her shining hair, she couldn’t believe it was so straight, she would have jumped up and down with joy from having such beautiful hair, if the conversation with Harry wasn’t so serious. “Well, Harry, you see,” she started slowly, “that might actually be a problem.”

Harry looked at her and cocked an eyebrow quizzically.

“Because,” she continued, without waiting for his question, “you can enter into Voldemort’s mind because you are linked with him since he used the Unforgivable Curse on you sixteen years ago, and – oh, Harry, you know it better than I do!”

Harry nodded. “I know, and I acknowledge that it could be a problem, but I’ve been thinking about this. Don’t you think that maybe Voldemort could have charmed someone and passed on some of his powers to him?”

Hermione looked at him sceptically. “You mean like a human Horcrux?” she asked.

Harry’s eyes widened in surprise. “I hadn’t thought about that. Is it possible to create a human Horcrux?”

“I guess so,” answered Hermione. “I mean it’s not like I know a lot about Horcruxes and dark stuff like that. I think it could be a risk to create a human Horcrux, though, I mean you have to do a certain spell to destroy an object that has been changed into a Horcrux, but I don’t think that you have to do much more than kill someone to destroy the Horcrux that has been placed in his body.”

Harry nodded. He knew that talking to Hermione would have helped him understand what was going on. Her explanations were also having the effect of strengthening out the theories that he had elaborated the night before, now he just had to find a way to tell her what he’d thought after he’d woken up, in the most convincing way possible.

“Hermione,” Harry started unsurely as they started to walk down the hill of the cemetery that led to his parents’ tombs. “I’ve a theory about who that person could have been.”

Hermione turned to look at him and almost tripped over a stone. Luckily, Harry caught her before she fell.

“You alright?” he asked, letting her upper arm go.

Hermione nodded and smiled. “What were you going to say?”

“That I’ve got a theory about who that person was,” he said. “I mean, he said that he had the boy, the traitor and Wormtail added that there was also a girl.”

“So?” asked Hermione. She didn’t understand him, or maybe she was just pretending that she didn’t understand.

“So, well, I thought that with ‘the boy’ he could have been referring to me – after all, when he said that Wormtail had to talk only to his master, he was surely referring to Voldemort, and… I mean Voldemort!” Harry looked at Hermione, waiting for her to say something, but she didn’t open her mouth. He sighed and then continued, “With ‘traitor’ he could have been talking about Ron, I mean, didn’t he say that Malfoy and the other Slytherins called him and his family blood-traitors because they talked with Muggle-borns and Half-bloods?”

Hermione nodded pensively.

“And you are the girl, naturally,” finished Harry. He had deliberately avoided telling her the reaction that person had had when Wormtail mentioned the girl.

“So you’re telling me the person is…” She looked at Harry and waited for him to finish the sentence with the name that she was afraid to hear. She wasn’t stupid, she knew who Harry was referring to, what she didn’t know was what her reaction would be when she heard his name coming from Harry.

“Malfoy,” finished Harry. He stopped. They had reached his parents’ tombs and now he was looking around himself without even knowing what he was searching for. He heard Hermione taking a deep breath, as if she was collecting her thoughts and was getting ready to reply. When he turned towards her, she was looking at him with a serious expression.

“Harry,” she started, and Harry didn’t like how his name sounded in her mouth at that moment, as if she was going to talk to a little child, instead of a seventeen-year-old boy. “You know that Malfoy can’t even get out of bed, right?”

“I knew that you wouldn’t agree with me,” replied Harry sourly.

“Of course I don’t agree,” snapped Hermione. “It’s a stupid theory. He can’t walk, how was he supposed to meet Wormtail in a lane in the middle of the night? And anyway, I would have heard him closing the door.”

“Hello, Hermione,” replied Harry annoyed. “He’s a wizard, he can Apparate.”

“He can’t,” retorted Hermione. “He hadn’t taken his Apparition test, yet.”

“Oh, of course because he hadn’t taken his Apparition test and he’s a nice little wizard, he doesn’t Apparate because he doesn’t want to break any rules,” hissed Harry mockingly.

“How can he Apparate if he can’t walk at all? Apparition requires much more strength than walking,” said Hermione, without noticing that her voice was gradually getting louder.

Harry narrowed his eyes and looked away from her, towards the distant mountains. “Didn’t the fact that maybe what he’s doing is all an act cross your mind at all?” he asked venomously.

Hermione felt the rage boiling inside of her. An act? How could he say something like that? Draco was suffering terrible pain, and she knew that he wasn’t acting at all; when she poured the potions on his wound they really stung and his flesh burnt for real. “He’s not acting,” she snapped. “He’s not acting at all. You should see his face when I touch his wound or when he moves. He’s really in pain.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Oh, sure, because poor little Draco Malfoy simply cannot lie or be good at acting. Hermione, he’s a Death Eater.”

“He’s not,” replied Hermione forcefully, ready to say something definite. “He’s not, I controlled his arm.”

Harry turned to look at her. His mouth opened in surprise and his green eyes so dark that they seemed almost brown. For a moment he looked like he didn’t know what to say to her. He hadn’t controlled Draco’s arm for the Dark Mark, the thought hadn’t even brushed his mind at all. How could have I? How could have I forgotten something so important like this? Then his mouth slowly closed and his lips set in a thin and severe line. “Of course,” he said bitterly. “Of course, you’ve controlled his arm and I bet you have controlled also somewhere else on his body, right?”

Now it was Hermione’s time to be surprised, and shocked, and speechless. She couldn’t believe her ears. Harry was accusing her of doing what exactly? Who did he think she was?

“What are you insinuating?” she hissed.

Harry lowered his eyes and kicked some cobblestones. “You and Malfoy have become rather closer lately,” he murmured.

“You are not seriously thinking that there’s something between Malfoy and I, are you?” she asked, crossing her arms on her chest.

“You said that,” replied Harry coldly.

Hermione’s jaw dropped. “I – what?” she screamed. “You’re crazy, just like Ron lately. What the hell’s wrong with you? Are you jealous?”

Harry turned his back on her, rolled his eyes and snorted. “And what if I am?” he asked her bitterly.

Hermione took a step back, she staggered slightly and had to sit down on the first thing she found to stop herself falling over. She found herself sat on a gravestone. She looked at Harry’s back waiting for him to turn and look at her, but he didn’t. She cleared her throat, which had suddenly gone terribly dry. “What?” she asked hoarsely.

“What if I’m jealous of Malfoy?” Harry questioned again, his voice trembled slightly, and Hermione could see that the base of his neck was turning a lovely shade of red.

“You can’t be jealous of Malfoy,” murmured Hermione.

“Why not? He’s a boy, and you spend all your time with him, and he’s changed a lot towards you these last few days. He always says nice things about you,” said Harry, and he knew that he was exaggerating the truth a bit, because the best Draco did was not calling Hermione a filthy Mudblood anymore. “Why shouldn’t I be jealous of Malfoy, then?”

Hermione shivered even if the sun was shining and she was well covered. She took her time to answer, she didn’t want to give Harry a pretext to keep up the fight. She didn’t like Draco in that way, right? And surely there was nothing between them, even if her heart had jumped in her chest when Harry told her that Draco has said nice things about her.

“Because you can’t be jealous of Malfoy,” repeated Hermione stubbornly.

“Why?” asked Harry another time, turning to face her.

She didn’t raise her eyes from the ground. “Because you can’t,” she murmured.

Harry shook his head. He knew that he wasn’t going anywhere with that conversation, so he just stood there, with his arms crossed on his chest and his eyes that wandered around the glen, lost in his thoughts rather than searching for the man.

Minutes passed slowly, the wind started to blow and some clouds began to cover the sun, then they disappeared again. Some leaves flew around them and they heard a crow cawing on a tree.

Hermione was playing with some stones that she picked up from the ground, and now she was throwing them at her feet. When a leaf landed on her lap, it had the power to snap her out of her thoughts. She raised her eyes on Harry and murmured, “What are we waiting for?”

Harry looked at her, surprised by the fact that she had spoken. “I don’t know,” he answered calmly. “That old man?”

“What if he doesn’t come?” asked Hermione, throwing the last stone between her feet.

Harry narrowed his eyes and looked intently around him. He hadn’t thought about that, when he’d left the cottage that morning, he was so excited that he was going to receive some explanations about the curse that he hadn’t considered at all the possibility that maybe they wouldn’t meet the man. “I don’t know,” he admitted.

Hermione sighed. “Have you tried to call him?” she asked, without being serious as she tossed a lock of hair behind her ear.

Harry looked away from her, he cupped his hands around his mouth and screamed, “Hey, old man!”

Hermione jumped on her feet, she stepped towards Harry and seized his hands in hers. “What are you doing?” she asked scandalized. “I was joking!”

Harry looked at her and smiled mockingly. “Really? I thought it was a great idea and that you were serious.”

Hermione glared at him. “We’re in a cemetery, you shouldn’t scream,” she scolded.

“Why? Everybody here is dead, is not like my screams will disturb them at all,” replied Harry, freeing his hands from hers.

Hermione shook her head. “Okay, whatever, I still don’t get why I--” She stopped, her mouth open and her eyes wide.

“Why you – what?” asked Harry.

Hermione didn’t answer. She seized and pulled the sleeve of Harry’s coat and nodded towards the oak that towered over the most ancient grave in the cemetery. Harry turned his attention towards the tree and stared. His heart skipped a beat as he couldn’t believe his eyes.

The old man was standing there, and he was looking right down at them. He was wearing the same shabby brown clothes as before, and his untamed hair was framing his face like the mane of a wild animal.

Harry freed his sleeve from Hermione’s grab and caught hold of her hand. He felt her putting up a little resistance as he started to walk up the hill towards the man.

“Come on,” he encouraged her, without turning.

“Harry, wait,” she said, seizing his arm with both her hands.

“Wait – what?” asked Harry impatiently, turning to face her.

“I don’t like this,” Hermione protested. “I don’t like that you just screamed his name and he appeared, it’s suspect and I--”

“Hermione, for once in your life, can you please ask your brain to stop thinking and trust me?” Harry interrupted her impatiently. “Maybe he was already there and we didn’t see him. Let’s just go there and ask him a couple of questions that have been burning in my throat since yesterday.”

He practically dragged Hermione up the hill, deaf to her protests and concentrated on the doubts that he wanted the man to explain to him. As they walked up the hill, the fear that they would see the man disappear another time behind that tree invaded Harry’s mind, but the closer they got to him the more improbable this seemed. The old man looked like he was waiting for them.

When Harry and Hermione reached the man, they stopped some feet away from him. Harry glanced at him with determination, and the old man looked back at him with a pleased glance.

“You’ve come.” The voice of the old man was powerful, and it sent little shivers down Harry and Hermione’s spines, they didn’t remember it being so amazing.

Harry let go of Hermione’s hand and stepped forward so that he stood between her and the old man. “Yes, we have come, and this time we want answers,” he started to speak quickly. “We won’t go away until you have answered all our questions, because the time is ripe and we are old enough to handle whatever you have to tell us. Bloody hell, you can’t even imagine what we’ve been through in the last six years, I don’t reckon that you’d think twice about telling us everything you know.” Harry stopped to take a long breath before going on with the flow of words that were coming directly from his brain. “We are sure that you know something about this curse, and we want you to tell us everything you know, because the only other person that could have told us anything is dead, and we need to know everything about this damn curse, because we have to fight it, right now.”

Harry looked at the old man, panting. He had told him everything that had come into his mind at that moment, and now he wasn’t sure if he had forgotten anything.

The old man looked back at him, a serious expression on his face. “Is that all?” he asked, and both Harry and Hermione could swear that they heard a note of enjoyment in his voice.

Harry’s eyes widened. He had waited for him to reproach him about his impoliteness or something like that, his reaction was absolutely unexpected.

“Y-yes,” stammered Harry, glancing at him with suspicion.

“Very well,” answered the man, standing there without moving. He looked past Harry and locked his eyes on Hermione, who didn’t glance away. He narrowed his eyes and Hermione felt like her brain was split in two. She gasped softly, and broke eye-contact with the man. She was sure that he had tried, and succeeded, to read her mind. But she didn’t know if he had used Legilimency or something else.

“So?” asked Harry a bit impatiently. Apparently he hadn’t noticed anything. “Are you going to tell us?”

The man smiled, showing a line of perfect teeth behind his lips. “I’ll do better,” he said, and while Harry and Hermione looked at him without understanding, he disappeared.

Harry took a step back and his shoulder crashed against Hermione’s. Finally they were sure, he was a wizard, but did they need that confirmation?

Then something seized their shoulders, firmly and almost painfully; and they heard the voice of the man between their heads. “I’ll show you,” he thundered.

Harry had just the time to notice how that scene reminded him of the episode with Tom Riddle’s diary when he had been sucked in his pages the moment Voldemort showed him Hagrid, that the ground under their feet started to shake, as if they were in the middle of an earthquake.

Hermione let out a scared cry and, before he could even turn to look at her, the ground disappeared completely and they started to fall. Harry tried to catch Hermione’s hand, but he couldn’t reach for her. It was almost like falling into a Pensive, and Harry hoped that, wherever they were going to end up, the landing was gentle.

Suddenly the ground reappeared under them and they were slammed onto it with such force that it took away their breaths. Harry was on his back, and he had to close his eyes because the sun was blinding him, the sky was cloudless, just like the one they had left behind.

He tried to stand up, ready to find some aching bones, but he was surprised to discover that he was fine. He sat up and looked around, looking for Hermione. She was only a few feet away from him, and was trying to crawl towards him.

“Are you alright?” Harry asked her, his eyes travelling over her body, her tights were broken in several places, and there was soil on her coat, but she seemed fine.

Hermione nodded as she reached him. “I guess so,” she answered. “But I feel like my stomach has been turned upside down.”

Harry nodded, he knew the sensation. He pushed on the ground with his hands and stood up, then he helped Hermione get on her feet as well. They cleaned the soil from their coats, and Hermione smothered her hair, staggering a little because of the fall.

Once they were clean enough, they glanced around themselves and stared. They couldn’t believe their eyes, was that man trying to fool them? Harry felt his rage rising inside of him. He opened his mouth to express his frustration, but a scream coming from Hermione stopped him from saying anything at all.

He turned towards her and saw that she was staring at his stomach, a horrified expression on her face. He was going to ask her what was wrong, but instead he glanced down at his belly.

There, like an iron and cold tongue, the blade of a sword was sticking out of his stomach, right above his navel. He looked at Hermione, scared and clueless about what was happening, and he saw that she was looking past him, at someone who he couldn’t see. Then a savage cry captured his attention, and, as he raised his eyes in front of him, he saw a man throwing himself against him with his own sword raised towards his chest.

Harry hoped that, whoever they were, would have had a bit of mercy for Hermione, then he closed his eyes and got ready to receive the fatal stab.

Chapter 11: Chapter Eleven
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Author's Notes: Sorry for the delay. I didn't mean to take so long for posting this, but my schedule is filled with things to do. Anyway, this is my favourite chapter, so I really hope that you'll like it. I love the Founders Four, they are great characters. Thanks a lot to Andrew, who beta-read this. :D




Harry stood there, his eyes closed and his breath regular. He was waiting for the sword to stab into his chest, but the blow never came. Or maybe it’s already come and I haven’t even noticed it. Maybe my death has been so abrupt that I wasn’t even aware of it, he thought.

He opened his eyes tentatively, without knowing what he was going to see. Maybe some clouds and a line of angels welcoming him into Heaven. He felt a bit surprised when the landscape that lay in front of him was the same one that he had seen before closing his eyes.

He looked around himself and saw that Hermione was standing right next to him. If she was there did it mean that she was dead as well, or that he was still alive?

“Hermione?” he called her hesitantly, stretching an arm towards her.

She turned her head towards him and looked at him quizzically, as if she didn’t understand why he was calling her. “What?” she whispered.

What?” asked Harry scandalized. “I’m dead,” he snapped a bit heatedly. How could she be so uncaring about the fact that he had been pierced like a pincushion?

Hermione rolled her eyes. “You’re not dead, Harry,” she replied annoyed, stretching an arm towards him and touching his shoulder to make him see that he was still alive. Then she looked away from him another time, returning her attention to what she was looking at before Harry disturbed her.

“What happened then?” he asked, without understanding. He was sure that he had been about to die.

“Harry! Can you please postpone all your questions? I’m trying to follow what’s happening,” she whispered, her eyes still looking intently away from Harry.

Harry followed her glance, and saw what had captured her attention. Far away from them, in the direction of the mountains, stood a couple of men. Harry’s first impression was that they were dancing, since their movements were graceful and harmonized. But then he saw the blades of the swords shining in the hot summer sun, and he understood. They were fighting.

“Who are they?” asked Harry, without hoping for an answer, his eyes fixed on the figures that were fencing elegantly, completely forgetting all the questions about the fact that he had managed to survive the stab of a sword.

“Fight pretty well, don’t we?” Was the question that answered his words, a question spoken by a soft voice at his back.

Harry and Hermione didn’t even have to turn round to understand who was the owner of that voice, but his question was too strange to be ignored.

We?” asked Harry, frowning.

The old man nodded, but Harry and Hermione couldn’t see him, since he was standing right behind them. “We,” he murmured.

Harry felt a wave of irritation invading him, if that man wanted to go on talking in riddles, he wasn’t very well disposed to listen to him. And what does he think? That we are stupid? He had made us fall in a very theatrical way, for what? We are in the exact same place where we stood before, Godric’s Hollow cemetery.

“You really think this is the cemetery where you stood before?” asked the man. And Harry knew that he had to pay attention to what he thought, because even his thoughts weren’t safe with that man around.

“No,” answered Hermione, surprisingly. “No, we are not in the same place as before.”

Harry looked at her taken aback. Her eyes were following the fight that was going on in front of them attentively. Harry wondered if she had understood the question at all.

“What are you talking about, Hermione?” he asked a bit rudely. “Of course we are standing in the same place as before. Look around yourself.”

Hermione looked at Harry and shook her head a little. “No, Harry, you look around yourself,” she murmured, gesturing towards the glen.

Harry rolled his eyes and then started to scan the valley with a sceptical expression. It looked exactly like the place that had disappeared from under their feet a moment before. There was the valley covered with shining grass, the mountains in the distance and the hill of the cemetery where the gravestones stuck out of the ground like--. The gravestones! Harry thought that his eyes were failing him. He was sure that the hill and part of the glen were covered with tombstones, ancient and new, simple and decorated, white and coloured; but now he couldn’t see any of them. He looked around him and discovered that his parents’ tombs were missing as well.

“Where are we?” Harry asked, looking at the old man with frustration.

“The question, young boy,” answered the man, without keeping his eyes away from the fighters, “is when are we.”

Harry frowned. This was getting ridiculous, what kind of question was that?

“Okay,” answered Harry, trying to talk calmly despite the fact that he was anything but calm. “Okay, when are we, then?”

“In the past,” answered Hermione, turning to look at the old man and waiting for his confirmation.

“Very well, milady,” answered the man with a bow. “Exactly one thousand and fifty-six years in the past.” Then he brought a wrinkled finger to his lips and said, “Now listen, we are coming.” And he nodded towards the men that were fighting.

Harry and Hermione turned towards them. The men were getting closer, and finally Harry had a clearer view of their appearance and their clothes. They were similar and at the same time, in someway different. They looked like the sun and moon, the day and the night, the light and the darkness, for one seemed handsome and strong while the other had a nasty and sneaky face.

And the closer they got, the more Harry had the sensation that he had already seen them. The first fighter had a square face, blue eyes and a golden-brown complexion. His big jaw was covered by a three-day-old beard and he had a thick moustache under his large nose. His sandy cascade of loose curls framed his face like the mane of a lion, and Harry gasped softly and turned towards the old man that stood next to him, since his resemblance with that younger man was astonishing.

When Harry’s eyes slipped back to the fighters, he cast a look at the other man. He had a pointy face, that reminded vaguely of a monkey. He had a fine and tidy beard, which ended pointedly on his chin, and a small moustache as well. His face was white, with a light shade of green, and his eyes were like two pieces of coal, and Harry had the sensation that they were also cold and cruel, when he passed close to him. He had shoulder-length hair, black and shiny like the feathers of a crow, which half-hid his thin face and his small nose when he ducked or backed away, avoiding the sword of his opponent.

Harry frowned, lowering his eyes. He was sure that his face reminded him of someone else, someone that he had seen years before, but the memory was so short-lived that he couldn’t remember anything but a man with similar features.

He looked back at the two men, they had come so close to them that Harry’s heart jumped in his chest every time he heard the sharp noise of metal against metal that their swords made. Their movements were quick and agile, and reached Harry’s ears together with their savage cries. Harry couldn’t help noticing how well they fought.

Then, Harry lowered his eyes to their outfit and stared. He has been so concentrated on their faces that he couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed that before, he couldn’t believe that he hadn’t focused on the brilliant colours of their clothes, but now that he had a closer look at them his heart started to race with excitement.

The man with sandy hair was wearing a pair of red tights, which bandaged his muscular legs like a second skin, and they were inserted into a pair of elegant brown boots. His torso was covered with a roomy shirt, blocked right above his hips by a thick, brown belt. The large sleeves reached half of his forearm, and their golden colour stood out against his tanned skin. On his torso and his back, the shirt was crimson, with golden seams that kept the various materials together. Against the bloody background of the shirt there was a complicated embroidery that represented a roaring lion, with his front paws threateningly stretched out in front of him. Harry gulped, how many times had he seen that lion? Every single day of his life since he entered Hogwarts.

He looked at the other man. He seemed to wear more expensive and refined clothes than the first one, even if Harry couldn’t have been sure, since he didn’t know a lot about tenth century clothing. He wore a pair of dark green tights as well, and they ended in a pair of boots, but his footwear was shiny and covered with an elaborate design made up of winding lines. He had a shirt that went from his shoulders down to his knees, and he wore a silver belt around his waist. The shirt was roomy just like the one the other man wore, but that one was just one colour: green, and it had embroidery as well, but this one represented a snake with his mouth open and his pointed fangs ready to snap. Around his shoulders, a long cloak was held by silvery strings and it fluttered around his ankles every step he took. He wore a ring which, Harry was sure, was familiar to him.

The man dressed in red warded off an attack from the other fighter and twisted his wrist so that his opponent’s sword turned towards the ground. The other man raised his eyes and looked at him with hatred while he was, all of a sudden, unarmed. His sword flew several feet away, spinning as it did so, and hammered into the ground right in front of Harry’s feet.

Harry looked at it, it was shiny and beautifully emblazoned with writings and drawings, the handle was covered in emeralds and silver. He stretched a hand towards it, he wanted to run his fingers over that weapon. He looked astonished as his fingers passed through the metal as if it didn’t exist at all.

Harry raised his eyes towards Hermione and the old man, his expression surprised and confused; he was sure that they would have looked back at him and explained what was going on, but they still seemed very interested in the scene taking place in front of them.

Harry stood up again and followed their glances. The man with sandy hair was standing with his arm stretched out in front of him, his sharpened blade leaning against the other man’s neck, and he was looking at him with resolute and cold attention. The other man had his face half hidden by a curtain of black hair, so Harry could se very little of him, but he was sure that his eyes were locked on his opponent’s face.

The man in red was sweating copiously from the fight, his hair was stuck to his forehead, with lots of locks placed behind his ears. His shirt was darker on his chest and between his shoulder blades, soaked with his own sweat.

“Go and get your sword, Salazar,” said the man who was still armed, and Harry’s heart skipped a beat. Salazar, he repeated in his mind incredulously, Salazar Slytherin. Now he knew where he had seen his face, it was sculpted on the statue that towered in the Chamber of Secrets, but in there he looked much older than he was now. Harry looked from one man to the other, if that man was Slytherin the other one could be none but…

“You think I can’t fight you without a sword, Godric?” hissed Slytherin.

Godric. Godric Gryffindor.

Gryffindor stepped forward, causing him to take a step back and stagger over a bump in the ground. Harry noticed that Gryffindor was trying to make Slytherin come closer to his sword.

“I don’t want to use magic to fight you, Salazar,” thundered Gryffindor. “I want to feel my sword going right through your heart and I want to know when you take your last breath. Now take your sword!”

Slytherin smirked, he stretched an arm towards the sword that lay at Harry’s feet and said, “Accio!”

The weapon flew into his hands and he pushed away Gryffindor’s sword with his own. “I’ll tell you one thing, Godric,” murmured Slytherin with a smirk. “You will never be able to kill me.”

Gryffindor took a step to his right as Slytherin went to his left, they started to walk in circles, looking intently at each other, their swords ready to clash.

“You’re too self-confident, Salazar,” answered Gryffindor.

Slytherin threw himself towards him and Gryffindor skilfully parried his shot. Their faces were only inches apart, and their muscles tensed with the effort of fighting and talking at the same time. “I know you, Godric,” hissed Salazar with a sneer.

Gryffindor pushed against him and sent him backwards. “What do you mean?” he snapped, panting.

Slytherin sniggered. “You don’t want to kill me,” he hissed.

Gryffindor’s feature became firmer, his jaw set and his muscles tensed. “You robbed me of the most precious thing I’ve ever had, you think--”

“You robbed me of her!” roared Slytherin, he sunk his sword in front of him and Gryffindor had to jump backwards to avoid it, then it was his turn to strike. Slytherin ducked and stepped back, while Gryffindor’s sword cut the air.

“She was mine,” hissed Slytherin as he caught his breath.

“She didn’t love you, Salazar,” yelled Gryffindor. “When you took her, it was by force.”

Slytherin’s eyes turned cold and empty like a couple of tunnels from which there was no exit, Gryffindor had obviously hit the nail on the head. Slytherin laughed in a way that caused Harry and Hermione’s hair to stand up. “What are you complaining about, then?” he asked mockingly. “Where she is now she can’t be touched anymore.”

Gryffindor screamed savagely and threw himself towards him, trying to pierce Slytherin’s stomach, but Slytherin was faster and warded off his shot. “You killed her,” spat Gryffindor.

“If she couldn’t be mine, nobody would have her,” hissed Slytherin back. He took a step forward and sent Gryffindor’s back crashing against a tree trunk, trapping him between the tree and his own sword.

They stood there for what seemed like ages to Harry. Slytherin was trying to reach for Gryffindor’s neck with his blade, while Gryffindor was busy trying to repel him. Every now and then a groan of tiredness escaped from one of the two men’s lips.

Harry couldn’t take his eyes away from them, he couldn’t believe he was standing there, and that in front of him Salazar Slytherin and Godric Gryffindor were fighting a fascinating duel with their swords. And what were talking about? A woman? Were they fighting for a woman?

“W-what are they talking about?” Hermione’s words gave voice to his thoughts and reached Harry’s ears as if she was talking in a trance, her voice was soft and emotionless. Harry turned to look at her, and saw that she hadn’t taken her eyes away from the fighters.

For a moment Harry thought that the old man wasn’t going to answer, because of the long hushed time that followed her question, the silence was so thick that it seemed almost as if nobody would ever speak again. But Harry was wrong.

“About the love of my life,” said the man, and both Harry and Hermione were surprised enough to hear the despair in his voice to turn and have a look at him. He stood there, his blue eyes fixed on Gryffindor and Slytherin, and his face let out a note of melancholy.

When they heard another yell, they turned again. Gryffindor had managed to free himself from Slytherin and now he was leaning against the trunk, trying to catch his breath, while Slytherin was doing the same just a few feet away. They both seemed too tired to keep on fencing, but Harry had the terrible sensation that neither of them would stop until just one was still standing.

Gryffindor narrowed his eyes, as he pushed the trunk with his hands and stepped in front. He jumped on Slytherin so suddenly that Harry thought he was going to stab him right in his heart, but Slytherin had very good reflexes and he managed to jump back and ward off his opponent’s shot. Gryffindor let out a frustrated cry and raised his sword with all his might, hitting Slytherin’s left arm and cutting his shirt and his skin.

Slytherin’s shirt dyed with crimson while his sleeve slid down his arm and fell onto the ground like a feather. He raised his eyes towards Gryffindor, who stood right in front of him, breathing quickly and sweating abundantly.

Gryffindor narrowed his eyes. “I followed you from Hogwarts to this place in the middle of nowhere, do you seriously think that I will let you go alive?” he asked coldly, gesturing around himself theatrically.

“It’s not in your nature to be a murderer, Godric,” hissed Slytherin, raising his sword and preparing to strike again.

“I thought it was not in your nature either, Salazar,” replied Gryffindor sourly. “Evidently, we don’t know each other as well as we supposed.”

Slytherin growled and cast Gryffindor a disdainful look. He put both his hands on the handle of the sword and tightened his grip until his already pale fingers turned even whiter. He took a step left and sneered. “What are you waiting for, Godric?” he hissed. “I’m here.”

Gryffindor snorted. “As you wish, Salazar,” he said, bowing his head mockingly. He threw himself towards Slytherin, a wild cry left his lips and all his muscles tensed up in the effort of hurling. His sword met Slytherin’s with a loud clang, and Harry saw the muscles on Slytherin’s bare arm swelling up as he successfully tried to block Gryffindor’s advance.

Slytherin brought his face closer to Gryffindor’s and whispered into his ear, “Are you afraid, Godric? Is it fear that I see in your eyes?”

Gryffindor gritted his teeth and growled, pushing the blade towards Slytherin. “It’s your death that you see in my eyes, Salazar,” he barked.

Slytherin slid backwards on the grass, his left leg trembling, he collapsed onto one knee as Gryffindor pushed him on the ground, and his sword slid on Slytherin’s blade. Gryffindor kept on pushing him, and Slytherin kept on sliding backwards, dying his tights with grass and earth. Eventually, Gryffindor managed to push him completely onto the ground: Slytherin’s right leg collapsed as well, and he banged his back on the soil. Gryffindor raised his sword over his head and lowered it with vigour, screaming with the effort. The blades met once more, right in front of Slytherin’s face, small sparks spread from the place where they touched and Harry thought that those swords couldn’t have had ordinary blades.

“You can’t kill me, Godric,” panted Slytherin, pushing on his sword.

“I can and I will, Salazar,” replied Gryffindor.

Slytherin narrowed his eyes, he lifted his right leg and kicked Gryffindor in his ribs with his strengthened boots, cutting off his breathing and sending him to the ground. Harry saw Gryffindor coughing and bringing his hands to his stomach, he curled up like a cat and Harry knew that Slytherin must have broken some of his ribs.

Slytherin stood up, he brought a hand to his injured arm and looked at his fingers, covered with blood. His eyed turned, if possible, even darker and colder than before, and his jaw set with fury. He stood up and looked at Gryffindor, who was now crawling towards his sword, he brought his hand to the silvery laces that held his cloak and untied them. The cloak fell gracefully to his feet, and Harry could see that there was another silvery snake embroidered on his back.

Slytherin closed his eyes and raised the sword next to his ear. For a moment he stood still, as if he was trying to decide what he had to do. Finally, he raised his eyelids and yelled, throwing himself towards Gryffindor.

Suddenly, the world went quiet around Harry and Hermione. The wind stopped blowing, the birds stopped singing, the Earth itself seemed to be holding its breath. Harry looked at Slytherin and he had the strange impression that his movements had slowed down, as if he was looking at a slow motion scene.

Harry could see Slytherin’s arms tensing up as he collected his strength, then his sharp blade was brought down towards Gryffindor’s stomach, and in a moment half of the sword had disappeared into Gryffindor's body.

Harry felt, rather than saw, Hermione’s arms sliding around his neck, and he sensed her hot tears running down his neck as she cried. But he didn’t know when she turned to hug him nor why she was crying. At that moment he didn’t feel like crying at all, he wanted to scream, he wanted to run towards Slytherin and curse him, he wanted to pick up Gryffindor’s sword and stab Slytherin’s heart. If he had one at all, thought Harry.

Harry started to caress Hermione’s hair, he placed a hand on her back and hugged her tightly. He couldn’t believe that they were really witnessing the murder of Godric Gryffindor at the hands of Salazar Slytherin. Hermione said that in ‘Hogwarts: A History’ there was nothing about the private lives of the founders, and he didn’t know any other volume that talked about them, he wondered if anybody at all knew anything about what they were seeing at that very moment.

Hermione’s arms slid on Harry’s shoulders as she turned again to look at Gryffindor and Slytherin. Harry heard her sniffle and saw that she was wiping away her tears with the back of her hand, she couldn’t stand that vision, it was heartbreaking, and the more Harry concentrated on her tears, the more he felt his throat burning and becoming heavy as he tried to hold back the tears that were starting to form in his eyes, trying to keep his vision clear.

Slytherin still had his hands on the handle of his sword. He was kneeling next to the dying body of Gryffindor, his head bent in front, his forehead was leaning against his hands. Harry couldn’t see his expression at that moment, but he was sure that he wasn’t rejoicing as he should have done having just defeated his opponent.

Slytherin stood up. He looked at Gryffindor with a serious expression and then, seizing the sword with both hands, he pulled it out of Gryffindor’s body, creating a river of blood. Gryffindor moaned in pain and moved his legs as if he was trying to find a more comfortable position for his back, his hands went automatically to the wound opened in his stomach, he pushed on it, trying hopelessly to block the torrent of blood which was soaking his clothes and the ground below. His breath was stiff and hoarse, as if something was blocking his windpipe.

Slytherin stood there. His eyes were fixed on Gryffindor’s body as he closed his eyes and his breath faded away. If Harry hadn’t witnessed the whole scene, he would have thought that he was grieving for the other founder’s death, but he knew that it couldn’t have been like that. And if he was, he was faking it. Slytherin turned and reached for his cloak, he picked it up from the ground, and then he brought two white fingers to his lips and whistled.

Harry and Hermione heard the noise of the hooves first, and then they saw two horses, running out of the forest like wild animals. One was completely black, with an elaborated saddle and precious reins of silver and green velvet; while the other was brown, with all its four legs white, it didn’t have a saddle, but it had reins. Slytherin freed the second animal from its few harnesses and threw them away. Then he clapped his hands on the rear end of the horse, the animal reared and threw itself in a crazy run towards the mountains.

Slytherin, Harry and Hermione followed the animal with their eyes, until it disappeared between the trees. Harry and Hermione had the sensation that what Slytherin had just done was to free Gryffindor’s horse, and their suspicion was strengthened by the fact that Gryffindor had slowly and painfully managed to turn his head and look at the animal as well.

Slytherin walked towards the other horse, his horse, and placed his cloak on the saddle, then he let the sword slide into a sheath tied up to the saddle, even as Gryffindor’s blood still dripped from the blade. He slid his hand over the back of the animal, and enlaced his fingers in the mane. He hurled himself forwards and prepared to mount the horse, but he stopped with his left leg in midair.

Harry frowned without understanding. Why was he stopping? Why didn’t he ride away? He realized what was going on only when he heard suffocate coughs coming from Gryffindor. The founder was still alive, and he was trying to talk.

As Harry and Hermione neared the lying figure of the founder, he was still holding his stomach with his hands, and he was opening and closing his lips like a fish out of water, hoarse meaningless sounds left his mouth.

Slytherin put his leg back on the ground and stood, giving his back to Gryffindor and leaning his hands on the saddle. “Why do you want to suffer this pain, Godric?” he asked in a tone which was almost totally exempt from its usual cruelty.

Gryffindor coughed blood. It dripped from his lips to his chin and his shirt, dyeing his already crimson clothes. He took a pained and stiff breath and then Harry and Hermione couldn’t believe their ears when they heard him laughing.

It was a difficult laughter, as if he was trying to do it with what little force that remained in him, and in someway the sound of that pained laugh was upsetting and shocking.

“I curse you,” he murmured stiffly and softly. His breath was heavy and slow, as if every gulp of air he took hurt him. “Did you hear me, Salazar?” he asked, raising his voice. “I curse you.”

Slytherin turned towards him. His eyes filled with anger and – was Harry just imaging it or that was fear? He walked slowly towards Gryffindor, his fists closed at his side, his thin face contracted in a disdainful grimace.

Gryffindor raised his eyes on him and sneered, showing his teeth and his white gums. “Are you afraid, Salazar?”

“I should kill you right now, Godric. It would avoid a lot of trouble for me and a lot of pain for you,” hissed Slytherin.

Gryffindor snorted with laughter and his body passed through a fit of spasm. He coughed blood again and for a moment the air was cut off from his lungs. Slytherin narrowed his eyes, evidently trying to decide if Gryffindor’s discourse was worth his attention.

“I curse you, Salazar,” repeated Gryffindor with difficulty. He took another long gulp of air and arched his back in pain, causing the blood to flow even more copiously from his wound down to the ground.

Slytherin arched an eyebrow with contempt and turned on his heels to go back to his horse, evidently reassured that Gryffindor wasn’t able to go on with his invective against him.

“If,” continued Gryffindor, panting and breaking off his discourse over and over again. “If you or one of your descendents,” he growled laboriously, “you or one of your descendents ever kill someone in this place-” He took a gulp of air and continued, “-you’ll be cursed.”

Slytherin stood there, his face unreadable. His eyes were coldly looking intently at the dying man’s face. Harry couldn’t help feeling that Slytherin was scared, but he was trying to do his best to hide it.

Gryffindor gripped spasmodically his clothes while his body shook. He looked at Slytherin and tried to sneer, but he chocked and had to cough instead. “If you kill someone in this place, where my blood has been shed,” he continued a little bit more steadily than before, “you’ll be cursed: your victims will come back and-” Another fit of cough interrupted his thread. “-and they’ll be more powerful than you or your descendents. They’ll get their revenge on you.”

Slytherin raised his pointed chin and narrowed his eyes. He stepped towards Gryffindor and kneeled next to him; his mouth was only inches away from Gryffindor’s ear. “You see, Godric,” he hissed venomously. “Your curse is useless, I don’t have the will to kill anybody else, and I don’t have any heir, nor do I have the will to have one; so there won’t be any descendents on whom your malediction will be effective.” He stood up and pulled out his wand from a pocket. It was a shiny little wooden stick, with an engraved snake on the handle. He pointed it towards Gryffindor, ready to bring his pain to an end.

“Avad--”

Gryffindor laughed even louder than before, cutting off the end of the Unforgivable Curse which had almost left Slytherin’s lips. “Is there a more ill-fated man than the one that doesn’t know that he already has an heir?” he asked mockingly, his breath slow and softer than before. His life was coming to an end.

Slytherin raised his eyebrows, as the words spoken by Gryffindor sunk into his brain and they started to gain a sense. “What are you talking about, Godric?” he hissed.

Gryffindor locked his eyes with Slytherin, his look deadly serious. “How long have you been away from Hogwarts, Salazar? How long since you last lay with Helga?” questioned Gryffindor stiffly.

Slytherin’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped slightly as if he was trying to get a grip on his emotions, but he couldn’t. “What are trying to say, you son of a dog,” replied Slytherin, gritting his teeth. “Don’t use riddles with me.”

“You can’t picture it?” asked Gryffindor, while his face contorted in a sneer. “The great prince of snakes can’t imagine what I’m talking about? You’ve a son in whose veins runs your poison and Helga’s sweet nectar.”

Slytherin stretched his wand out in front of him, his hand shaking. “You lie!” he yelled at Gryffindor.

Gryffindor coughed again. “Why should I lie to you?” he asked softly. “And above all, do you really think I would formulate an ineffective curse?”

Slytherin staggered a little. He lowered his wand and stepped back. He turned towards his horse and jumped on the saddle. He twisted his head to cast a last glance at Gryffindor, opened his mouth but no sound left his lips. He made the horse turn and hit its stomach with his heels. The animal reared and jumped forward, starting to run at a breakneck speed towards north. Towards Hogwarts.

Harry and Hermione followed his figure with their eyes until he disappeared. They couldn’t believe their eyes every moment more, this was the most extraordinary thing that had ever happened to them. And all the things that they had witnessed! There were thousands of thoughts that were going through their brains at that moment, and they couldn’t wait to give vent to all their conjectures. But someone else thought that this wasn’t the time.

Both Harry and Hermione felt a hand on their shoulders, and, just like earlier that morning, the old man stood between them. “Time to go,” he murmured softly.

Harry and Hermione glanced for one last time at the dying body of Gryffindor while his lips formed the word ‘Rowena’ and all his limbs went rigid; then they prepared to fall another time to come back to the present. But it didn’t happen. Harry, Hermione and the old man stood still, as time moved on. The sun disappeared behind the hills, and the stars appeared in the sky, then the sun rose again at the opposite side of the valley, and it disappeared again; and so on for at least five times.

Finally time slowed down and eventually stopped. It was night now and the stars were shining brightly in the sky. The moon was full and it lit the whole glen as if it was day. Hermione looked at her feet and let out a small cry, she turned and covered her mouth and nose with both her hands, her eyes wide with shock and disgust.

Harry looked down as well and stared. Gryffindor’s body still lay on the ground, but by now it was only a putrid corpse. His skin was green and swelled up, his eyes had already gone, eaten by some wild animal, and his neck cavity was covered with worms and insects. Harry felt the urge to throw up, but he restrained himself, helped by the fact that he couldn’t smell the horrible stench that was surely coming from the cadaver.

He turned towards the old man, his face a little green. “W-what did you bring us here for?” he asked nauseated.

The old man brought a finger to his lips and hushed him. “She’s coming,” he answered simply.

Harry frowned without understanding. Who was coming? Then he heard it, the faint ‘pop’ of Apparition, and a moment later a woman was standing right in front of him. And Harry couldn’t help staring at her. She was beautiful.

She had long blonde hair, picked up in a complicated hairdo of curls, plaits and pearls; her eyes were the colour of chocolate while her soft skin was like the rose that opened out in spring. On her forehead there was a band of yellow silk, with a single drop-shaped pearl that was hanging in the middle of it. She was wearing a long silk dress, the colour of the sun and coal, with a generous neckline on the front; her shoulders were bare, and one of them was covered with a bruise, while the skirt of her outfit reached her feet and let out only a pair of small yellow shoes.

Harry stepped towards her, and he felt, rather than saw, Hermione turning towards her as well, attracted by the noise of her Apparition. In the bright light of the moon rays Harry could see the woman’s eyes, they were shiny and red from crying.

The woman held a little cruet in her hands, on it there was engraved the plump figure of the badger that Harry had seen on the cup in Winky’s memory, and that he was used to seeing every single day at school on the robes of his schoolmates that belonged to the house of Professor Sprout. Harry didn’t have any doubt that he was looking at Helga Hufflepuff.

With a loud crash the cruet that Hufflepuff had in her hands fell on the ground and broke into several pieces, letting out a pinkish liquid. She brought her hands to her mouth while her eyes filled with tears. She sobbed loudly and fell on her knees next to Gryffindor’s body. For what seemed like ages she went on crying with such despair, that Harry had the sensation that every living thing in the valley had stopped to listen to her, since no other sounds were audible. Her shoulders were shaking with agony, her face was hidden in her hands and the precious pearls that decorated her hair were falling onto the ground.

Slowly, she seemed to calm down, her sobs faded gradually away and her tears stopped falling. She lowered her hands in her lap and took a deep breath. Then she ran her eyes over the corpse of Gryffindor, she stretched out a hand, but didn’t touch him, and Harry was glad about that.

“Godric,” she murmured, sobbing softly. “Godric, how could you?”

Harry looked at Hermione, who looked back at him with the same confused expression that he was wearing on his face. What was she talking about? It was Slytherin that had killed Gryffindor, not vice versa. How could have Gryffindor done what?

Hufflepuff twisted her hands in her lap. “How could you, Godric?” she repeated louder, rage and despair in her voice. “He killed your son and took away mine,” she murmured. “He killed your son and took away mine!”

Hermione brought her hands to her mouth. Hufflepuff was talking about Slytherin, and from what they had heard before, her son was Slytherin’s son too.

“Why did you tell him, Godric?” she continued, “what demon took control of your mind to make you break the vow that I asked of you?” She lowered her eyes to the ground. “And how could you, Salazar?” she whispered. “First the fair Rowena, then Godric the brave, and finally their son; one suffocated in her sleep, the other stabbed with your sword and the last one you closed him in your secret chamber with the monster you have created.” She ripped some of the grass with her fingers and let it fall on in front of her. “And you broke my heart, you robbed me of our son. Bringing him away from me and from Hogwarts, what kind of future can you give him?”

Hufflepuff raised her eyes to Gryffindor’s face again, and hot salty tears fell down to wet her cheeks. “And he lied, Godric,” she whispered. “He said that you were still alive, but you aren’t, and I brought this useless strengthening potion with me, and you won’t even need it.” She gestured towards the spot where the cruet had crashed and the pink liquid had dropped, letting out a snort of frustration and anger. “The grass drank it for you,” she snapped.

Hermione lowered her eyes towards the place that Hufflepuff indicated, and stared. The grass was higher and – could it be? – greener than the stems that grew in other places, the pinkish potion had been completely absorbed by the ground and in its place a bunch of little pink flowers were coming up. Hermione bit her bottom lip, she had a strange feeling of déjà-vu, but she couldn’t concentrate enough to understand why.

When Hufflepuff sighed, Hermione raised her eyes back to her. The founder was wiping her tears away with the back of her hands, just like she had done minutes before, Hufflepuff sniffled and leaned her face on her hand. “Salazar told me about the curse,” she murmured. “A little nasty malediction, isn’t it? And I would love to be able to enjoy the fate you have given to Salazar’s heirs, if it wasn’t for the fact that, with your words, you cursed my son as well.” She sighed, unable to get angrier towards the corpse of Gryffindor. She placed her hands in the pleats of her dress and took out a little tome with a blue cover and yellowish pages of parchment.

“I wrote everything down,” she murmured, flipping through the pages of the volume; she snorted. “I wanted you to read it, but you won’t be able. I wrote it for the future generations whose fate will be enlaced with this curse.”

She stood up, smoothing her dress, and glanced around herself, passing through Harry and Hermione with her brown eyes. “He walked away without even giving you a dignified burial,” she said. “I’ll do what I can.”

She pulled out her wand, a shiny black stick with her initials engraved on its handle, and waved it in front of her. “Reparo! Tergeo!”

The cuts on Gryffindor’s shirt repaired magically, while the dried blood on his corpse was cleaned away and left his bluish and swelled figure in all its dreadful reality.

Hufflepuff’s eyes travelled around herself, and Harry and Hermione imagined that she was trying to find a place to bury him. Eventually, she let out a sigh and pointed her wand towards the ground between them two and the corpse. The ground split as if a soundless earthquake had opened it in two, leaving quite a big hole.

She waved her wand again and the cadaver raised from the ground and levitated towards the opening. Hufflepuff tried to lay him down as carefully as she could, she walked towards the tomb and looked down at the dark bottom, without being able to see Gryffindor. Harry and Hermione leaned out as well. Gryffindor’s body was almost impossible to discern in the darkness.

The last time that Hufflepuff waved her wand the tomb filled with earth, creating a little artificial mountain right where the body of Gryffindor was. Above it all there was a gravestone, white like snow, with black and shining letters on it.

Harry and Hermione bent their heads for reading it. It said, ‘In this hollow lies Godric Gryffindor. Brave and loyal. He loved and was loved a lot.’

“The sun and rain won’t disturb your rest, my dear friend, because on your tomb will grow an oak, which with its branches will protect your tomb from the world,” murmured Hufflepuff, then she took a deep breath, as if she was trying to regain her strength to keep on talking. “And I’ll pronounce an enchantment as well, even if I know that the curse of a dying wizard is a hundred times more powerful than an ordinary one. Only once every hundred years will your malediction be effective, and their victims will have only a chance to get their revenge on Salazar’s heirs.”

She bit her bottom lip, her eyes filled with tears, as if she had just pronounced something that went against her will. “I’m sorry, Godric,” she murmured softly. “I’m sorry, but they are my heirs as well.”

Harry’s eyes opened wide in the darkness. Helga Hufflepuff had just put a limit on Gryffindor’s curse, then why he couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for her?

Hufflepuff picked up Gryffindor’s sword, until that moment Harry thought that she had forgotten about it. She looked as if she was about to open the tomb again and place it on the corpse. But she didn’t, and Harry remembered himself pulling out that very same sword from the Sorting Hat in his second year at Hogwarts.

“I’ll bring your sword back to Hogwarts,” said Hufflepuff. “Together with Rowena’s feather, it’ll be the tangible memoir of your greatness.” She tightened the handle of the sword in her hand, while with the other she held the bloody blade. She cast a last glance at the tomb and with another subtle ‘pop’ she Disapparated.

Harry and Hermione didn’t even notice the presence of the old man between them this time, and they were only vaguely aware of the fact that the world was falling around them, like a coloured cascade of lights, everything blurred together and disappeared from their view, and only when their feet were firmly back on the ground, they understood that they were back. The glen was lightened by the cold sun of that same August morning that they had left behind at the beginning of their journey, the valley was now a cemetery again, and the oak was standing right next to them.

Harry looked at the unreadable gravestone under the oak and felt his heart racing in his chest. He was standing on Gryffindor’s grave. He was actually standing on one of the four Hogwarts’ founders’ tomb. He couldn’t believe it. Gryffindor’s tomb, he thought shocked.

“Gryffindor himself, young boy,” said the old man, his lips curled up in a benevolent smile.

Harry’s jaw dropped. He couldn’t believe that he hadn’t realized it before. It was so clear, so easy to understand that he felt terribly stupid for not having comprehended it earlier. He was Gryffindor.

“Godric Gryffindor,” murmured Hermione amazed.

“Milady,” answered Gryffindor, bowing. “Your beauty reminds me of my Rowena, her hair was dark like the night and her eyes were like sapphire, but your cleverness is similar to hers.”

Hermione flushed. She had never received a better compliment, she had just been compared to one of the four founders of Hogwarts.

“Y-you are Gryffindor,” stammered Harry shocked. “How can you be Gryffindor if you’re much older than he was when he died?”

Gryffindor’s face darkened. “And you were expecting me to remain forever young, when my soul was consumed by the curse?”

Hermione frowned slightly. “W-what do you mean?”

Gryffindor shook his head. “My words were those of a dying man, whose mind had left his body before his life did.”

Harry looked at him, his eyebrows joined together on his forehead. “What are you talking about?” he asked, without being able to hide his anger at all. “Slytherin killed you, you had every right to curse him.”

Gryffindor looked away, his weary eyes seemed ready to shed a thousands tears. “Yes, indeed I had every reason in this world to curse Salazar, but I didn’t remember, or didn’t want to remember, that I was also cursing Helga. She had every right to pronounce that anti-incantation, and I wish her spell was more powerful than the one I enunciated.”

Harry lowered his eyes, Gryffindor was right, wasn’t he? His words had damaged someone that had nothing to do with what had happened. What was Hufflepuff’s fault? She had done nothing except love the most despicable wizard of all time. Harry wondered how could she have had a son with someone like Slytherin.

“Why were you two fighting?” asked Hermione. Harry looked at her, she was flushing, as if she already knew the answer and found it awkward.

Gryffindor leaned against the oak trunk, and for a moment Harry feared that he would pass through it, but he didn’t. His wrinkled hand firmly seized a branch and his eyes looked north, towards Hogwarts.

“For a woman,” answered Gryffindor. “For the fair Rowena.”

“What happened?” asked Hermione, her voice hoarse.

Gryffindor took a long breath. “This story, milady, does not concern you in any way,” he answered gently. “I showed you this and only this because this is what involves you directly.”

“Involves us in what way?” asked Harry, looking at him seriously.

“Young boy,” started Gryffindor forcefully. “I would have thought that you should have understood everything by now, shouldn’t you?”

“Everything about the curse?” asked Harry, crossing his arms on his chest. “Because there’s very little that I’ve understood about it.”

“You mean you’ve not understood what it’s about?” asked Gryffindor almost scandalized.

Harry flushed. He wasn’t stupid. “I understand what it’s all about,” he snapped a bit more rudely that he had intended to talk to Gryffindor. “What I don’t understand is how this should concern us.”

Gryffindor smiled softly. “Curses are tricky, young boy,” he murmured. “Look at me, I can’t even rest peacefully with my Rowena for eternity.”

“Why not?” asked Hermione, who seemed extremely interested in the love-stories that linked the founders. Harry couldn’t help smiling a little. Girls…

“There are no handbooks on how curses work, every malediction is different from the others; you discover the details little by little, and you are never sure if you know everything or not. Anyway,” he murmured, “after more than a thousand years, I’ve a pretty good idea about the course of this wicked spell I’ve created.”

Harry and Hermione looked at him expectantly, as if they were sure that he would go on explaining something more about the curse, but Gryffindor stood still, silent and motionless like an ancient statue.

Harry cleared his throat. “And?” he asked excited.

Gryffindor glanced at him as if he had forgotten for a spare second that they were there, he smiled softly and asked, “You want to know how it works, don’t you?”

“Well, yes,” answered Hermione shyly. “That would help us understand quite a lot of things.”

“Very well,” murmured Gryffindor. “I was waiting for this question.” He leaned his back against the tree and looked at them with a serious expression. “As you heard from my own lips, there’s a curse that hangs on the heads of Salazar Slytherin’s heirs, their victims, the ones that they have killed in this place, in the town that has been built here and that has been named after me, will return from the afterlife to carry out their revenge on their murderer. They’ll have, though, only one chance to destroy their killer.”

Harry and Hermione nodded knowingly. That part was pretty clear, because the dialogues that they had overheard were very detailed and easy to follow.

Gryffindor nodded as well. “And seventeen years ago, Salazar’s heir killed a witch and wizard right in this town.” He glanced at Harry. “Your parents.”

Harry stepped back. “How do you know that--”

Gryffindor waved a hand in front of him. “I’ve wandered between this place and the afterlife for more than a thousand years, don’t you think that I should know something like that? Especially when it concerns my curse so closely?”

Harry gulped. How could he have been so stupid? Naturally Gryffindor knew about his parents, naturally he was there when they were murdered. He felt a wave of excitement and sickness at the thought that the person that stood right in front of him could have witnessed his parents’ murder.

“I didn’t watch while Salazar’s heir killed your parents, young boy,” replied Gryffindor, reading Harry’s thoughts and causing him to flush. “I do not enjoy those kind of shows. Anyway, I knew when they arrived here that they held the sparkle of magic inside them, and I knew that they were hunted by the heir, because his presence had become suddenly stronger and more threatening than it was before their arrival.” He sighed deeply, then he continued. “And I believe that their guardian knew perfectly well about the curse so--”

“Their guardian?” broke in Harry quite rudely, gaining a disapproving scowl from Hermione.

Gryffindor nodded. “There was an old man that came to visit you and your parents every now and then, he was wise and brave and I think he knew something more than all the other people.”

“You mean Dumbledore,” suggested Hermione politely.

“He found Hufflepuff’s diary,” said Harry. “He knew something, he had supposed that this place held some mysterious and ancient magic.” Harry frowned. What was he saying? That Dumbledore already knew about the curse. This means— does this mean that he knew what was going to happen if my parents were killed? Did he sacrifice my parents?
“Sacrificed your parents, young boy?” asked Gryffindor surprised, and causing Hermione to stare at Harry in amazement, as if she had understood that when the founder started a sentence out of nowhere, it was an answer to Harry’s thoughts. “How can you come up with such a conclusion? That man just wanted to be sure that Salazar’s heir would be destroyed in one way or another, he tried to save your parents, but if he couldn’t he would have the certainty that they would come back and carry out their revenge.”

Harry lowered his eyes, while Gryffindor’s words sunk in his brain. “But he hid them here on purpose, he could have hid them in another place, maybe somewhere safer.”

“One place was as good as another, young boy,” answered Gryffindor softly. “I know how tenacious one born from Salazar’s birth can be, he would have found them anywhere.”

Harry nodded. Dumbledore just wanted to make my parents’ death worth something. They will come back from the afterlife and they--.

“Wait a minute!” yelled Harry. “You said that the victims will come back from the afterlife, you mean that my parents are going to come back?” He felt his heart racing in his chest. “You mean that I’ll be able to see them again?”

Gryffindor looked at him as if he pitied him, while Hermione looked away. Harry had the feeling that she’d already understood something that evaded his mind, for a moment he hated her because of her intelligence.

“They’ve already come back,” said Gryffindor. “Haven’t you noticed their presence in the last few days?”

Harry looked from Gryffindor to Hermione, who was smiling encouragingly, though still stubbornly looking away. What was he talking about? “You mean that I should have seen them?” he asked anxiously. “I didn’t see them at all!”

Gryffindor brought a finger to his mouth and gestured him to be silent. “Listen,” he said.

Harry frowned. Listen? Listen to what? He couldn’t hear anything at all. He closed his eyes to refine his hearing. There was a quiet hush, that seemed to encourage him to be even more silent, but in reality, it was just the wind; far away a bird was singing on a tree, and Hermione was breathing quickly with excitement. Nothing noteworthy.

He was going to open his eyes again when he heard it. A whisper more than a voice, as if it wasn’t real, as if it was just in his head. Someone was calling his name. Harry…

Harry opened his eyes wide and felt his breath being taken away. What was that? Every day someone called his name, but it was never like that. He felt like he knew that voice, as if it was a mixture of happiness and sadness from his past. “What—who?” he asked to nobody in particular.

“Very good,” answered Gryffindor seriously. “And that’s exactly where this conversation should be more useful to you two. The victims of Salazar’s heir have already come back, and they are-” Gryffindor looked from Hermione to Harry with his piercing blue eyes. “-in you.”

Harry blinked. “What?” he asked trying to understand. That would have explained a lot, especially all those dreams and the fact that his eyes were darker than before, almost brown, like his father’s. And that would have explained Hermione’s appearance, every day more similar to his mother, and her dreams about them.

“Why?” asked Hermione shyly, and Harry couldn’t help noticing a note of sadness in her voice. “Why us?”

Gryffindor sighed. “I’ve thought about that, and I think that my conclusion is very close to the truth. First of all, why did they come back now? Well, that’s easy,” he asked and answered to himself. “It’s because Salazar’s heir seemed dead until just a few months ago, so there was no need for them to come back, but now that he’s a threat again they are here. And then, why you two? I think that they waited for a situation very similar to the one in which they lived, and for similar souls as well. I recognized their souls in you immediately the very first time I saw you in the village.”

“You mean that I held my father’s soul, while Hermione has my mother’s one in her?” asked Harry slowly. “And can we speak to them?”

Gryffindor took a long and deep breath. “I think so. Have you tried to use a mirror? That would be helpful if you want to communicate with them,” he answered.

“And when exactly did their souls enter us?” asked Hermione.

“The very first moment in which you placed your feet in Godric’s Hollow; usually when a soul leaves a body, or in this case enters a body, there’s wind. Maybe you can remember if there was wind at some point, the first time you entered this village,” murmured Gryffindor.

Hermione nodded. Yes, there was wind, she remembered that the wind started the moment they read the sign of Godric’s Hollow, and she remembered that Ron hadn’t felt it. So it wasn’t ordinary wind, and now the most unimportant details came back to her mind.

“And when are they going to leave our bodies?” asked Hermione softly, hoping that Harry didn’t find it a terribly heartless question. She didn’t want James and Lily to go away, but she could certainly do with having her body back.

“When everything is over,” answered Gryffindor simply. “When they have gotten their revenge.”

“When they’ve killed Voldemort,” muttered Harry darkly. “But they can’t kill him completely until all the Horcruxes are destroyed.”

“Then, be prepared to share your bodies with them for a long time,” murmured Gryffindor.

“What?” asked Hermione, her eyes wide. “How long can they stay within us?”

“Forever, I guess,” answered Harry slowly. He wasn’t sure if he was unhappy with that. Having his father’s soul in his body was not an ordinary thing, but he didn’t want him to go away. “Anyway, where are they?”

“The souls?” asked Gryffindor. “In your heart, in the most hidden part of your brain and deep within your insides. Everywhere in your body, and they are ready to take control of it as soon as they think that the time is ripe, or as soon as you’ll let them take control.” He smiled. “Now that you know what’s going on inside you, you’ll find it easier to push their will aside, or even to let them gain power over you.”

“Let them gain power over us?” asked Hermione afraid. She seemed scared to lose control over her own body.

Gryffindor nodded. “They are more powerful than you two,” he explained. “They were older than you are now, and their powers have grown a lot, thanks to the curse, if you find yourself face to face with Salazar’s heir, it would be wise for you to give up your will to them.”

Hermione opened her mouth to reply, but she seemed to think against it and closed it again.

“Okay,” murmured Harry quietly. Hermione looked at him without understanding.

“Okay—what?” she asked softly.

Harry shrugged. “Okay,” he repeated. “I understand.”

Hermione cocked an eyebrow. “And?”

Harry shook his head in response. He glanced at Gryffindor and murmured, “Is there something else we should know?”

Gryffindor narrowed his eyes, as if he was trying to remember if there was something else that was worth telling them. “I don’t think--”

“Wait!” broke in Hermione. “Wait! How can we – how can Lily and James – defeat Voldemort?” she asked hastily. “How will they be able to destroy him?”

Gryffindor raised his eyebrows. “I don’t know,” he answered quietly.

Hermione’s jaw dropped, while her arms dropped at her sides. “You don’t know?” she repeated in disbelief. She looked at him and her eyes widened. “We-we are the first, aren’t we?”

“Milady, they are the first, not you,” answered Gryffindor.

“The first—what?” asked Harry without understanding.

“The first to fulfil the curse,” answered Hermione, without taking away her eyes from Gryffindor. “This is the first time that one of Salazar’s heirs has been doomed with your curse, isn’t it?”

Gryffindor nodded.

“Then, why did you tell us that you’ve had time to understand how the curse works? You’ve never witnessed how it works,” snapped Harry almost accusatorily.

Gryffindor looked at him with icy eyes. “I don’t know how I know these things,” he answered coldly. “I’m simply aware of something new about this spell every moment that passes.” His eyes clouded a little as he glanced away from Harry. “But if at the beginning I knew that I had to stay on this Earth for eternity, waiting for the curse to take place and controlling Salazar’s heirs without being able to see my fair Rowena anymore, I…” His words faded away, like a wind that slowly stops blowing, like the last breath of a dying person, the sorrow in his voice was almost tangible, and it reached for Hermione and Harry’s hearts like a knife.

“You?” asked Harry in a whisper, urging him to finish the sentence.

Gryffindor closed his eyes. “I would have never pronounced that curse,” he sighed. “Never. An eternity away from the one you love isn’t worth your revenge.”

Harry lowered his eyes, for a moment he felt the urge to slap himself hard on his cheek because he was happy. He was glad that Godric Gryffindor hadn’t known about the fact that he would have forever been separated from Rowena Ravenclaw, so he was able to pronounce the curse, and gave his parents the chance to defeat Voldemort.

Hermione cleared her throat softly. “Maybe when James and Lily have defeated Voldemort, the curse will be broken and you’ll be free,” she said tentatively. “We don’t know of any other heir of Salazar Slytherin.”

Gryffindor looked at her with a glimpse of hope in his eyes. “Maybe,” he sighed. “I think we’ll have to wait to find out.”

Hermione nodded sadly. Wait. What an annoying word. I have to wait to know everything. I have to wait to understand how everything will turn out. I’ve never felt more unprepared and unable to wait.
Gryffindor looked at her and nodded, as if he knew what was going on in her head. Then he smiled sadly. “I think that now you know enough,” he murmured. “Maybe we’ll meet again.” And he disappeared without a sound.

Harry and Hermione stood there, their eyes fixed on the place where Gryffindor was standing a moment before. Definitely they had received too much information in a very little time, and only now that they were staring at the grass were they silently questioning themselves about the reality of what had just happened. Now that they were standing there alone, it all looked like a distant dream.

Harry felt Hermione’s cold hand brushing his own. He turned to look at her and saw that she was on the verge of tears. He placed a hand on her cheek and tried to smile reassuringly.

“Hermione,” he whispered.

She took a step back and looked in his eyes while her own filled with shiny tears. “Harry, don’t you understand?” she asked, sobbing.

He furred his brow and narrowed his eyes, without understanding. “What?”

“The curse,” she answered.

“Hermione, I know it’s hard, but we will go through it together, because I love you and--”

“No,” she cut him off. “No, Harry. It’s exactly that. What we feel for each other.” She took a deep breath, and once again wet tears wet her cheeks. “It’s all the curse’s fault. We don’t love each other, it’s your parents’ that love each other and since they are trapped in our bodies they made us believe that we are in love, but we are not.”

Harry stood there. His eyes wide, his mouth dry. Hermione’s words were sinking slowly into his brain: an unwanted statement that made him feel like a Lost Boy. He closed his eyes and let the wind caress his face, he took a deep breath while a desperate question formed in his mind, Don’t I love you, Hermione?



Chapter 12: Chapter Twelve
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Author's Notes: Thanks to Andrew who proof-read this chapter with patience, listening to all my doubts and questions. Well, I hope you'll like this chapter, even if there's a very nasty cliff-hanger.





Harry stood there with his vision blurred and his head lost in a million thoughts. What does this mean? What the hell does this mean? That all my emotions have been an utter lie? Do I really not love Hermione? It was suspicious that my love for her started all of a sudden, that I almost completely forgot Ginny and what I used to feel for her; but my feelings for Hermione are so deep and powerful, that I think I might die if someone proves to me that it’s all a lie. 
He tried to focus on Hermione’s face. She was standing there, right in front of him. Her arms around her waist, she was shaking and her lips were blue. Harry noticed only at that moment that once again the sun had disappeared behind the clouds, and that the wind was now even mightier than before, which had caused the temperature to lower again.

Harry stretched an arm out towards Hermione and asked tentatively, “Can I?” before trying to place it on her shoulder.

Hermione looked at his hand without understanding, the tears that were still running down from her eyes prevented her from seeing clearly and, above all, to think lucidly. She was still too shocked by all the things that she had witnessed, still too confused about the past few days that she had spent at Godric’s Hollow, the present emotions that she felt for Harry and the foggy future that was offered her by Godric Gryffindor’s curse. She wiped away her tears, and managed to understand that Harry was offering to put his arm around her shoulders and warm her up a little.

She wondered if she wanted him to be so close to her. How can I say if I really want Harry to be standing right next to me? I no longer have the power to understand what my feelings for him are, or better, I can’t understand my feelings at all. If I can’t tell what is magic from what is real, how can I know what I feel? 

Hermione nodded softly at Harry, deciding to see if he could make her heart jump just by standing at her side. She shook her head softly, hoping that Harry hadn’t seen her and mistaken it for a change of heart. She wasn’t changing her mind, she was just wondering how could her friend make her heart jump? Not even Ron made her feel like that, and she was sure that she loved Ron. Don’t I? She held her breath while Harry placed his hand on her shoulder and let his arm slide behind her back, tightening his grip and rubbing her upper arm with his hand, in order to warm her up.

“Is it better?” he asked her in a slightly worried tone, as if he was waiting for her to push him away.

Hermione tilted her head and half-closed her eyes. She nodded softly another time, and her reddish hair fell all over her face, covering half of her features from his view. She liked Harry’s hand on her arm, she liked the way he talked to her, she liked the fact that he was worried for some reason, she couldn’t find anything that she didn’t like about him at that moment; and she didn’t like it. Has it always been like this? Have I ever found Harry as perfect as I do right now? 

She took a deep breath, as if to regain her courage, then she turned towards Harry and made her arms slide up his back, until her fingers sensed his shoulder blades through his clothes. She leaned her head on his chest and hugged him tightly.

Harry looked at her with his mouth half open, his right arm, which had been encircling her shoulders until a moment before, was now dangling at his side, where it had slid back when she moved. He was unsure about what he should do. Hug her back? Caress her hair? Did she want to be hugged or was she just trying to warm herself up even more?

“Harry?” Hermione called out to him in such a soft whisper that at the beginning Harry thought he had just imagined it.

Harry closed his mouth and swallowed some saliva. “Yes, Hermione?” he murmured back quietly.

She opened her mouth to speak, but no words escaped her lips, instead she tightened her arms on Harry’s back and hid her face in his chest, while soundless and hot tears fell down her cheeks again.

Harry noticed that she was crying only when she sniffled. He placed his left arm on her back and with his right hand he started to stroke her hair. “Why are you crying?” he asked her in a whisper. “Hermione, if you’re crying for Gryffindor, let your tears flow; but if you’re crying for yourself, please stop.”

What? Hermione sniffled louder, her eyes narrowed in concentration as she tried to understand what Harry was talking about. She didn’t know why she was crying, how could she decide if she should stop or not?

Harry leaned his head on her shoulder, burying his nose in her hair, he breathed her scent and got drunk with her perfume. He could have stayed like that forever, he would never let Hermione go. And all this is just fake? he wondered. It couldn’t have been all in his mind. He wanted Hermione. He wanted to slowly undress her and touch every inch of her bare skin; he wanted to hear the music of her voice for the rest of his life; he wanted her to be the first thing that he saw in the morning and the last one when he fell asleep. How can this be unreal? How can I not love you, Hermione?

“How can I stop crying if every single thought that passes into my brain is pain, pain and more pain?” she asked, sniffling another time and snapping Harry out of his thoughts. Harry’s body, pressed against her own, was giving her the best sensation ever. He was warming her up in the first place, and that was not bad at all, and then every inch of her skin that was pressed against his body was on fire; it was a pleasant, tickling sensation that sent small shivers through all her body. She felt her head go light, and her legs go wobbly.

“What do you mean?” he asked back, whispering every word in her ear and enlacing his fingers in her copper locks. He felt her arms squeezing his back, and had to close his eyes and gulp to calm down, otherwise he knew that he would not be able to control himself.

“I mean that I’m not able to think about anything except you,” she murmured back, her voice hoarse, almost unrecognizable even to herself. She felt as if her vision was blurring again and her brain was slowly wrapped in a thick fog, causing all of her thoughts to melt. When she went on talking, she didn’t know what she was saying. “When I’m not with you, I want to be with you; and when I’m with you, I want to be a thousand miles away.”

“I always want to be with you,” breathed Harry on her neck. He didn’t open his eyes. He didn’t have to see her to know that he was giving her goose bumps. “And never let you go.” He kissed his way up to her face, pressing his lips on her neck. Harry felt as if he was falling, as if the ground was disappearing from under his feet again; but this time it was all in his head.

James, no…” Hermione pleaded, sobbing and at the same time tilting her head to give more space to his lips. James? What’s happening? I can’t… I must stop him… 

“Lily,” muttered Harry between the kisses. “I’ve waited for so long.”

“James, no,” answered Hermione while hot tears fell down her cheeks and reached Harry’s lips which were now on her jaw. Hermione… I’m Hermione. “James, we can’t do this. It’s not our place, here.”

Harry sighed against her skin. “Lily…” he murmured with despair. He raised his face and backed his head a little, looking at Hermione. Her green eyes were shiny brightly because of the tears, she widened them and gulped loudly, trying to keep a grip on what she was feeling, on what she was.

Hermione, I’m Hermione… I don’t love Harry in that way, I can’t… 

Hermione, please… 


Her heart skipped a beat. She closed her eyes. What?

Please, Hermione. Give up your will to me…

No, no, no, no… I beg you, let me go… I can’t, I’m not strong enough…


Hermione opened her eyes and tried to concentre on James. Harry, on Harry, she repeated in her mind. She could see his brown eyes behind his circular glasses, his messy hair that was fluttering around his face, and his lips, parted and cracked for the cold, that were coming closer to her.

She didn’t know why she didn’t move away, she didn’t know why her arms slid up his shoulders and entangled in his rebel locks, she didn’t know why she crashed her body against his. And above all she didn’t know why, when his lips brushed hers, she kissed him back.

Harry’s hands cupped her cheeks, his fingers enlaced in her hair, his eyes closed. What was happening to him? Was he really kissing Hermione? Apparently it was exactly like that, and Hermione was kissing him back. He could savour her lips, they were soft and smooth, and tasted of strawberry. He opened his mouth slowly, and tentatively pushed his tongue against her lips.

Hermione lifted her eyelids, she took a sharp breath and parted her lips just that much to let Harry’s tongue enter her mouth. She felt her head go even lighter than before, and for a moment she felt so blithe and blissful that it almost hurt her.

What am I doing? What am I doing? What am I doing? I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t do this. I’m so sorry… 

Hermione took a sharp breath, as if she was trying to inhale some air, but couldn’t. She opened her eyes wide. She hadn’t said anything, she hadn’t thought anything. Who was speaking? Who was talking in her head? She let her eyes wander in front of her, she could see Harry’s cheek and the landscape behind. The hill that led out of the cemetery and towards the village, and far away, the tall shape of the church. She caught the figure of a boy running up the hill and disappearing on the other side. A crow flew over their heads and cawed sinisterly.

Wake up, Hermione. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…

Hermione gasped and pushed Harry backwards with all her force, sending him crashing against the oak trunk. She looked at him with her eyes wide, and brought both her hands to her mouth. She made her fingers slide on her lips, and her fingertips covered with a hot moisture of saliva. Their saliva.

Harry glanced at her and stared. Her hair was darkening and curling slightly and her eyes were becoming a chocolaty shade of brown. Hermione was coming back, pushing his mother deep in her insides, trying to get a grip on her emotions and on her body.

Hermione closed her eyes, and some more tears fell down her cheeks. She sobbed again and again, until her eyes started to sting and her nose turned red. When she shed all the tears that she had she opened her eyes again. Harry was still leaning against the trunk, and he looked like someone who has just woken up from a dream.

“Harry,” murmured Hermione, taking away her hands from her mouth.

“What?” asked Harry, rubbing his left green eye under his glasses. What was he doing there? What had just happened? Why had Hermione pushed him away?

“Your parents—they…”

“What?” he asked again, this time to pressure her into speaking.

She lowered her eyes in a humble gesture. “Your mother talked to me, I heard her voice…”

“What are you talking about?” asked Harry rudely. He joined his eyebrows and his expression darkened. She did what? His father didn’t talk to him, was she just making fun of him?

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t you feel them?” she whispered.

“Feel what?”

Hermione embraced herself, she felt the urge to scream, she felt the urge to cry, she felt the urge to run away; and for a spare second she also felt the urge to be hugged by Ron or even Draco. But she couldn’t find her voice, she didn’t have any more tears to shed, she felt too lost and weak to even walk away, and both Ron or Draco weren’t there.

“Are you kidding me?” she asked harshly. “Are you trying to see how long I can resist?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” he asked back, stepping towards her.

“Oh, sure,” she hissed. “What do you want, Harry? I’m not stupid, you know.”

“I know that,” he answered darkly. “But I think I’m becoming stupid, because I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”

“Liar!” she yelled. “Don’t tell me that you haven’t heard your father talking to you, I’m sure you’ve heard him as much as I heard your mother.”

“Don’t be cheeky,” Harry replied sourly. “Joking about these things.”

She looked at him taken aback. “Joking?” she hissed. “Joking?”

“Yes, joking, should I spell that word out for you?” he asked mockingly. “Oh no, sure, you said that you’re the intelligent one. You don’t need me to spell it for you, but surely you don’t have to repeat it.”

She brought her hand to her mouth and widened her eyes outraged. What was happening? A moment earlier they were kissing and now they were fighting, in the movies wasn’t it usually the contrary?

“You think I don’t know what game you’re playing at?” she hissed. “I know that you’re inventing all this story to make me believe that it wasn’t your parents the ones that were kissing. I’m not stupid, though. Your mother was kissing your father, I was not kissing you.”

Harry narrowed his eyes, while her sharp words sunk into his brain. He seemed ready to jump on her and slap her face, but he didn’t move, and Hermione felt a wave of rage and guiltiness. She would have felt better with him slapping her hard, rather than standing there in silence and looking at her from behind his glasses.

After all what was the matter with her? She didn’t even know if she wasn’t really kissing him back and at the same time she didn’t know if she was. “I didn’t mean to say that,” muttered Hermione after a moment of silence. “I don’t know what--”

“No, sure,” hissed Harry, cutting her off. “Don’t even try to justify yourself, Hermione, because you can’t even imagine what you did by saying that.” He took another step towards her and seized her upper-arms forcefully. “Because I was kissing you.”

Hermione struggled and freed herself from Harry. She looked at him for a moment, and when she saw that there was no falsity in his eyes, she was scared. She turned on her heels and started to run towards the village, her coat fluttering around her ankles and her face slapped by the cold wind. She heard Harry calling her name, she heard him yelling for her to stop, she heard him screaming with desolation; but she didn’t turn, she didn’t stop. She had to go home, she had to be a thousand miles away from him.

***

Draco didn’t know why he felt so depressed. It wasn’t exactly like he could find anything to be cheerful about in his condition, but he had never been so disheartened in the last few days. That morning, however his eyes were wandering around the bedroom that he had been given, without being able to understand what he was looking for. Or who I’m looking for, he thought bitterly. That girl. That cunning little girl, she tortures me more than she can even imagine. 

He took a deep and stiff breath, then listened. The house was silent, for the umpteenth time they had left him alone. And he didn’t like it, but after all, what did he expect them to do? He was Draco Malfoy and they were Harry Potter and his faithful sidekicks, they shouldn’t be helping him in the first place.

No, she shouldn’t, he thought angrily. And I shouldn’t be here. I should have run away when I had the chance. There’s no place safe for me now, and especially not this house. If Potter and his sidekicks only knew what I’m doing… What am I talking about? They’ll know soon or later. They’ll know, and I’m not sure that they’ll like what they find out. 

An owl hooted outside the window, Draco turned his head slowly to look at it. It was flying right in front of the glass and – Draco could have almost sworn it in his delirious state – it was looking at him. The owl hooted another time before flying away.

Draco raised his pale eyebrows and narrowed his eyes. He felt observed. Observed by an owl. That’s not a common owl, he thought.

The door downstairs burst open and someone ran up the stairs. He heard the door of the bathroom next to his bedroom bang, and then silence. He wondered who could have been. Harry and Hermione had been out since early that morning, gone to the cemetery they said. Draco smirked. A cemetery, what a wonderful place for a date… While Ron; he had been out until that very morning, then he came back and slept, and when he woke up he rushed into Draco’s room and asked where Harry and Hermione had gone.

Draco hadn’t liked the sinister sparkle in his eyes, especially when Ron had asked for Hermione, but, really, why did he care so much about them? I don’t care about them. And so, Ron didn’t even have to threaten him to get all the information he needed, Draco told him what he himself had been told; they went to the cemetery at Godric’s Hollow and no, he didn’t know where that place was. Ron had stormed out of the bedroom, and then out of the house, banging every door behind him.

Now that someone that had just gone into the bathroom and banged the door shut, that could have been him. He could have been angry. Very angry. Or maybe upset. Draco smirked, anything that made Ron Weasley angry was surely something that he would like. Then he remembered where he sent him, and for a moment his smirk faded. What could he have witnessed that troubled him so much? It wasn’t a secret that Ron fancied Hermione, and it seemed that it wasn’t a secret that Harry and Hermione fancied each other as well, at least for the ones that lived in that house. At least for him.

What were Potter and Granger doing in that place all alone? wondered Draco with bitterness, and for a moment he thought that he wouldn’t have liked what Ron had witnessed any more than he had.

***

Harry couldn’t move. He wouldn’t ever have believed that Hermione had such cheek to tell him a big fat lie like that. Did she seriously think that she was funny? She was not.
He raised his eyes towards the clouded sun and the cold wind slapped his face. He was there alone, Hermione had left. Running away from him, and very probably crying as she did so. Harry should have felt outraged by her behaviour, instead he felt almost guilty. Why? She was the one that was playing with my feelings, playing with such an important thing as my parents. 

Harry fell on his knees and banged his fists on the ground. And why did she run away? Didn’t she know that he wanted her to be there with him? He needed her, especially in that moment. He was ready to forgive her.

She’s the one who should forgive you…

Harry’s eyes widened. He raised his head and looked around. “What?”

You didn’t believe her…

Harry shook his head and rubbed his eyes. What was he doing? What was happening to him? He heard voices in his own head; and Hermione had always told him that even in the Wizarding world hearing voices was not a good sign. He jumped to his feet and started to walk briskly towards the village.

I’ve been brought a thousand years in the past and back to the present again, I’ve witnessed the end of Godric Gryffindor and I’ve been told about a curse that nobody is aware of; I have every right to be a bit upset, but I’m not crazy, Harry thought forcefully. What is this voice?

He walked past the church and glanced at the coloured windows that decorated the sides of the building, they were narrow and extremely high, with scenes from the Bible drawn on them. The sunrays hit the glass and caused them to act like a mirror of the external landscape. Harry stopped in his tracks when he spotted his own figure reflected in front of him.

His mouth opened slightly and his eyebrows furrowed in concentration as his reflection looked back at him. Confused. He was still the same boy and at the same time he seemed a totally different person, as if he seemed older and wiser. Fine wrinkles of preoccupation marked his forehead, and in his eyes were reflected the clouds of the sky, so that his irises seemed darker, almost brown.

He touched his pale cheek with his left hand and spotted a fine shining ring on his ring finger, something that he had never seen before. He lowered his eyes to his hand, turning it up and down. There was nothing there.

Harry raised his eyes again and raised his hand as well, taking it closer to his face. He narrowed his eyes to give himself a better view of the ring he was wearing. It was a pure gold wedding ring, very much like the one that his uncle or Mr. Weasley used to wear.

“Okay,” he spoke out loud. “Okay, what did Hermione say back in our third year? That terrible things had happened to wizards that interfered with time? I think that this time travel has affected me more than the one with the Time Turner.”

He looked at his reflection and saw that it was smiling back at him, a sad almost desperate smile. He touched his lips with his fingers and sensed that his mouth was still open in surprise, but he was not smiling.

I’m sorry, Harry…

“What?” asked Harry out loud, just as he did before.

I’m sorry, son. Your mother told me that it wasn’t a good idea, but I couldn’t restrain myself… 

Harry gulped, his hands dropped at his sides as he looked hopelessly at his reflection. What was happening to him? This couldn’t be real.

Why do you think that it’s not real? That I’m not real. You listened to Godric Gryffindor, and still you didn’t believe Hermione, why didn’t you, Harry? You know that we are inside the both of you, and that we are strong, but you didn’t listen to her, why?

Harry brought both his hands to his temples. He shut his eyes and for a moment he brushed against the idea of screaming and trying to close his mind, but he didn’t. He just took a deep breath and tried to understand what was happening to him. Wasn’t Gryffindor’ s explanation of any use at all to him? An idea, rather than a word formed in his mind. He tried to give voice to it, but his mouth was dry, so the only place in which he could have screamed it was his mind. Dad? he thought intensely.

Harry… Was the answer.

Is this real?

Harry, everything is real…

It looks like a dream to me.

Dreams can be more authentic than reality sometimes. Harry, why didn’t you believe Hermione? 


Harry opened his eyes wide. Why? Why? Why? Why? I don’t know…

You’ve just been warned about how the curse works, why didn’t you believe her?

I don’t know, dad… I don’t know, he thought angrily.

It’s because you didn’t hear me, James’ voice answered into his head. It’s because you didn’t hear my voice, while Hermione heard Lily’s… 


Harry gulped. And why didn’t I hear your voice while Hermione did? he asked, though he wasn’t so sure that he wanted to know. It looked almost like Hermione had a better connection with his mother than him with his father.

It’s because Hermione was trying to hinder her, she didn’t want her to take possession of her mind and of her body, she successfully pushed Lily away. While you, Harry, you wanted me to live inside of you with all your strength and that caused our souls to melt together. You didn’t fight me, Harry, you didn’t even notice that I was here… 

Harry bit his bottom lip. How stupid could he have been? His father was there, he just had to listen to him. You mean that we were like one thing? he whispered softly in his head.

Two souls, one body, one thing. Yes, one thing… And Harry, I’m sorry for what had happened in the living room two nights ago, with Lily, and I’m sorry for the dreams you are having. It’s all my fault… 

Harry fell on his knees. His breath was stiff as if the conversation with his father was taking his strength away. He still couldn’t believe it: there he was, listening to his father’s voice, talking to him, after years and years of weeping over an old moving picture of his parents, he now had the opportunity to talk to them, and all he could think of was Hermione. For a moment he cursed her, because she was always in his thoughts. Then something hit him. Dad? he called tentatively.

Harry?

You loved mum, and you still love her.

Indeed…

Do you think that you’ve passed your love for her to me?

Are you asking me if you love your mum, Harry?

No,
he answered, shaking his head a little. I’m asking you if the fact that Hermione and I became… closer, is just a reflection of yours and mum’s love, or if what I feel for her is really—you know, real… 

For a long moment no voice echoed in his head, and Harry wondered if the link with his father had disappeared all of a sudden, just like it had started out of nowhere some minutes earlier. But then his father’s voice spoke again, I don’t know, he murmured softly. I don’t know, I think that all you can do is wait for the curse to come to an end and see… 

See what?

See if you still love her…

I—love her?
asked Harry surprised, he felt his cheeks on fire.

I feel it, Harry, as much as you feel that I love your mother, I can feel that there’s love coming from you to Hermione, but if it’s real love, just a crush or just friendship, that will be up to you to find out… 

Harry nodded, and he wondered if his father could understand when he nodded and shook his head like that instead of answering out loud. He smiled softly, how could he have such silly thoughts at a moment like this? Dad?

What, Harry?

I’ve waited for so long to have a chance to see you and mum again, and now that I can speak to you, I don’t even know what to say… 

Harry felt as if someone was smiling inside his brain, it was a strange sensation, pleasant and at the same time it sent chills down his spine. Sometimes words are unnecessary… 

***

Hermione looked at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, warm tears were streaming down her cheeks, she wondered how she could still have tears to shed, she thought she had already cried all the tears she had. Her nails were digging so deeply into her hands that she could sense the blood dripping from them, mirroring her tears.

Hermione, I…

Go away!
roared Hermione in her head. Just go away and leave me alone!

I can’t go away…

Then be quiet, I don’t want your voice to drive me crazy, I can’t take it…


A pleasant silence welcomed her request. She took a deep breath and shook her head forcefully, red locks falling in front of her eyes, as if she was trying to clarify her ideas. She knew that Lily hadn’t gone away, she knew that her soul was fluctuating somewhere in her body, or in her mind; and above all Hermione knew that it wasn’t Lily’s fault that they were now sharing the same body, but she couldn’t stand hearing her voice in the back of her mind, like she had always imagined insane people might do.

She looked in the bathroom mirror. Her face was framed by a cascade of soft crimson curls, her eyes were wide open above her nose, like two emerald gemstones. She looked like a ghost, or something worse than a ghost; Helga Hufflepuff had seemed healthier than her. Helga Hufflepuff wasn’t a ghost.

Hermione glanced at her outfit, her tights were torn in several places, but she didn’t care too much, she would have thrown them away at the end of that horrible day anyway. Her skirt was dirty and her pullover was slightly unpicked over her shoulder, but still they weren’t her first concern.

She turned towards the door of the bathroom and opened it. She knew that she had to check up on Draco, and she was happy about that. She was happy and she couldn’t help feeling a wave of disgust as she walked towards the bedroom, she hated the fact that she was excited and relieved to go talk to Draco. She pushed the handle of his bedroom door down and opened it. The soft and stiff noise of Draco’s breathing was the only sound audible inside.

Hermione walked towards the bed. Draco lay there, he seemed asleep, but Hermione decided that he had already tricked her quite a lot of times with his false naps, and she wasn’t too keen to have her hands slapped by him again.

She stepped towards him and bent over his face. He was pale, even paler than her, his blond hair fell on his face untidily, and his lips were parted in the effort of breathing. He wasn’t wearing the upper part of his pyjamas, but his torso was well covered by the sheets. She placed a hand on his shoulder and shook him gently.

“Malfoy?” she called, her voice soft.

Draco shrugged her hand away, or at least he tried, but he wasn’t strong enough. “What?” he asked sleepily, and Hermione wondered if he knew where he was.

“How are you?” she questioned, taking her hand away and collapsing on the bed, next to him.

Draco’s eyes opened stiffly, and, from the sheet, he pulled one pale arm to rub them. When he fixed them on Hermione a surprised expression appeared on his face, but it was almost immediately replaced by a sneer. “Why?” he asked back.

Hermione raised her eyebrows without understanding. “Why—what?”

“Why did you wake me up?” he asked, his grey eyes a couple of slits.

Hermione rolled her eyes, now she wasn’t glad anymore to have come to talk with him, she felt annoyed. She should have known she would feel that way in record time with Draco. “Because I wanted to ask you how you were feeling,” she explained, stressing every single word and trying unsuccessfully to keep her voice calm.

Draco snorted. “Sure,” he murmured. “Then, why all the other times you just bent over me, watched me sleeping and tried to steal my necklace?”

Hermione’s mouth opened slightly. “I was—what?” she asked in disbelief. “I just wanted to be--”

“You want to talk,” Draco cut her off, a background of enjoyment in his voice.

Hermione opened her mouth to reply, but she couldn’t find anything to say, because he was right. She wanted to talk. She needed to talk. Her eyes wandered for the bedroom, she felt her cheeks on fire. How was it possible that she wanted to talk to Draco? How was it possible that she was blushing because of him?

Hermione was snapped out of her thoughts when Draco’s fingers closed around her wrist. She lowered her eyes and saw that he was looking back at her with concentration. She could feel the coldness of his hands through the fabric of her clothes, and she shivered involuntarily.

“What happened?” asked Draco.

Hermione jerked her wrist away from him. “Why should anything have happened?” she questioned, coldly.

Draco nodded towards her. “Your tights are broken, your clothes are covered in soil and your hands are bleeding. You’ve fallen, maybe you’ve fought, maybe someone has attacked you.”

Hermione shook her head and glanced at her hands, those were her fault, she rubbed them on the tights, cleaning the small amount of blood from them. “I fell, that’s all.”

“You fell down a hill?” he asked.

Hermione looked at him surprised. “I tripped,” she murmured.

“I’m wounded, not stupid,” hissed Draco. “What happened?”

“Why do you care so much?” she snapped. “What do you want me to say?”

“The truth,” hissed Draco.

“You wouldn’t believe me,” she murmured.

“Try me.”

Hermione glanced at him. Why did she have the vague sensation that he wasn’t asking her to tell him what happened just to show her what a good listener he could be? Why did she think that there was something else?

“Okay,” snapped Hermione. “Let’s see—Harry and I met Godric Gryffindor in the village cemetery, he brought us back in time more than a hundred years and showed us his murder at the hands of Salazar Slytherin, then he told us that there’s a curse on this place and now the souls of Harry’s parents are stuck inside mine and Harry’s bodies.” She grimaced at Draco, sure that he would glance back at her in disbelief.

But Draco didn’t. He joined his blond eyebrows over his eyes, and looked at Hermione as if she was giving him too much information at once. The words were still trying to sink into his brain when Hermione laughed, a shrill and melodic laugh that filled the silence around them.

“You think it’s funny,” hissed Draco, and it wasn’t a question.

Hermione shook her head and took a deep breath, as if she was trying to regain her composure. “No, I swear I don’t,” she said, trying to suppress another fit of laughter.

“You’re laughing, you think it’s funny?” repeated Draco.

Hermione shrugged, what was she supposed to say? She’d already answered him when he hadn’t asked her. “Anyway, I was right, what have I won?”

Draco raised his eyebrows without understanding. “What?”

“I told you that you won’t believe me,” she explained. “And you don’t believe me, so I won.”

“Who says I don’t believe you?” asked Draco calmly.

Hermione snorted, then she looked at him and her amusement faded away when she saw how serious he was. “You don’t believe me, do you?”

“Did you tell me the truth?” he questioned her.

Hermione’s lips parted in surprise, then she nodded. She raised her arm and rubbed her neck, looking everywhere but at Draco. She seized a lock of red hair and started twitching it in her fingers.

“Then why shouldn’t I believe you?” asked Draco. “You are not the kind of girl to lie.”

Hermione raised her eyebrows and she felt her heart starting to beat faster in her chest, without knowing why. “Y-you don’t even know what kind of girl I am,” she stammered, surprised.

Draco cocked an eyebrow amused. “Are you saying that you usually lie?”

“I-I don’t,” she replied. “I’m not a liar.”

“So, you don’t lie. Do you--”

“You’re clever, I’ll give you that,” she cut him off, regaining some of her self-control which seemed to constantly fail her when she was with him. “But there’s a little problem with what you just said.”

“Really, Miss Know-It-All?” murmured Draco.

“You said that I don’t lie because I’m the kind of girl that wouldn’t lie, and you said that you believe me, but since you’re the kind of boy that lies, how do I know that you aren’t lying right now?” she replied.

Draco looked at her, impressed. He knew that she was intelligent, and he was waiting exactly for some reasoning like that. “Granger, give me an example of when I’ve lied, and I’ll tell you you’re right,” he answered calmly.

Hermione lowered her eyes, trying to recollect every single moment in which she’d had the chance to listen to what Draco had said. She could remember being horrified by all his wickedness and his selfishness, but she couldn’t remember him being a liar. Not even when Harry and Ron had disguised themselves as Crabbe and Goyle and entered into the Slytherin Common Room in search of information about the heir of Slytherin, he lied. He told them that he didn’t know anything. And it was true.

“So?” he asked mockingly, snapping Hermione out of her thoughts.

She glared at him, her eyes, greener than usual, were shining with a dangerous light. “Okay, I don’t have any proof that you usually lie,” she admitted bitterly. “But I’m sure that you’re not exactly a saint, Malfoy.”

“Nobody is a saint, Granger,” he replied.

“Since when are you so wise, Malfoy?” she asked suspiciously.

“I’ve always been wise, Granger,” answered Draco with a smirk.

Hermione couldn’t hide a little smile, but it faded away almost immediately when Draco grabbed her arm again, his fingers were as hard as wood, but he didn’t have enough force to hurt her, or maybe he wasn’t even trying. This time Hermione didn’t shake his hand off of her.

“What?” asked Hermione softly.

“You have to pay attention,” murmured Draco, looking at her gravely with his grey eyes shining from the fever.

Hermione raised her eyebrows. “Attention? To what?” she asked puzzled.

“To who,” Draco corrected her.

She rolled her eyes. “To who, then?”

Draco let her go. “You said that I don’t lie, believe me for once, Granger,” he murmured.

“I didn’t say that you don’t--”

“Details,” Draco cut her off. “Just pay attention to him.”

“You mean Voldemort?” she asked, causing Draco to gasp softly with the remaining breath that he had in his body.

“The Dark Lord, yes, kind of,” he answered cryptically, he turned on the bed and grimaced in pain.

Hermione looked at him with her mouth slightly open. What was he talking about? She was friends with Harry Potter, didn’t he know that she had had to pay attention to Voldemort since her very first year at Hogwarts? And what kind of answer was that ‘kind of’? He just had to answer yes or no. Damn Draco, she thought. If he’s trying to scare me, he should think of something more effective. She lowered her eyes and decided that she wouldn’t keep arguing, or even talking, with him, it was useless and it only served to annoy her. “How are you feeling?” she asked, hoping that he would finally answer her.

Draco closed his eyes. “Like someone who has been sliced from part to--”

“—part and that doesn’t receive the right treatment from his Healer,” Hermione finished for him, snorting as she did so.

“I still don’t get why you dropped Divination, Granger, you’re a seer,” mocked Draco, sneering.

“You should change your repertoire, Malfoy, you’re a little bit too predictable,” she retorted.

“And you should take better care of me,” he replied haughtily.

Hermione rolled her eyes and stood up from the bed. “Okay, whatever,” she snapped. “When you have something serious to tell me, just let me know.”

Hermione knew that Draco half-opened his eyes and looked at her as she walked out of the bedroom and slammed the door closed behind her back, and she hoped that he was feeling a stupid brat because he had let her walk away. She hoped that he was mentally slapping himself because he hadn’t been able to restrain her from going away, and she hoped that he would have at least tried to stop in her in someway. I didn’t want him to stop me, she reminded herself hastily, No, I didn’t.

She shook her head forcefully and closed her fists at her sides. She hated Draco Malfoy. He was evil and deceitful, and he had almost succeeded in killing Dumbledore. She had to remember that.

She walked briskly towards the stairs and climbed down them. She wondered what was the time, because she really had no idea. She wasn’t hungry, after all the things that had happened to her that day, the last thing she could think about at that moment was food, but it must have surely been around noon.

She mentally slapped herself. I could have asked Draco if he was hungry at all, she thought, feeling suddenly self-centred. For a moment she considered the idea of turning on her heels and going back upstairs to ask Draco if he wanted something to eat. She wondered how he could still be alive with the tiny amount of food that he swallowed every day. The potions I’m giving him must be really powerful, that or they are very well done, she thought and a small grin of satisfaction curled her lips.

“What are you smiling about?”

That sentence had come out of nowhere and Hermione’s heart had jumped in her chest. She raised her eyes and focused them on the boy that was standing in front of her. Ron. He smiled a cold and vaguely malicious smile, and his dark eyes narrowed as he locked them on her features.

“I asked you what are you smiling about?” he repeated slowly, and Hermione felt as if that sentenced could have ended with a ‘soon you won’t find anything to smile about’.

She opened her mouth to reply, but she actually couldn’t find anything to tell him. In that split second she had forgotten why she was smiling. “Nothing,” she answered. Her eyes travelled over his face, he was pale, and there were rings around his eyes, as if he hadn’t slept enough the past few days. His clothes were all worn out, and covered with dirt, and they were the same that he’d been wearing all week. She felt like hadn’t seen him in ages. Then she remembered that he had come back only that very morning, and that she hadn’t had the chance to ask him where he had been. She thought that maybe this was the right moment.

“Ron,” she started tentatively. “Where have you been?”

Ron tilted his head and blinked, as if he didn’t understand her question, or better, he didn’t understand why she was asking him this at that very moment. “When?” he asked, sounding naïve.

Hermione frowned. “Yesterday night,” she replied, then she stopped. He wasn’t home even when she had come back an hour before. “And now.”

“I’m here now, Hermione,” he answered, acting as if he was amused by all her preoccupation.

“I meant before now,” responded Hermione. “You weren’t home when I came back.”

“I went looking for you,” Ron answered as if it was the most normal thing in the world. He took a step towards her, slowly and tentatively, as if he wanted to see if she would stay there or if she would back away.

And she backed away. Hermione didn’t know why, but she took a step back. “You didn’t know where we were,” she pointed out, apprehension in her voice. She hoped that Ron hadn’t found them. She hoped that Ron hadn’t witnessed the kiss that Harry had stolen from her.

“I knew,” he answered with a sly grin. “Malfoy told me.”

Hermione let out a despaired sigh. “You came to the cemetery,” she murmured, and it wasn’t a question.

Ron’s lips straightened, closing in a thin line, and his eyes became even smaller and darker. “Well spotted, Miss Granger,” he answered mockingly, and she knew that he hadn’t used those words at random. She really had spotted him in the cemetery, the boy running up the hill that she saw in the distance.

“Ron, I--”

“Did you enjoy it?” Ron asked her dryly. He took another step towards her.

Hermione backed again. She didn’t know why, but she didn’t exactly feel like standing too close to Ron at that moment. Hell I don’t know why, she thought, I don’t want my skin to get covered in blisters again.
Ron stopped and his muscles tensed up around his shoulders. “Why are you backing away?”

Hermione opened her mouth, but she was sure that whatever she was going to tell him it wouldn’t make him very happy at all, she decided that it was better for her to keep him calm. Am I afraid of Ron? “Why do you keep on stepping forward?” she asked him back.

Ron sneered with mirth, but he didn’t answer. He could sense a vague feeling of fear coming from Hermione, and he liked it. He loved to be feared, especially by her. He wasn’t sure when these creepy thoughts had surfaced in him, but now he couldn’t help feeling good as she opened her eyes wide and looked at him with alarm.

“I’m sure you didn’t question Harry when he got closer to you,” he hissed, and he took another step towards her.

Hermione stepped back, her back crashed against the railing of the stairs. Now she knew that there wasn’t much that she could do if Ron got even closer than he already was. She raised her eyes to him, and he smirked. Naturally he’d known that the railing was there and he had just been waiting for her to go crashing against it.

Hermione gulped. What was she supposed to say to him? That it was just a spell? That she didn’t kiss Harry, and Harry didn’t kiss her? That they were Lily and James? All that story sounded weird even to her, who had been given explanations about the curse from none other than Gryffindor himself, what would Ron think if she started to tell him all that stuff?

“Ron, it’s not what it looks like,” she started. “Harry and I—we never--”

Ron took another step towards her, he was so close that now Hermione could have counted the freckles on his nose, if only she was interested in that. She pushed herself against the railing, and the iron fit between her shoulder blades.

“You never?” he asked coldly.

She had stopped because she didn’t know what to say, and also because Ron had advanced again. She could feel his hot breath on her forehead, his dark eyes piercing her through and through, as if he was able to perform Occlumency on her.

“You never, Hermione?” he asked again more heatedly. His left arm grabbed the railing, right next to her ear, she could sense the warmth coming from his skin and she hoped that he couldn’t feel her hotness. She hoped she wasn’t blushing, and if she was, she hoped he couldn’t see her.

“We never—we never--” She tried to look for the words that she knew she couldn’t say, because it wasn’t true that they never…

Ron bent his head forward. “Can you lie to me, Hermione?” he whispered into her ear.

She tilted her head. “We just--”

“—kissed,” he finished for her, making that word fall in her ear as if it was a drop of poison.

Hermione locked her eyes on his and this time she couldn’t be fooled by the light or anything, his irises were red. He sneered and lowered his head towards her, his eyes half-closed and his face inclined. Was he going to kiss her?

She raised a hand and placed it on his chest, pushing him backwards. “Ron, what are you doing?” she asked, and she hoped that her voice wasn’t shaking so much.

Ron didn’t answer. He let the railing go and put his arm on Hermione’s shoulder, causing her to get closer to him. He felt the pressure of her hand increasing on his chest and knew that Hermione was trying to push him away.

“Ron, no! Wait,” she pleaded, her voice trembling. She thrust against Ron’s chest with all her force, her right hand pushing at his torso while her left one on his shoulder. She grabbed spasmodically for his tee-shirt, near his neck.

“You didn’t ask Harry to stop, though,” he hissed. “And I’m sure you wouldn’t refuse a kiss even to Malfoy.”

Hermione stopped pushing at him as he caught her right upper arm and her left wrist in his hands, his fingers like iron on her limbs, the coldness of his digits was almost painful on her skin. She bent her knees and struggled to free herself. With Harry in the cemetery it had worked, but she was sure that Harry would have let her go anyway.

“Ron, wait,” she half screamed. “What do you want to do?”

“Isn’t it clear, Mudblood?” he asked her, tightening the grip on her arms. And at the beginning he thought that his mighty grip had caused her strength to decrease, making her stop struggling; but from the way she looked up at him, she had stopped because of the way he had addressed her.

“Ron—what--” she murmured crestfallen.

Ron seemed to stag a little as the evidence of what he was going to do hit him, his eyes changed into blue, and his expression softened. But it lasted less than a minute, and then his irises turned red again and they glanced coldly at Hermione.

Then, without notice, he turned and threw Hermione on the floor of the living room, she landed with a shriek due to the surprise rather than the pain. He stared down at her for what seemed like ages, then he started to walk towards where she was like a wild beast would do with its prey.

And Hermione knew only one thing, if she was the prey she would make it bloody difficult for him to get her.

Chapter 14: Chapter Fourteen
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Author's Notes: I'm terribly sorry for the incredible delay with this chapter. It took me more than I've expected to (a) find a new beta-reader, (b) send her everything, (c) get back everything, (d) send back again with questions and stuff, (e) get it back once again, (f) send it again to her for the last time, (g) receive it for the last time, (h) go through it again and (i) post it, finally! Well, I hope you'll like it, there are still another 3 chapters to go before the story is over and I hope that my faithful readers are still somewhere out there, ready to read this and see where it's going. Naturally you have to let me know what you think about it. A very big thank you goes to Verity_Evans, my lovely new beta-reader, the closest to a professional proof-reader I've ever had. Many thanks, sweetie!




Harry felt his heart pounding in his chest, his mouth suddenly dry. His arm darted towards Hermione’s wrist, he grabbed her and shoved her protectively behind him. He pointed his wand at Snape. For the first time, he regretted that his Sectumsempra Curse hadn’t killed Draco that day in the bathroom.

“Glad that we are still alive so that you can kill us?” barked Harry. “Not this time, Snape.”

Snape glanced at him coldly. His eyebrows raised in an annoyed and bored expression. If Snape didn’t feel threatened by his tone of voice or his wand, perhaps an Unforgivable Curse would change his mind.

Snape raised his chin and took a step forward.

“Don’t move!” cried Harry, his green eyes fixed in Snape’s black ones.

“Or what?” asked Snape coldly, standing still.

Harry backed up, causing Hermione to back up with him. “Or I’ll kill you,” he muttered, his breath stiff. He felt Hermione gasp softly behind him, he surprised her as much as he surprised himself.

“Kill me, Potter?” asked Snape. “You are not a murderer.”

Harry’s jaw set, he narrowed his eyes and raised his chin in the air. He had to kill him. Snape had killed Dumbledore, and now Harry had to kill him. I don’t have to kill him, Harry corrected himself. But I do want to… Harry contemplated the fact that he would become a murderer, but seriously did that matter at that moment? Yes, it matters. I’m not a murderer… He hated Snape even more now. He hated him because he was agreeing with him.

“Why are you here?” asked Harry, his voice uneasy. “To finish your job? To kill me.”

“If you’re going to answer to your own questions, why ask me?” Snape asked, smirking.

“What did you come here for?” Harry asked again, his voice was now steadier than before.

Snape didn’t move. He looked like a statue, even his sallow complexion recalled the colour of the wax. His greasy hair framed his face like the curtains of a theatre, but Harry didn’t like the show that it was playing. Snape seemed terribly calm. He seemed to know something that Harry didn’t.

“It’s a long story, Potter,” answered Snape seriously. “We better sit down and talk.”

Harry glared at him. It was exactly what Draco had told him and Harry still had to hear to his explanation, not that they did have time for that, but Draco had ignored his warning and opened the door for Snape instead of giving him details about what was going on.

“You killed Dumbledore,” hissed Harry. “If you think that I’m going to sit down at the same table with you, then think again.”

Snape narrowed his eyes. “I’ve something for you, Potter.” He moved his hands under his cloak and struggled to free them.

“Do you think I’m stupid?” yelled Harry nervously. “Don’t take out your hands out of your cloak.”

Snape stopped moving. “I’m not taking out my wand, Potter, if that’s what is troubling you.”

“I’m not troubled,” answered Harry. “I’m not stupid either,” he snapped, glaring at Draco as if to remind him of that.

Draco glared back at him.

“I understand that asking you to trust me is a bit excessive, after what happened that night,” said Snape evenly.

Harry snorted. “Very.”

“Well,” replied Snape. “I think we have a problem then.”

“You are the problem, Snape,” growled Harry. “The fact that you are here in front of me is my problem.”

Snape’s lips curled into the shadow of a smile. “Professor Dumbledore would want you to hear me out, Potter.”

Harry opened his mouth in surprise, he couldn’t believe his ears. “He didn’t even want you to kill him, Snape,” hissed Harry as soon as he recovered.

Snape raised his chin. “Are you sure?” he asked coldly.

“How dare you?” roared Harry. “I was there, on the Astronomy Tower, I saw everything.”

“And that’s why you trust Draco? Because he didn’t have the nerve to kill Professor Dumbledore?” asked Snape.

Harry blinked. “I don’t trust Malfoy,” he replied coldly.

“And you usually let someone that you don’t trust into your house?” asked Snape. “Last time your parents did it, they regretted it.”

Harry’s vision blurred for the rage. How could he have the courage to talk about his parents in front of him? He could almost feel the words of Snape’s own curse jumping to his lips. He bit down on his tongue to keep from hexing him into oblivion, though he didn’t entirely understand why.

“Malfoy was wounded,” hissed Harry, but as he glanced at Draco, he knew how foolish this was.

Snape turned his head to look at Draco as well, and Draco must have felt suddenly observed, because he flushed. He glanced over at Hermione and saw that she was looking at him as well, her brown eyes wide with curiosity and confusion.

“He doesn’t look like he’s wounded to me,” concluded Snape, turning back to Harry.

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Don’t even try to fool me, I know that you know,” he hissed.

“That I know what?”

“He was poisoned,” cried Harry.

“He looks fine.”

“He lied,” Hermione’s voice broke in. She spoke nervously at the same time and everybody, except for Harry turned to look at her. Draco had his mouth slightly open, as if he hadn’t expected her to say anything, as if he hadn’t wanted her to say anything. He didn’t quite know why, but he felt uneasy with her eyes on him, and only when she looked up at Snape did he let out the breath that he didn’t know he was holding.

“He lied,” repeated Hermione. “And you know it,” she added to Snape. “What was that? A test to see if we would have taken care of him?”

Snape cocked an eyebrow and curled his lips in a small satisfied smile, the way he had never done for her while she was in class and answered to his questions. “No, Miss Granger,” answered Snape, calmly. “I was sure that you would have taken care of him. Actually, I wouldn’t have bet on Weasley, but Potter wouldn’t have permitted a poor wounded boy to die in front of your door, not even if that boy was Draco,” answered Snape. “And speaking of Weasley,” he continued, glancing over Harry and Hermione’s shoulders. “What is he doing tied up on the floor, Potter?”

Hermione and Draco glanced briefly at Ron, before turning their attention to what was going on in the middle of the living room. Harry swallowed. What could he have said? He still didn’t know what happened. He seemed to know very little of what was going on.

“Miss Granger?” asked Snape, after waiting in vain for an answer from Harry.

“I tied him up,” answered Draco. “He found it,” he added knowingly.

Snape’s lips parted slightly, he looked past Harry to the unconscious figure of Ron, and for a moment Harry thought that he saw a shadow of concern on his face.

“He found what?” asked Harry, his rage giving way to curiosity, though he didn’t lower his wand. He was curious, not stupid. And he had spent the last six years of his life trying to understand what was going on around him, he was used to discovering things all by himself.

“Potter, please. If I wanted to harm you, I’ve had plenty of opportunity over the last six years. Put your wand away, and I’ll explain everything.” He raised his chin and looked intently at Harry. “You want to know what I’m doing here, and I want to know what happened in the last few days.”

Snape’s words sunk in Harry’s brain that for a moment they left him breathless.

Harry gulped and narrowed his eyes. He sounded very convincing. Then Harry wondered if he sounded so convincing when he talked to Dumbledore too. He must have, he thought bitterly, for being able to lure professor Dumbledore into that trap that cost him his life.
Harry was so focused on Snape that he almost didn’t notice Hermione’s hand appearing at the corner of his eye and alighting on the forearm of his wand arm.

“Harry, let’s just listen to what--”

“No,” snapped Harry, and he shook Hermione away from his arm. “Don’t you understand, Hermione?” he continued, keeping his eyes on Snape. “It’s just his way to do everything. He convinced Dumbledore to believe him, and where is he now?”

Hermione bit her bottom lip, and Harry noticed that her eyes shone with restrained tears.

Hermione took a deep breath and stepped forward, standing between Harry and Snape. She gulped and closed her lips in a thin and severe line.

Harry reacted exactly the way she expected he would; he seemed shocked. His lips parted slightly and his hand started to shake. His eyes burned with anger as he looked intently at her, like he was trying to pierce through her and keep his eyes on Snape.

“Hermione, stand aside.” Harry ordered. His wand was now pointed to her heart, but he knew that it was pointless to tear it away. He knew that if he did that, Hermione would have moved with it, standing always between him and his aim.

“Harry, let’s hear what he has to say. What do you want to do? Point your wand at him until your arm starts to hurt?” she questioned firmly.

“Why? Unforgivable Curses hurt your arm?” he snorted back.

“I think it will be okay, Harry,” she said sweetly.

Harry breathed sharply. “How can you trust him?” he asked, glaring at Snape.

Harry’s jaw set. He wasn’t ready to trust Snape, but after all Hermione was right.

He lowered his wand and heard a sigh coming from Hermione. He shook his head slightly. “Talk fast,” he said.

“It’s a long story,” said Snape. “I have something for you.”

Snape’s hands appeared from his cloak, quickly and silently like two white snakes. He looked at Harry and Hermione with a firm expression.

Both Harry and Hermione—and Draco—Snape knew, had their eyes fixed on what he was holding in his hands, a curious and concentrated expression on their faces.

He stretched his hands towards them. In each hand he held a little black velvet bag, closed with a crimson tie. One was bigger than the other and seemed also quite a bit heavier.

“What’s in there?” asked Harry coldly.

Snape’s lips curled in a soft and satisfied smile, he had managed to make him curious. He grabbed the smallest bag and threw it at Harry and Hermione’s feet, where it landed with a clatter. “Open it,” he said calmly, nodding towards it.

“Do you think we’re stupid?” asked Harry.

“Just open it, Potter,” said Snape coldly. “They are harmless, now.”

Harry looked at him and narrowed his eyes. What did he mean with now? He stretched a foot towards the sack and kicked it gently.

Harry glared at him, did he think he would pick up the first thing that he threw him? Didn’t he know that- “Hermione, what are you doing?” he half screamed. “It could be dangerous!”

Hermione was picking up the velvet bag. By the time Harry reached her she had already unfastened half of the knot that closed the bag.

Harry seized her wrist. “Do you have a death-wish?” he asked.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “We won’t know what’s in here, if we don’t have a look.”

Harry snorted and took the bag from her hands very unceremoniously. “Okay, but let Malfoy open it,” he snapped, throwing the bag at Draco.

Draco caught it reflexively. He raised his eyes to Harry, and he felt terribly ashamed to wear a surprised look over his face, but he really hadn’t seen that coming. He looked at Snape, who was looking at him as if he had expected that.

“I would have opened it by myself, Potter, if my hands weren’t busy holding your present,” said Snape, coldly. “Draco, open it,” said Snape.

Draco nodded curtly and unfastened the knot, then he threw the tie on the floor and, glancing at Harry, he seized the bottom of the bag and, turning it upside down, let the contents fall on the floor.

All eyes were pointed to the small objects on the floor. A feather, a locket and a key were lying in a pile.

There was a heavy gold locket, with an ornate “S” on the front, which had been broken almost in two at the hinge. Harry knew perfectly well what it was, that embroidery, that “S”, that serpent…

There was a black quill. It looked ancient, and worn out by the excessive use; ink encrusted the point and the upper part was half burnt. There was some kind of fine paint on it, a silvery design that vaguely resembled a crow.

There was a big silver key, with a small engraving of a lion. In some places the key had become the typical blackish colour of the neglected silver, and like the quill, looked partially burnt. But a part from this, it looked like it could still have opened the door it had been created for.

They all reached the floor with clatters and clinks, and once silence fell again it seemed so thick that when Snape spoke, his voice seemed to come from miles away.

“You know what these are?” he asked calmly.

Harry raised his eyes on him. He knew what they were, or better he could have imagined what they were. He opened his mouth to answer but Hermione was quicker.
“Horcruxes,” murmured Hermione. Her eyes were wide with shock, and her hands trembled slightly.

Draco too seemed quite surprised.

“Former Horcruxes, Miss Granger,” Snape corrected her.

“You mean that they have all been defeated?” asked Harry, and he was flabbergasted to hear his voice back to his normal tone, with no trace at all of rage or hate. Just surprise, or better shock.

“If by defeated you mean that the pieces of souls that they were concealing have been definitely destroyed, then yes, they are all defeated,” said Snape.

“And you did it?” asked Harry stunned.

“You know that you are not saying this in a very flattering way, do you Potter? Anyway, yes, I did it,” replied Snape, “aided extensively by Dumbledore’s notes.”

Harry lowered his gaze to the three objects on the floor. He couldn’t believe it. Snape had destroyed the Horcruxes. That should mean something to him. Then why couldn’t he still trust him? What if it’s a trap? What if those are only transfigured objects?

“W-wait a minute.” Hermione’s voice shook, as if she wasn’t so sure of what she was going to say. Harry looked at her; she was staring at the objects, as if she was trying to understand something. Very well, Hermione, thought Harry excited, find what’s wrong in all this story.

“Yes, Miss Granger?” asked Snape absolutely flatly.

“One is missing,” she said, raising her eyes on Snape and biting her bottom lip. “One Horcrux is missing.”

“I know,” answered Snape. “And it was still missing until a couple of days ago, but someone found it.”

“You mean you found it,” Harry broke in.

“No,” answered Snape quietly.

“Death Eaters?” Harry felt nauseated at the thought.

Draco snorted. “The cup, Potter! How can you be so thick?” he snapped, crossing his arms on his bare chest.

Harry glared at him. “What are you talking about, Malfoy?” he snapped back.

Draco let out a frustrated cry and crossed the living room. He glared at Harry as he passed by him, but ignored Hermione. He bent on the couch and picked up the small cup that he had found in Ron’s pocket. He picked it up, touching it as little as he could, and brought it to Snape.

“This cup,” Draco snapped, while Snape took it.

Harry blinked, his eyes on the small goblet that Draco had handed to Snape. “Hufflepuff’s cup,” he murmured as if he was afraid to say it out loud, as if he couldn’t believe he was actually looking at the small artefact that held a piece of Voldemort’s soul. As if he couldn’t believe that that artefact was in his house.

Snape’s eyes narrowed, as he looked at Harry. “You’ve already seen this cup, haven’t you, Potter?” he asked calmly.

Harry raised his eyes on his former professor and nodded. “I have seen it, but not in this house,” he replied curtly. “I’ve seen it in Pokey’s memories. With Dumbledore.”

Snape arched an eyebrow quizzically. “And you didn’t know it was here?” he asked as if he found it difficult to believe Harry’s words.

“No,” answered Harry dryly. He looked at Draco with newfound hate. “And how did you know that cup was here?” he asked nervously.

Draco glared at him. “I’m here for that cup,” he answered curtly. “But Weasley found it before I did.”

Hermione gasped, her hand covering her mouth. “Ron… that’s why he… he tried to…”
Draco nodded. “I’m sure your little brilliant brain has already worked out what I’m talking about, Granger.” He nodded towards Ron. “We all know that he has a crush on you, but I don’t think that he would have ever tried anything on you without a little push from that cup.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Harry nervously. He turned towards Hermione. “What the hell is he talking about?”

Hermione looked at him, her mouth slightly open, her eyes wide. What was she supposed to say? There were so many things to tell him, that she surely couldn’t have answered him at that moment, they needed to sit and talk properly. They needed to take every single piece of information and put them together, like a jigsaw puzzle. They needed to understand.

“Now is not the time for this. We have things to discuss, Potter,” replied Snape calmly.

Harry snorted, his eyes darted towards Snape. “You think I trust you now?,” he hissed.

Snape’s eyes narrowed. “I thought I gave you enough reasons,” he answered, “but if you still need a convincing, here you are.” He stretched his arms towards Harry, offering him the other velvet bag.

Harry looked at it suspiciously. Snape’s arms were shaking a little, that thing must have been heavy. “What is it?”

“Why don’t you take it and see for yourself?” asked Snape, taking a small step towards Harry.

Harry took a step back, dragging Hermione with him. “Why don’t you open it, so that we all see?”

Snape gave him a contemptuous look, but he untied the knot and freed the bag. He dove his hand in and let the velvet bag fall on the floor and held what he claimed as Harry’s present.

It was a small stone basin. It seemed dug in the rock, and it was filled with fluorescent strings of a ghostly silver colour that sent a dim light against Snape’s black clothes. It looked exactly like something that Harry knew very well. Something in which he had fallen quite often in the last three years, something that had been the very method of his lessons with Dumbledore last year.

“Take it,” said Snape, his voice a bit annoyed and a bit bored. “Or would you prefer a new broomstick?”

Harry looked at Snape. “Is that my present? A Pensieve?” he asked slowly.

Snape nodded.

“And I’m supposed to just go in there, and trust you out here, alone, with my friends.”

Snape placed his wand down on the table. “By all means, disarm us, if you feel it necessary.”

“Why are you giving me a Pensieve?” he asked rudely.

“This is not from me. It’s from Professor Dumbledore,” he answered. “He filled it several weeks before he died, and asked me to give it to you, should anything happen. You might find things that could interest you.”

“What things?” he asked. He didn’t know if there were spells that could have been placed on Pensieves, but what if he entered it and then was stuck in there forever? What if it was a trap? Was he really so stupid to fall in that trap?

“Things that you should know, Potter,” answered Snape bitterly. “Go ahead,” said Snape. “When you’ve returned, we’ll talk.”

“So,” murmured Hermione. “You suggest that we sit around the kitchen table, maybe in front of a cup of tea and tell you all the things that we know that happened here in the past few days, then you’ll tell us how you destroyed the Horcruxes, and eventually Harry and I will be able to see what’s in this Pensieve, right?”

“No,” answered Snape curtly. “I suggest that Potter enters the Pensieve alone, and then, when he’s out, we’ll talk.”

“Why only Harry?” asked Hermione concerned.

Snape looked at her. “Because, Miss Granger it’s Potter’s present, but if you want you can enter with him. It’s not strictly necessary, though.”

“No,” replied Harry.

“I’m sorry?” questioned Snape, cocking his head.

“I said no,” he repeated calmly. “Hermione is not going to enter the Pensieve with me.”
Hermione turned to look at Harry, but he didn’t look back at her. He was still staring at Snape and doing his very best to ignore her. She narrowed her eyes and seized his sleeve, pulling him slightly towards her, she cleared her throat. “What do you mean that I’m not coming into the Pensieve with you?” she asked sharply.

“Does this mean that you are going to enter this Pensieve, Potter?” broke in Snape.

Harry nodded, while Hermione pulled at his sleeve a bit more forcefully than before. Since he was still ignoring her, she wanted to be sure that he didn’t leave her out of the conversation.

“Harry. Harry, look at me,” she called him vehemently. And only when he turned to look at her, she kept on talking. “What do you mean that I can’t come into the Pensieve with you? I want to see.”

Harry seized her upper arms gently, just to capture her full attention and let her know that she had to listen to him carefully. “Stay here, keep an eye on them. If this is a trap or something, you can get me out.”
Hermione gulped. “How will I know if it’s a trap?”

“If I’m not back in half an hour.” He looked at Snape for confirmation, but he didn’t move. Harry continued, “You’ll have to take me out of the Pensieve, because it means that it’s a trap.”

Hermione nodded. She didn’t like the situation, she had to start thinking at what kind of spells to use, right at that moment, because if Harry didn’t come back she was sure that she would have panicked like that time when Ron was in the branches of the Devil’s Snare.

Harry put a hand on her cheek and smiled reassuringly. Hermione placed her own hand on his, smiling back concerned, and for a moment, everything else in the world disappeared.

“So you are going to enter the Pensieve,” said Snape, and it wasn’t a question. His lips curled into a satisfied smile.

Harry looked at him, without releasing Hermione. “Yes, I am,” he replied. “Whose memories are in there? Dumbledore’s?”

“And mine,” answered Snape.

“And they are about…”

“Do you want me to spoil it for you, Potter?”

Harry crossed his arms on his chest. “Give your wands to Hermione,” he said, “both of you.” He looked at Draco, causing the blond boy to glare at him.

“If you think that I’m giving up my wand again, you are very wrong, Potter,” snapped Draco, casting him and Hermione a disdainful look. “Like I’d even want to get anywhere near her.” He held out his thumb and index finger in front of him. “I would never get close to a Muggle-born,” he finished, without looking at Hermione.

Harry shot him a glare. “Sure, Malfoy,” he mocked. “As if you weren’t hugging her when I entered into the living room.”

Draco darkened. “In fact I wasn’t,” he snapped. “She was hugging me.” On his lips appeared a soft satisfied and arrogant smile; as if the first purpose of that smile was to get on Harry’s nerves. And he was succeeding. Oh, how much he was succeeding!

“How dare you--”

Snape interrupted the argument before it even started. “Draco, do as Potter asks, we are not here to harm Miss Granger at all.”

Hermione watched Snape while he collected Draco’s wand, and pulled his own out of his pocket. He offered them to her. She stretched out an arm to take them and met no resistance at all when the wands left Snape’s hand. He was not acting, he was really handing her their only defence.

“Thank you,” murmured Hermione, unsure if that word was really required at all.

“You are welcome,” answered Draco mockingly.

Hermione glanced at him, and Draco looked away, as if he couldn’t stand to bear her look. She smiled pretty satisfied, she was happy if he felt awkward under her glance. Malfoy that feels awkward because of me? Sure, come back on Earth, Hermione.

“Enough, Draco,” said Snape calmly. “Potter, is there a place where I can lay this?” He nodded towards the Pensieve, still in his hands.

Harry turned to look behind himself. The small coffee table was crushed under Ron’s body, and Ron was still there, unconscious. That was not an option; and the couch was too soft, what if the Pensieve overturned while he was in there. He didn’t want to think what could have happened.

“I believe that the kitchen’s table will work for that,” suggested Hermione, and Harry agreed with her.

“This way,” said Harry, walking towards the only door of the First Floor and pushing it open. “Put it on this table.”

Snape followed him and placed the Pensieve on the table, as he was told. He stepped back and looked as Harry neared the table like a cat would near a bird. “I suggest you do it quickly, Potter,” said Snape. “We have to act fast.”

Harry glared at him. “Okay,” he muttered darkly. “Just sit down at this table, both of you.” He gestured to Draco and Snape. “And place your hands where Hermione can see them.”

Hermione crossed the kitchen while at her back Snape and Draco pushed the chairs aside and sat down, placing their hands on the table. “Harry,” she murmured, seizing the front of his robes gently. “Are you sure about this?”

Harry cupped her cheeks and smiled. “Weren’t you the one that said that we should hear what Snape has to tell us?”

Hermione pouted. “Yes, but weren’t you the one that said that we shouldn’t trust him? I’m scared now, what if it’s trap?”

“I don’t trust him, but I do believe in you, Hermione. Everything will be all right as long as you are here,” he replied.

Hermione’s eyes glistened with tears. Tears of joy for Harry’s confidence in her skills, and tears of fear for the fact that probably his life was hanging on a wire and that she was holding it in her hands. “Be careful,” she finally murmured.

Harry nodded. He bent down and kissed her quickly and unexpectedly on her lips. A chaste and silent kiss, that ended almost immediately, but that had the power to take away her breath and make her long for more, once Harry let her go.

Harry stepped towards the Pensieve, he looked at Snape who nodded curtly. Harry nodded back, and seized the edges of the Pensieve. He bent forward and immersed his head in the ghostly liquid.

A moment later, he was falling into their recollections.

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