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In My Last Breath by shesXaXfake

Format: Novella
Chapters: 7
Word Count: 19,564
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Contains Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Mystery, Romance
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Ginny
Pairings: Draco/Hermione, Harry/Ginny

First Published: 06/28/2009
Last Chapter: 05/17/2010
Last Updated: 05/17/2010

Banner by Me // Spoilers to HBP

Hermione and Draco are back at Hogwarts for their 7th year. But this year, Draco's secret may be far too horrifying to keep contained. With a loving mudblood on his arm, steering him to "the greater good", will Draco fall to the wrath of The Dark Lord? Or will Hermione be enough to save him?

please remember to review if you read! thanks!
*takes place after HBP & almost completely negates the existence of DH*

Chapter 1: Mudbloods Sin Too
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    It was a golden Monday morning in Diagon Alley. The streets were flooded with shuffling feet, scurrying busily along. Dozens of young, new students littered the cobble street, transfixed on shop windows, in awe of the magical merchandise displayed at the front.

    This was the final day Harry, Ron, and Hermione were to retrieve the last of their school supplies. This was also the day they were to enter Kings Cross and board the familiar scarlet engine. Anticipation sang through the children’s’ jovial faces to return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hearts must have been dancing inside them. But to Hermione, this was a wretched trip she neither wanted nor deemed necessary anymore. 

    “Do you think if I sucked up to Fred and George, they’ll consider buying me that Firebolt?” Ron nudged Hermione’s elbow as he said this, in hopes to attract her attention. 

    Hermione turned to Ron and simply smiled at his imprudent question. Ron could dream of better days on the Quidditch field as long as he wished. She, however, could not push the war from her mind and she no longer attempted to. 

    She seemed a dose more absent-minded than her usual, alert self, and Harry and Ron exchanged befuddled looks at one another as they saw her eyes skim through the heads of people in the crowds as though she were searching for someone that was not ever to come. Ron shrugged, abandoning his curiosity and led them into Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, squeezing through two wizards exiting while Hermione followed, still craning her neck. 

    Upon entering the shop, Hermione deserted her search and falsified interest in their daily shopping. Mrs. Weasley was already inside with Ginny who was anything but happy with her parental company. Her mum was tugging persistently at the sleeves of her new robes. Ginny looked utterly mortified as a group of 6th year boys huddled around a rack of robes, watching her hopelessly. She glanced at Hermione and rolled her eyes, suppressing a giggle. Tossing her fiery red hair over her shoulder in the boys’ direction, she looked to her mother with a solid face, her bright brown eyes ablaze. 

    “They fit. Let’s go now, please?” Ginny pleaded. 

    “Ginny dear, don’t be so hasty,” Mrs. Weasley said almost hysterically. It was no news that she found it rather hard coping with her now-mangled boys. “Perhaps Ron would like new robes, as well.” Ron grimaced as she started tugging fruitlessly at his robes too. 

    “I’m good, Mum,” Ron said, pulling up his shoulders as if to make his arms shorter.
    Harry and Ginny laughed at Ron as Mrs. Weasley forfeited her maternal strive and strolled to Madam Malkin to pay for the new robes. Ginny walked towards her mother, eager to leave the store, but eyed Harry as she went by, brushing her fingertips along his in a swift, quick movement. Harry grinned at her. 

    Hermione spent the rest of the day trailing behind Harry and Ron with Ginny at her side. It was unusual for the trio not to be together reminiscing, but Hermione hadn’t felt like herself in what seemed like years. Ginny remained behind with Hermione, keeping her friend irrelevant company. She felt Ginny’s eyes shift to her periodically through the silence, wondering what might be wrong with her, but Ginny's irritating questions were left stagnant after the interrogation upon greeting each other at the Burrow. 

    “Did you get everything Hermione?” Ginny said this gingerly behind Harry and Ron’s backs. Ron had just said “Dumbledore” and everybody attained a quiet stance, much like Hermione had displayed all morning. 

    “What? Oh, yes I think so.” She fetched her supplies list from her shoulder bag and skimmed down its contents to double check she had everything. “Oh no! I completely forgot about Ancient Runes!” 

    “That’s alright, you can just send for it once we get to Hogwarts,” Ginny consoled. 

    “I’m sure I’ll have Runes first day. Maybe I’ll just buy it since we’re here?”

    At least one thing about Hermione had persisted normal. She halted and looked up at the Flourish & Blotts sign above the handsome shop. Fading memories infested her train of thought, causing glimpses of better times spent in Diagon Alley to flash before her: her first year with her parents, Gilderoy Lockhart, being close with Ron, and Draco Malfoy. All of these thoughts were emblazoned in the back of her memory, yet she felt sad that that’s exactly what they were: mere memories so distant now, it was difficult for her to recall that they even occurred. 

    Ginny stopped Hermione’s trance right away when she grasped her hand, trying to pull her inside with her to escape the boys’ uncomfortable manners.

    Draco walked awkwardly along the streets of Diagon Alley with his strutting mother, Narcissa, and house elf. People were either cowering at the sight of them or had fixed glares glued upon their faces. Some onlookers muttered curses and degrading statements in their direction. Draco’s house elf was heaving numerous objects for him, swaying from side to side from the toppling stack of books. 

    “Straighten up dear, we are still the proud Malfoy family,” said Narcissa with acute dignity in her voice. 

    Draco made to stick out his chest a bit more in a desperate attempt to please his loving mother. But after all, he would be heading back to Hogwarts this day, the very place he loathed and was hated by the majority of students. He had been dreading this all summer, and the idea that he would have to face the students’ whose hearts had broken at the news of Dumbledore’s death caused him to slump even further down into the pavement. He wished for a moment that he could melt into the gravel, invisible and forgotten. 
    He hadn’t spoken of Dumbledore or the incident at the tower to anybody except Voldemort, to explain and possibly escape alive. There had been no desire inside of him to recollect those treacherous events. 

    Draco and his mother neared Madam Malkin’s shop just when he glimpsed Hermione from the corner of his eye. He stopped dead in his tracks when she acknowledged him as well, causing his mother to lightly collide into his back. Hermione gave him a reproachful look when she noticed the house elf stumbling with the tower of things in his arms. Draco quickly skimmed four books off the top, clutching them in his hands and looked back to her pretty face for reassurance. But her expression was empty, and she entered Flourish & Blotts with that Weasley girl attached to her side. He longed to go in after her, maybe even to just take in her scent. 
    Narcissa smacked Draco’s shoulder. “That filthy mudblood was looking at us!” 

    Draco cringed when he heard this term, for this is exactly what he chose to call Hermione for the last six years; a torturous nickname. Narcissa turned with her nose in the air into Madam Malkin’s, her white blonde hair flowing behind her. Draco obediently followed. 

    He riffled through the clothes, avoiding his mother’s eyes, but thought of nothing more than Hermione and the summer. It had been a new ordeal to drop “mudblood” from his vocabulary, as it had been to have one in his room. Narcissa had been gone those two months, no doubt doing Lord Voldemort’s bidding in replace for her son’s spared life. He was thankful for his mother’s deep yearn to keep her son alive and even more thankful she had been absent. Nevertheless, he betrayed her ultimately by bringing a muggle-born to their manor. 

    As he absentmindedly picked through Madam Malkin’s untailored robes, visions of his summer that transpired with Hermione had taken a choking hold on his body. He wondered if he were to ever breathe normally again. 

    The scenes were hard to shake off whilst his daily activities wore on, or trying simply to converse with his parents. Lately, they had seemed to be strangers, people he once knew ages ago. The only living being he felt truly connected to now, the only person who knew him completely, was Hermione. He confided in her, told her things. Things he had never told anyone. Things Draco felt ashamed for his whole life until he finally put them into words and rested them in a trustworthy soul. 

    The mudblood and the pure blood Slytherin; it was unheard of.

    The ride on the Hogwarts Express always seemed to extend an unearthly amount to Hermione the more she ventured it. As the eleven year old girl was happily waltzing around the cabins correcting spells the other students attempted, time meant nothing. But now, seventeen and more unstable than she ever imagined she would ever be, Hermione was traumatized and ready for the train ride home. The experiences and duels she had endured at such a young age had left her in pieces, constantly searching for things that might make her feel whole again. The only luring appeal inside Hogwarts to her now was, shockingly, Draco Malfoy. 

    She had long before admitted to herself the abnormality of her feelings. Their difference in allegiance was not the only aspect that held anxiety for her. This had been the meager boy who had badgered her and her friends for many years. The boy who attempted to wreak havoc in their lives every waking moment inside Hogwarts. The boy she punched in her third year over Buckbeak. The boy who now wanted her, unconditionally. 

    She tossed and turned the night before, arguing with herself about the revelation. Frequently, she had to talk herself into keeping quiet about her undying affection for the Slytherin boy, mustering every consequence she could think of. Not for a single moment did she believe any of them would accept the truth, but she had never been too keen at keeping secrets from her boys, nor did she appreciate when they kept things from her. A lie was a lie, and it didn’t matter the circumstances. Now that she was in one of those situations, she felt remorse for Harry and all his secrecy throughout the years. 

    She sat in a compartment with her three best friends, her mind miles away from their Quidditch conversation. She had Hogwarts; A History sprawled out onto her lap with her chin in her hand, barely reading it. She periodically raised her eyes inconspicuously out of the glass compartment and into another to peer upon Draco’s back, his bright blonde hair gleaming in the sunlight. He seems happy, she thought lamentably. 

    As if Draco could feel her penetrable gaze upon him, he turned around while Pansy Parkinson latched onto his arm; her feeble way of keeping his attention on her. Pansy’s bony fingers clutched Draco’s robes and Hermione immediately felt a rush of jealousy churning inside her. 

    Hermione was not aware she was glaring at Draco but he shot her a confused look that said so and threw his eyes towards the train’s bathrooms, mouthing the words “meet me”. She melted for those gray eyes and gave an insignificant nod in return. He repeated the slight nod with his own and a few blonde strands of hair fell over his sparkling eyes. 

    Draco was aging beautifully. He no longer kept his vibrant hair smoothed back, but instead he let it fall freely about his angular face. Yet his change in appearance was hardly what had undergone such drastic adjustment, in Hermione’s opinion. There was no doubting he had been a rude, spoilt coward most of his life. But Draco had since exchanged his dastardly anima for something of a heart, if you could call it that. 

    “I’ll be back, I’m going to the lavatories,” Hermione said, interrupting Ron and Ginny’s heated argument about Quidditch tactics. They stopped talking and gaped at her, presumably unaware that she had even been there. Hermione was invisible when there was talk of that sport. 

    “Okay…” Ginny said. She was now eyeing Hermione suspiciously for leaping into the conversation unwarranted. Hermione didn’t look at her, but instead looked to Ron, who she seemed to be addressing in the first place. 

    Ron exhibited puppy dog eyes. “Alright, we’ll be here when you get back.” 

    Harry snorted at this reply and Ginny hit Ron’s arm. “Where else would we be, Ron?” 

    Ron’s face turned a deep red and he averted his eyes out the window of the train. Hermione smiled guiltily and instantly slid the compartment door open. As she shut it behind her with little force, she took a deep breath, mumbling to herself. “For everyone’s own good,” she said, “that’s why.” 

    She cleared her throat and Draco spun around in his seat yet again, watching her walk off to the bathroom. His pale lips separated as his mouth hung slightly open, watching her hips sway from one side to the next, lust filling his head almost instantly. 
    “Draco, do you think – Draco?!” Pansy shrieked when she said his name, causing him to snap back into reality. Her arms were folded and she looked cross at him. Her horrible brown hair bounced above her shoulders with each haughty breath she took. 

    “I’ll be in the loo,” he said. Draco rose from his compartment and sped towards the lavatory in which Hermione just entered. He rapped on the door to be sure he chose the right one. He checked left and right to see if anyone was watching him. 


    An angelic voice emanated from inside and he grasped the metal handle to push the door open, hurrying inside. 

    Hermione was sitting on the counter next to the sink. Her hands were at her sides, clutching the counter top, and her ankles were delicately crossed. He briefly observed her, wanting every inch of skin he could take stock of. Her black skirt fell inches short above her knees, revealing her legs, and for a second he felt like ravaging her without any words spoken. Hermione leapt off the counter and onto Draco’s chest, wrapping her arms securely around his neck. 

    “I missed you so much,” she breathed into his ear, her lips brushing his lobe. 

    Draco smiled; relieved she had forgotten about Pansy. “I missed you too.” 

    His hands tangled into her golden brown curls, and he held her tighter against his body, afraid to let go. Hermione felt at last that it was okay to feel light. Away from Draco, everything seemed to be sheathed in darkness with the war going on and everybody so frightened about the future. She rejected the thought that he had a hand in any of it so that here, for a fleeting moment, she could have her Draco. 

    “This past week felt like forever,” she said, releasing him to look into his eyes. He took her hand into his and kissed her palm. Hermione marveled at his ivory skin and tears welled up in her eyes. 

    “Hey, don’t cry,” he said. “I’m here now.” 

    He climbed onto the counter, still holding her hand in his. He pulled her forward towards him, tilting her head up with his other hand that cupped her chin. She gave him a weak smile. He hated when she smiled at him like that. It was true, Hermione cared for Draco, but he was not a saint and he wouldn’t pretend to be. He was not oblivious to what was going on outside of Hogwarts. He knew what Voldemort was doing. What his mother was doing. What he had done himself, and the defensive guilt he harbored was inevitable. 

    “The ministry’s not doing anything about the muggles in danger.” Draco looked at her curiously as she said this. “I mean my parents,” she corrected. “I don’t even know where the Order is taking them, Draco. Where will I go if there’s not even a home to return to?” Hermione put her face in her hands and sobbed. 

    He naturally grew angry when spoken to about Voldemort and the Ministry, for he had known all along that what they were doing, including himself, was wrong. Perhaps if it hadn’t been for the violent threat towards him and his family from the Dark Lord, his cowardice wouldn’t have lead to Dumbledore’s death. He resented the thought of Potter and how quick, he knew undoubtedly, he would sacrifice himself for the greater good. No one could possibly understand what it felt like to carry that weight around everyday. He didn’t need reminded of it anymore, especially from her. 

    “There’s always that filthy blood traitor,” Draco said with a sneer as he looked away. 

    Hermione removed her hands from her face looking incredulous. “Don’t call him that, Draco!” 

    He sighed deeply and kissed her forehead. “I know. I’m sorry. I just…hate that you could call that place home. I hate that of all the things I have, I can't give you that.” 

    Hermione felt rueful when he said this. She had not really wanted to live with Narcissa, or anywhere else Lucius might reside. The truth was, she was absolutely terrified of Lucius Malfoy and questioned herself as to why she wasn’t equally afraid of Draco.

    Draco leaned in for a kiss and placed his hands at the small of her back, running his fingers along her velvety skin. Hermione, sulking or not, would never try to resist him. For denying herself something that she craved more than anything would be an insult to what was left of her pitiful life. 

    She pulled away from him momentarily as he slid his robes off his arms. He moved towards her hips, slowly gliding his fingertips up underneath her shirt to feel the grooves in her sides. Hermione let out an approving moan from the tingling sensation his touch embarked on her. 

    She planted her lips aggressively to his neck, kissing upwards towards his jaw line and finally to his parted lips. Her hands trailed down his arms and suddenly she stopped, inhaling sharply when she felt the inked mark on him. She scrutinized it quickly: there laid a dark skull, a snake coming out in place of a tongue on Draco’s left forearm, mocking her. Hermione jerked her hand away from it and deflected her eyes to her shoes. 

    Draco clasped his right hand over it, instinctively covering it. It’s not like she hasn’t seen it before, he thought. But still, he realized, it can’t be appealing to anyone except girls like Pansy Parkinson. He released his arm and tilted her chin up to him again, searching for her eyes. 

    “Hermione? Are you alright?” 

    “It still gets to me, Draco. I just can’t believe you’ve allowed him to brand you with a shameful thing like that!” She was on the verge of tears again, and her arms wrapped instinctively around herself. 

    “It's not like I had any say in it! Hermione, we’ve been over this,” he said as he dropped his hand from her face. 

    “Yes but you’re a –” she paused and lowered her voice to below a whisper, “a Death Eater.” She scrunched up her face as she said this as if she had tasted something foul and backed away from Draco, allowing him to get off the counter. 

    “Yes. And you want me all the same,” he said, hopping off and pulling his robes back on. 

    He was being smug. That was the Draco she knew and accidentally fallen for. Yes, she cherished him deeply but did that mean she would support the killing and torturing of innocent people? No, she was Hermione Jean Granger, a smart, muggle-born, Prefect! And who was he? A Death Eater, she thought. Just another Death Eater. 

    Draco said nothing as these thoughts raced through her head. He smoothed his beautiful blonde hair back and looked at her with those intense, grey eyes, a storm swimming inside them. Her eyes lay upon him, examining the shadows in which his cheek bones cast upon the hollow of his face. 

    Who was she kidding? This was her Death Eater; the most gorgeous creature ever to walk the earth.

Chapter 2: Myrtle's Joke
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    On the way back to her compartment, Hermione combed her fingers through her hair and smoothed the lines from her robes. She slid back inside as quiet as a mouse, as though Harry, Ron, and Ginny wouldn’t be able to detect her return. 

    “Took you a while,” Harry commented, looking at Ron. Harry’s eyes then peered at her above his glasses much the same way Dumbledore used to stare at Harry. Ginny had relocated to the empty space next to him and was playing with his hand, leaving the seat next to Ron vacant. Great

    Hermione hesitated in sitting down and did not reply to Harry. As she slumped into the double-seat, she flashed a furtive look at Ron, but he remained silent and staring out of the window. All she could see was the back of his head, his flaming red hair, accusing her silently. 

    She grew paranoid after so many minutes went by without any of them speaking to her. She wondered if they knew. But how could they know? Her ill thoughts were soon put to ease when she saw Draco come back into his compartment, looking disheveled and uncaring of who saw it. 

    Pansy, Crabbe, and Blaise watched Draco intently as he shuffled around in his seat uncomfortably. A grin was playing on his small, pallid lips. Blaise caught Draco’s eye and raised an eyebrow at him, expecting some sort of explanation of Draco’s current state. 

    “Oi. What, Zabini?” Draco asked, annoyed. He clenched his teeth to hold in his snarl. 

    Pansy rolled her eyes. “I’ll be with the prefects,” she said. And getting up furiously, making her exit distinct and known, she charged out of the compartment. 

    Draco gave a snicker. “What was that about?” 

    Crabbe placed his abnormally fat hand on Draco’s shoulder, his chubby fingers lazily dragging Draco down. He looked at the condoling hand weighing him lower and lower with disgust and back to Crabbe. “Geroff!” Draco exclaimed. 

    “She’s right jealous, Malfoy,” Blaise finally said. 

    “Jealous of what?” 

    Draco tried to play it off, but it rarely fooled his best friend. Zabini had been, in Draco’s opinion, completely untrustworthy but nevertheless an elevation from Crabbe and Goyle. 

    “I’ve been trying to figure that one out myself, mate.” 

    The boys looked up with a jolt as the compartment door slid open again. Minerva McGonagall was towering high above them, her pointed hat skimming the ceiling of the train. She shot the boys a reproving look and rested her eyes on Crabbe. 

    “Vincent, I need you to follow me, please. There’s news of your father's escape from – well, just follow me quickly.” 

    She took hold of Crabbe’s arm as he groaned in discomfort. Draco’s heart had leapt as Crabbe passed him by. Azkaban? As far as Draco knew, there was a mass breakout from Azkaban weeks ago, his father being one of the fugitives. Only he and the other Death Eaters knew of Lucius’ whereabouts and he was by far determined to hush it up if anyone spoke of this. But did Crabbe even know anything? Draco was positive he was the only teenage Death Eater hidden inside Hogwarts. This thought comforted him, for outside the walls of Hogwarts, Voldemort and his followers awaited Draco’s return and news of success with their latest plan. 

    Draco gulped. He had been staring at the empty seat across from him for a while, essentially ignoring Blaise’s presence. His heart was thundering so loudly he would not be surprised if Blaise could hear it. 

    “Draco? Malfoy!” Blaise’s eyebrows creased over his slanted eyes in agitation. 
    “Sorry, just thinking,” Draco hastily responded. 

    But Draco, in fact, had not thought about Voldemort’s new plan until this very moment, since the day he had received his orders. He had been filled with Hermione. He stole a glance at her, whilst pretending to stretch his arms and neck, but she had been unaware; busy with those good-for-nothing-Gryffindors.

    The feast was a blur. Hermione wasn’t registering any of the words Professor McGonagall was speaking; her cluttered mind was busy with various thoughts all jumbling together. It was hard for her to decipher any of them wholly. The witches and wizards surrounding her were excited for the new term, and she caught glimpses of happy faces and moans and groans whenever McGonagall explained some of the new, strict rules for the year. She caught Ron’s awkward looks from Harry and Ginny’s laced fingers. She caught words like “Dumbledore”, “Death Eaters”, and “Head Girl.” Her face shot up from her plate when the new Headmistress mentioned this. Soon, hands were clapping her shoulder, and young girls she had never seen before said things like “I knew you’d get it, Hermione”. 

    Hermione looked to Harry and Ron who were positively beaming at her. Ron nudged her foot with his under the table and looked at her with hopeless desire. She noticed the ketchup left upon his cheek next to his lips and stifled a roar of laughter from her mouth. 

    “What?” he asked, defensively. 

    “You’ve got ketchup on your face, Ronald.” Ron made to wipe the ketchup off his red cheeks, completely failing. Hermione smiled at him, maternally. “Here, let me.” 

    She picked up her cotton napkin and reached across the table to wipe his face, Ron fully embarrassed to be in such a state. Draco watched them from across the room and felt a sear of white hot anger bolt through his stomach. Before he could breathe, he obstructed Crabbe and Goyle’s conversation about their parents. 

    “Filthy blood traitor!” he spat out. 

    Draco had screamed this loud enough for most of the students from each house to stop their chatter and locate the source of the profanity. Crabbe and Goyle looked to Draco as if he was having spasms. Hufflepuffs were gawking at him; the Ravenclaws whispering behind cupped hands. 

    Hermione’s eyes were wide with fright as she sunk back onto the bench, pretending she had heard nothing. Ron peeked around her immobile body, for he had known this to be his pseudonym from Malfoy as long as he could remember. It had never occurred to her before this moment that belonging to a Death Eater and having mates like “blood traitors and the chosen one”, she had ultimately put them in some form of danger. 

    Ron and Harry watched Draco, Harry glaring at him protectively. This behavior from Malfoy was not new to them but had nevertheless caught them off guard during Professor McGonagall’s congratulatory speech to Hermione and Harry for becoming Head Girl and Boy. McGonagall motioned for them to come up towards the staff table to wring her hand and Harry soon forgot of Malfoy. Hermione also pushed Draco’s snide comment to the back of her mind and met Harry at the front of the table. She walked hand in hand with him towards their Headmistress. 

    Across the Great Hall, Pansy took hold of Draco’s arm in a snakelike grip, the same way she always did. She half-turned her body on the bench to face him, keeping her legs underneath the immense table. Her pug-like face frowned at him. 

    “I’m really surprised they didn’t pick you,” she said to him. 

    Draco’s heart fell through his stomach. “Where were you last year, Pansy?” 

    He got up from the table quickly, anxious to leave the embarrassing feast. He turned his head back once, nodded to Blaise, and did not look back at Hermione and Harry. Many students at the ends of their tables stared unbelievingly as he forced the large Great Hall doors open, his robes trailing behind him. 

    As he arrived in the Entrance Hall, McGonagall’s words a muffle, he took the door leading down to the Slytherin dungeons feeling regretful. He walked quicker than ever through the dreary corridor, ready to reach his bed and collapse. 

    Amidst Draco’s years in Hogwarts the dungeons had never suited his state. Although dark, he was never somber. Now, his troubled expression seemed identical to the wretched walls. He detested this realization and accelerated his steps further. 

    He finally stopped at the door concealed in the stone wall and muttered “conundrum” at it. Immediately, the hidden door materialized on the wall, the same way the Room of Requirement’s door surfaced. He entered with caution.

    Throughout the Slytherin common room, the tint emitting from the lake illuminated a green tinge upon the leather furniture and walls. With a silver serpent statue fixed on the wall above the fireplace, there was no doubting this is exactly where Draco belonged. 

    He reminisced for a moment of times when Snape was merely his Potions master and not a murderer; not his protector. But now with Snape hiding from the Order, one dead headmaster, and a Dark Mark on his own forearm, Draco felt more alone than he was willing to admit. 

    He made his way up the stone steps to his dormitory, taking each step with pure hatred. He laid his trunk at the foot of his four-poster. Plopping his body on the green satin sheets, its smooth texture enveloped him and he felt serene for a while. But Draco no longer cared he had the biggest bed of the Slytherin boys. He no longer cared he was the most-feared student at Hogwarts. He no longer cared that his family was the wealthiest he’d ever known. He was changing. And the dilemma of it all was that Voldemort had put his faith in Draco for one last time. He still had a chance at being amongst the survivors [because he was sure there would be none but the Death Eaters by the end of the war]. But perhaps the price of survival, he thought, is far more than I can afford.

    Hermione unpacked her trunk in the Head Girl dormitory. Strangely, it did feel like her sanctuary. The windows and bed were draped in Gryffindor colors looking identical to the girls’ dormitory, apart from only one bed being present here. Atop the chest and shelves, she placed her sentimental things: a picture of herself, Harry, and Ron, the Tales of Beedle the Bard: the book Dumbledore gave her, and the dried rose Draco had conjured out of the air for her the night he had finally kissed her on the manor’s doorstep. 

    He had taken her so smoothly into his arms, drawing a kiss out of their altercation. She could still feel the soft embrace she was unaware Draco was even capable of executing, whilst the dulcet glow emitting from the moon lavished itself gracefully around their forms. She could remember everything from the derivation of the argument [yet again, Death Eaters] to the last words he spoke to her that night. “No matter what happens now,” he said, forming his words around her lips, “I am yours.” 

    Suddenly recalling she was to meet Harry and Ron in the girls’ bathroom at precisely this time, she left her memories for later and headed down to the second floor. 

    Hermione rushed down the ever-changing staircase; she did not want the boys to grow worrisome over her tardiness. The castle these days held things as dangerous as the exterior, but she insisted on traveling about it alone. 

    She finally reached the third floor and clashed with Ernie Macmillan, nearly knocking him over as he emerged from the Trophy Room. 

    “Oh! Ernie, I’m sorry,” she said. 

    “It’s alright, it was my fault. I was just looking at our names on the list in there,” he pointed his thumb back over his shoulder towards to the door of the Trophy Room. 

    “Kind of surreal, being a prefect now.” Ernie was grinning from ear to ear, polishing his prefect badge with the edge of his sleeve. Trying to cover up the despair she suddenly felt, Hermione smiled feebly back at him and shrugged. 

    “Yeah it is,” she lied. “Listen, I’m supposed to meet some people right now. I’ll see you tomorrow in McGonagall’s office for the meeting?” 

    She departed without waiting for his reply and soon found herself one floor below, standing outside the deserted bathroom. She stalled, running her fingers along the knobby stone wall, feeling its rough crevices. She heaved a sigh, lingering around the doorway for another moment and was unexpectedly shocked when Ron burst from the bathroom’s opening and yanked at her hand. 

    “For heavens sake Ronald! You startled me.” Her heart beat was frantic. 

    “Blimey, what took you so long? Harry and I have been worried sick. I was just about to come look for you.” 

    She entered the bathroom, Ron still holding onto her. “I’m sorry, I just lost track of time.” 

    “Yeah well, don’t tell me. Tell it to Harry.” Ron looked over to Harry sitting on the tiled floor. He lowered his voice. “Myrtle won’t leave him alone,” he added, quietly. 

    Myrtle’s head flew up at once from Harry to Ron. “WHY DON’T YOU ASK HARRY IF HE WANTS ME TO LEAVE HIM ALONE?” she shouted at them. Hermione let go of Ron and covered her mouth with her hand, hiding her smirk. “Oooh,” Myrtle cooed. “Granger?” 

    The boys looked at Hermione abnormally. Hermione let her hand fall and squinted her eyes a little, as if looking for answers to Myrtle’s curiosity through her transparent body. 

    “Yes?” she finally said, defiantly. 

    Myrtle giggled. “You’re Hermione Granger?” 

    “Yes!” Hermione said this with a little shame disguised with pride. Myrtle knew something she didn’t apparently, but her patience was wearing thin. Ron stepped in front of Hermione, vigilantly. 

    “First the Slytherin Prince and now the red Weasel!” Myrtle shrieked. 

    Hermione’s eyes bugged. Harry and Ron mouthed “Slytherin prince” to each other, questioningly. Myrtle laughed shrilly all the way into her toilet and the annoying echo rang through the bathroom. 

    “What is she talking about?” Harry inquired. 

    Hermione shook her head, looking astounded at the puddle of water seeping from the stall Myrtle just submerged her ghostly self into. “No idea.” 

    “Harry,” Ron interrupted, “you can’t seriously still be thinking of leaving Hogwarts. You heard about the breakout from Azkaban! Death Eaters will be swarming everywhere, looking for you! And besides, this is like your home.” Ron eyeballed the room and seemed reluctant to make that statement again. “Okay maybe not here,” he pointed his fingers to the bathroom floor, “but you know what I mean.” 

    “I have to,” Harry said simply. 

    Hermione knew not to press this subject, for the three of them [and sometimes Ginny] had argued about this particular thing all summer. Ron and Ginny were dead set on accompanying him, for different reasons of course. But although Harry neither wanted nor accepted their self-invitation on his journey to discover the remaining Horcruxes, he still asked Hermione why she had not also volunteered to go along with them like usual. The truth was that she was suddenly terrified of death. Seeing death and coming close to it had pulled at that reluctant survival instinct.

    “Next Hogsmeade trip,” Harry intruded on Hermione’s thoughts. 

    “What if we don’t have a Hogsmeade trip, mate?” 

    “Then I’ll find another way, Ron! You’re not listening to me!” 

    Hermione sighed and sat in the empty tiled square next to Harry, resting her head on his shoulder. “What about Ginny?” she asked. 

    “She won’t know when I go. And I’d appreciate it if neither of you told her,” he said, eyeing them both and already accusing Ron. “Look, it’s really important that you just do what I say, okay? The Gryffindor Sword should still be in Dumbledore’s office. I’ve no idea, but McGonagall should already know you’ll come to take it. Alright?” 

    Ron nodded his head and Hermione reached her arm around Harry, hugging him tight. “We’re there for you, Harry.”

Chapter 3: The Dark Mark
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]


    Hermione sat upright underneath the tree by the lake with a book spread on her lap. Her legs were crossed on the lush green grass and the breeze in the air danced around her curls. It was sunny, but bearable, and the large amount of shade the tree provided her was comforting. Students were bustling about the Hogwarts grounds, soaking in their Sunday freedom. 

    She heard footsteps lightly approaching and tore her eyes from her book to see her unwelcomed visitor. Draco was waltzing over from the castle, complacent as always; his black button-up hugging his chest and slacks gracing his muscular legs. He was carrying a red, polished apple, tossing it up into the air carelessly. 

    “Granger!” he barked, just a few feet away. 

    Hermione arched her eyebrow. “Malfoy,” she said casually. 

    Draco searched the open area with his eyes for anyone familiar and nestled into Hermione’s shoulder when the coast was clear. A few stray locks of curls tickled his nose. He inhaled her intoxicating scent: sweet vanilla and lavender. He slumped a little against the tree trunk and continued to throw his apple into the air. 

    “Hot isn’t it?” she surveyed his long sleeves and pants, but he merely shrugged. “How have you been?” she asked sincerely while trying to make light conversation.

    “Can’t say I love being back. Apart from the evil glares I get, McGonagall interrogates me every chance she gets. It makes me feel right at home,” he said sarcastically, placing his apple on the ground.
    Hermione looked at him sorrowfully. "Can you blame her?"

    "No, but that's not really my point," he said grinning. Draco winked at her as he lowered his body to the lush grass. He lay parallel to her legs, propping himself on his arm. "I can't believe it's been weeks already."

    “Three, exactly. And I’ve barely seen you, except when you're with your friends” she put emphasis on the word as if she detested it. "You always seem to have time to lurk about the halls with them."

    Draco looked discouraged. “You know I can’t help that you’re Head Girl. Or that you're in Gryffindor for that matter," he added teasingly. 

    "Oh shut up." She nudged his leg with her foot.

    They finished the warm morning off with intense games of exploding snap, where Hermione beat Draco twice. They wrestled in the grass, in which they ended up in awkward, suggestive positions. Draco had cleared his throat shamefully and climbed off of her when she recommended she read a passage from her book to him. The skies were clouding over, causing the remaining students to head indoors.

    As Hermione finished reading “The Tale of the Three Brothers”, she felt a surge of contentment sweep over her limbs and rested her eyes on Draco. His head lay composed in her lap, and she grazed her fingers through his locks of blonde hair. 

    “Interesting,” he said, looking up at her. “Where did you get this book?” 

    “Dumbledore left it to me,” she replied boldly, opening her eyes. 

    Draco bolted up and sat Indian-style across from her. His arm stretched out to her with his palm open, motioning for the book. “And what’s the name of it?” 

    Her eyes darted towards his Dark Mark yet she did not feel sorrow or anger; instead she felt cautious about the perilous skull and snake. “I– I don’t remember.” 

    He detected her hesitation after noticing his Dark Mark. “You don’t remember? Hermione, I need to ask you something serious.” His face was suddenly grave, like it was rigidly etched in stone. His jaw was set and his charcoal grey eyes pierced hers. He almost looked angry. “It’s about that.” He flexed his arm causing his Mark to move unnaturally. 

    “What on earth could you possibly have to say to me about that thing, Draco?” 

    He readjusted his body to face hers completely and took her hand in his. “The war isn’t a joke–” 

    “I know it’s not a joke! I’ve watched people die because of your kind!” 

    The words just slipped out. Draco let go of her hand and clutched his stomach, as though her insult had physically been a blow to him. “I know you know,” he continued, “but I need you to understand that it’s going to end soon. And when it does, most of the wizarding world as we know it will be gone, including half the Ministry!” He tried to lay these facts out as careful as he could for her. “I just want you to maybe – I mean I wouldn’t even be asking you under any other circumstance.” 

    Hermione held Beedle the Bard closer to her chest. “Please, just be out with it, Draco.” 

    “I want you to consider changing sides. Just pretend, at least.” There. I said it, he thought. 

    His words were uneasy, shards of ice that entered quickly and deeply penetrated her stomach, freezing her insides as she struggled to comprehend them. When she opened her mouth to retort, the insolent icicles melted instantly, and the rising heat blew from her lips.

    “WHAT? And be branded with one of Voldemort’s hideous marks of enslavement?! IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT FOR ME?” Hermione cried this so forcefully.

    She was waving her hands around their bodies in anger and frustration. Draco ducked a fraction before the book could smack his face. “Hermione, it’s not like everyone gets a Dark–” 

    “In case you’ve forgotten, Draco, the whole other side is Harry! And I will never leave his side!”

    The book slipped from her fingers and landed clumsily into Draco's lap, but he did not budge to pick it up or even look at it. “Even if it meant not ever seeing me again?” Agony was creeping up in his voice. He seemed to be choking back a few tears, but she ignored all of it. 

    “Perhaps this is just another easy attempt for you to get rid of Harry.” She snatched up her book and rose from the grass, pointing at him with a shaking finger.

    “Oh, like any of it has been easy!” he yelled, trying his best to look up at her furious features while the sun threatened to blind him 

    “You know at times like these, I honestly wonder why I’m doing this.”

    She stomped away vehemently. Draco watched her walk fiercely back up to the castle with a heavy heart until her silhouette had faded completely. He relaxed against the bark again, banging his fist against it. “Stupid!” he cursed himself. 

    He sulked around for a while, feeling utter regret for what he had asked of her. With no friends to fully confide in about what just happened, loneliness enthralled him. The sun beamed upon the lake through the clouds, making the water glisten. He watched the ripples form in the center, growing larger and fainter as they reached the shore. 

    “Well, good day to meet the squid,” he said to himself sarcastically with a bit of revulsion. 

    He removed his shirt and pants without delay and waded into the loch because there was nothing left to do. The water was warm at the surface, the sun having heated its temperatures. But as his feet sunk lower, the icy water pierced his skin. When he reached levels deep enough to dive, he disappeared into the black water hoping for a moment to escape, or even just to drown there in the vast lake. A velvety layer of the ebony liquid spread over his limbs and engulfed his mind. He opened his eyes to see the endless quantities of deep green seaweed swaying beneath his feet. 

    At last, he could breathe.

    Hermione sat in the red, plush armchair in the Gryffindor common room talking with Ginny about her N.E.W.T.S.Her legs were curled up onto the chair with her body. Both girls gave a hearty laugh when Ginny did an impression of Professor Trelawney. As Harry and Ron walked through the portrait hole, Ginny stopped laughing abruptly and rendered Harry a mere wave. 

    “Hermione, could you please tell him he’s barking mad for going alone?” Ron asked, irritation blatantly in his voice. Harry expressed the same irritation on his face for his best friend. 

    “I already have,” Hermione said. 

    The boys clambered up the stairs to Ron’s dormitory and Ginny appeared to be sullen. Her eyes wouldn’t meet Hermione’s anymore as she fidgeted with her shoe lace. 

    “So he’s still going?” Ginny helplessly asked. 

    “I’m not really supposed to say anything.” Hermione was already regretting these words. Ginny evidently was frail; a single tear flew down her porcelain, freckled face, silently. “But...yes, he is. I’m really sorry, Ginny.” 

    Ginny wiped her face clean and nodded to her. “I think I’m just going to get some rest.” With a sympathetic look adhered to Hermione’s face, she said “okay” and Ginny vanished up the steps. 

    The next morning Hermione lay in bed, half-asleep, unwilling to start the day. She stared up at the ceiling of her canopy, watching the quilted lion cub pouncing on birds, dancing across the fabric. Her and Draco’s confrontation was crawling exclusively in her head, tempting her to leave everything behind as he had asked. But how could he even ask her of that? Did he honestly believe he stood a chance at coercing her? If that was true, then he hadn’t known the depths of her. He hadn’t known Hermione Granger whatsoever. 

    But perhaps his intentions were honorable. After all, Draco had the right idea. If Hermione had thought it possible to convince his change in allegiance, she would have approached the subject long before.

    She eventually staggered out of her four-poster and proceeded to get dressed. She peeked at the time on the grandfather clock in the corner of her room. Its short golden hand brimmed the nine. Already too late for the start of breakfast, she slowed her preparation for school and read over her essay for Charms before turning it in today. 

    On the way out of her portrait hole, Hermione met with Harry and Ron so they could walk to Potions together, discussing more of Harry’s upcoming trip. Since Potions was still being taught by Professor Slughorn, they all harbored no ill feelings about the class anymore. 

    “It’s near the Shrieking Shack,” Ron mumbled to Harry. 

    “You’re sure no one will be there?” Harry asked warily. 

    “Well that’s where we come in, mate.” 

    The boys were encased deep in conversation while Hermione observed the corridors. An Auror from the Ministry seemed to be placed in almost every other hallway. She wondered how the Ministry was even able to employ them all, as there were thousands of hallways in the castle. They did not act when school rules were broken, however, but were put there only to protect the students from danger. She painfully remembered last year. No matter how many Aurors or members of the Order had been present, someone had still died. This thought was sickeningly uncomforting to her, and she tried to jump into Harry and Ron’s talk. 

    When they reached the dungeon classroom, Draco and Blaise were already waiting patiently outside. Draco was back in his strange, business-like attire, standing inflexibly next to Blaise and clutching his Potions book. A few Gryffindors lingered somewhere around the door, making no contact with the Slytherins. 

    Professor Slughorn burst through the door with a jovial look. “Harry, my boy! Been busy, eh? You’re still avoiding our little meetings.” 

    “Yeah,” he simply replied. 

    “And Hermione.” Slughorn gave a little bow to her. 

    The students filed in one after another, scrambling to find a good seat in the classroom. 

    “Looks like I’m back to being ignored,” Ron mumbled to Harry. 

    “Believe me, I’d fancy trading places with you,” Harry said as he took his seat next to Ron in the middle of the room. 

    Hermione examined the room and pulled out a chair just as Seamus Finnigan urgently dropped himself into it; the only remaining seat on the other side of Ron. She looked taken aback, put her hands on her hips, and huffed loudly. 

    “I just don’t want to be stuck with the Slytherins again this week,” Seamus complained to her with his thick Irish accent. Hermione looked around again. She was the only one left standing and felt slightly embarrassed as the other students gawked at her. 

    “Come Miss Granger, please take your seat,” Professor Slughorn said. She scanned the room but could find no empty space. “How about you sit next to Mr. Zabini and Mr. um…” 

    “Malfoy,” Draco said, irritably. He despised moments his name was unknown. 

    “Splendid! Mr. Zabini and Mr. Malfoe.” 

    Everyone but the Slytherins laughed and Draco spilled his ink in frustration. Its bleak thickness swallowed the whole side of his table.  Hermione involuntarily walked to the end table in the back of the classroom and carefully sat down next to Draco, avoiding all eye contact. She placed her Potions book at the corner of the mahogany table and cleared the ink with a flick of her wand. Slughorn began his lesson, although most of what she could hear sounded more like a boast. 

    Hermione began scribbling notes down with her quill, half listening, and let her tawny brown curls fall to the side of her face, creating a barrier between the two of them. Draco was no longer paying attention to the many ways one can screw up an Everlasting Elixir. He was listening keenly to the scratches her quill made on her parchment. 

    “I’m sorry about yesterday,” he said in a hushed tone, still looking at their Professor but stealing quick glances at Blaise. 

    Hermione stiffened in her seat and pulled the blanket of hair behind her ear. “I’m fine,” she whispered back. Blaise looked at them both with extreme inquisition. 

    “No, you’re not. I’m really sorry. It was selfish.” 

    She stopped marking her notes with ink. “You’re right, it was selfish. Just don’t–” 

    “Quiet please, Lovebirds!” Slughorn bellowed. 

    Hermione’s face grew scarlet. Harry and Ron whipped around in their chairs only to find her and Draco nodding in reply. “What do you suppose they’re talking about, Harry?” Ron asked. 

    Harry could hint the desperation in his question. “He’s probably just insulting her.”

    At the end of class, Hermione scrambled to collect her things, shoving them quickly into her bag. Draco stood with Blaise and discreetly trailed his finger along her wrist. Hermione paused with her quill in her hand to look to him, but the moment her brown eyes swept the room, he and Blaise had both disappeared. She resumed packing and exited the dungeon classroom, not waiting for her friends. She tried uselessly to get to her next lesson without talking to Harry or Ron, but they quickly caught up with her on the stairs to the third floor. 

    “So how are things with your Lovebird?” Harry asked, teasingly. 

    “Oh shut up. He was just asking me something.” 

    “Asking you what?” Ron questioned. 

    Hermione promptly thought of a lame excuse. “For tutoring.” 

    “Oh," was all Harry said, disappointment moving in his eyes.

    “Tutoring for what?” Ron pried.

    “Everything, I’m assuming,” she said. Here she was, lying to them again. She hated herself even more for it, detecting Ron’s suspicious digging.

    When they reached the third floor and entered the Charms corridor, Ron directly stopped in front of a notice on the wall. “Look, Harry!” 

    All students wishing to go to Hogsmeade Village on October 7th should report to your Head of House before the end of the week. You must bring along with you a partner, as there will be no students walking the grounds of Hogsmeade alone. No exceptions!

    “That’s only in a couple of weeks, Harry,” she lectured. 

    “Then it will be a quick goodbye, won’t it?” Harry said. 

    Hermione took hold of Harry’s wrist and Ron just stared menacingly at the Hogsmeade notice. He seemed to be trying with all his might to burst it into flames, because his face had gotten slightly redder than normal. Hermione tried to progress them forward into Professor Flitwick’s classroom, but Ron wasn’t budging. 

    “It’s too soon, Harry,” he said. 

    “It is what it is, Ron.” 

    Harry was being too nonchalant for Ron’s temper. “Aren’t you the least bit scared?” Ron’s hands were now folded over his chest. He was beginning to look a lot like Mrs. Weasley. 

    “Yes, I’m scared Ron!” Harry jerked his arm away from Hermione’s hold. “But I haven’t got a choice, have I!?”

Chapter 4: The Lion And The Snake
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    Draco sat impatiently in the empty Slytherin common room Tuesday morning, staring absentmindedly into the roaring fireplace. His mind was clouded and groggy, his face tired and thin. He had grown accustom to sleepless nights in his previous term but was adapting to them lethargically this year. Bedtime was something he took reluctantly now. 

    His stomach sounded a low growl; he ignored the hungry noise and tapped his long, white fingers on his knee. He scanned the door with his eyes every few minutes, wary of Slytherin intruders. His head lolled backwards just as a head came into plain view within the embers of the fireplace. The head was stretched against the fire, as if struggling to break free into the common room. His face was long and smug, much like his son’s. He scowled at the sight of Draco. 

    “Father!” Draco leapt from the chair and kneeled at the fireplace timidly. “I was expecting Snape! If somebody sees you–” 

    “Tell me you’ve figured out your task,” Lucius said coldly. 

    “Well, I–” 

    “Honestly Draco, it perplexes me as to why you are unfocused. Perhaps there is something less important keeping you from the Dark Lord’s orders?” Draco shook his head but said nothing. “I would have thought you would put more effort into this after your abhorrent blunder last year!” 

    “Father, it’s not like I–” 

    “Listen to me, this is our last chance. DO NOT FAIL HIM, DRACO!"

    “But how will I be unseen?” There was a hint of desperation in his voice. 

    “This is more important than you getting thrown into Azkaban! This is our entire family’s life at stake! Think of your mother for Merlin’s sake.” The battle of guilt and gratitude for his mother risking her life for him everyday seemed constant with Draco; he did not need help heeding his father’s request. “They MUST fear that Hogwarts is dangerous without that no-good-Dumbledore. It’s your job to ensure that happens!” 

    “I don’t understand what the point is,” he muttered under his breath. 

    “It is just a mudblood! See here, you will do as I say. I will not have a coward for a son!” 

    As he looked up to retort, Lucius’ face had diminished from the fireplace and he was left alone on the floor with his agonizing thoughts. They threatened to pummel him into a storm of worry and isolation. Draco felt beside himself in this, longing to break free from the torrential downpour. His stomach grumbled uneasily again, and something malicious wrenched upward from the pit of it. How was he, now somewhat renounced, to commit the most abominable Unforgivable Curse? Surely he couldn’t. He wouldn’t. Yet amidst his own afflicting argument with his heart and head, he was irresolute. And this reality scared him to death. 

    These thoughts circled continuously, lapsing over each other, choking the other out. He felt sicker with self-disdain the more they repeated. The Dark Mark stung lightly, embedding itself into his arm, deeper than his pale skin should allow, reminding him what he was meant for. He knew without a doubt that the Mark on every Death Eater’s arm was burning just like his, and were all apparating next to Lord Voldemort at this very moment. To escape his imminent thoughts, he decided to head to the end of breakfast, a possibility of seeing her

    When he opened the Great Hall doors, to his surprised relief, she was sitting alone, unaccompanied by her sickening friends. Her movements seemed to be displayed before him in slow motion as he watched her turn the pages of her book and play with her hair. Hermione then picked up her goblet, her eyes still searching the pages intently as he dashed up to her. 

    “Hey!” he yelled at her back, overly excited to see her. 

    Hermione jumped a few inches off the bench, goblet and all, spilling pumpkin juice all over the table and book. She twisted around displeased. Draco was bleary eyed but smiling from ear to ear at her. She sighed heavily, thankful it was only him. 

    “Will I always be cleaning up your mess?” she asked, flicking her wand. The juice evaporated, leaving the pages dry. 

    “Probably,” he said, as she stood from the table. 

    He wanted more than anything to embrace her, but quite a few Gryffindors still lingered amongst the table. “I’m probably going to skip out on first lesson.” He awaited her righteous speech, but nothing came. “You should skip Runes and come with me.” He moved to the table, sitting on the top of it next to her book, and placing his feet on the bench. 

    “Come with you to – wait, how did you know I have Runes?" she asked. 

    "Well I kind of studied your schedule," he said slyly. “Technically watching. It’s not like I’m only loitering hallways when I’m with my friends.” 

    “You mean you watch me go to class?” 

    “Yes,” he said again. “I have to make sure you’re alright.” 

    “From what?” she lightly laughed. 

    But he didn’t answer her, and she didn’t need him to. He looked away up at the bewitched ceiling, cumulus clouds circling above them in a periwinkle sky. The beauty was intoxicating. His signature smirk formed on his face, giving him a more spirited look. 

    “So are you in?”

    Hermione whispered into Draco’s neck as he hastily pulled her around a fifth floor corridor. “We’re going to get caught!” she said in hushed tones, giggling louder. “I’m a Prefect!” 

    “You should be docking points from me then.” Draco laughed heartily too, unafraid of being caught or expelled form Hogwarts. To him, that might only be a blessing. His laugh boomed through the corridor and rang off the walls, creating a sudden echo in the still school. 

    “Shh!” Hermione giggled again, into her hand. 

    Huge grins were plastered on to both of their faces. All they could sense were teeth and lips, smiling at each other childishly, ducking out of sight from teachers and Aurors. 

    “Boris the Bewildered,” Draco chuckled out as they reached the prefects’ bathroom. 

    “The statue?” Hermione asked puzzled, still half laughing. 

    The door clicked open. “No, it’s the password.” Draco tilted his head behind him towards the door. “You of all people should know, Prefect.”

    She playfully pushed Draco into the bathroom, her eyes glittering with seduction now. Once upon the other side, she bolted it shut again. She looked about the lavatory, thrown aback at how seldom she used the glorious room. The candles in the chandelier were dimly lit, casting a handsome golden color upon everything. It felt intimate in itself, and Hermione wondered if he had planned on this happening all along. 

    Draco tinkered with the many faucets for the pool-sized tub. Red, blue, and green soap erupted from the jeweled spouts, quickly filling the tub to mid-level with rainbow bubbles. The mermaid above flitted her fins. 

    “Fancy a bath?” he asked her alluringly. 

    Hermione chuckled into her sleeve. “You’re not serious,” she said with a smile. 

    “I’m not?” he asked, unfastening his belt and pants. 

    Hermione rolled her eyes. He dipped his hand into the water, retrieving a few suds on his fingers. He gently blew them off into the air and watched them float towards her, hovering to the ground and dissolving there. 

    He walked over to her, now looking humorless. She was nervous about how intent he grew. He came closer to her, allowing no space between their bodies. Hermione’s heart-beat rapidly became deep and unmanageable. It thundered against her chest causing her to falter backwards, as if taking steps away from him were to save her from what she knew was to come next. She was almost terrified now as she reached her end; her back meeting the cold, stone wall. But his body came in close to hers, reassuringly, his chest pressed against her. 

    He bent his head low enough to touch hers, his cool breath fanning her face. With his succulent lips barely brushing hers, he muttered “I love you” against them. He kissed her sweetly, once on the mouth. 

    Her heart boomed louder, shaking her insides, as he pulled away to look at her. But she couldn’t return his gaze. She felt nervous and shy all over again with him, not knowing what to say. She was unusually thankful for the darkness in the room now, but she was not naive enough to believe he would let his admission go without her acknowledgement. She had not replied, and Draco never let such things pass. 

    His hand entered the top of her blouse, and a few of the buttons naturally unfastened. He rested his hand over her heart and creased his brows. “Are you alright?” he asked, feeling the beats as they tried to penetrate her smooth skin. 

    She smiled in response, unable to use her words anymore. He grasped both of her delicate hands and pulled her towards the edge of the marble bathtub, crossing the bathroom floor together in a few strides. He pressed his lips firmly to hers, while she stood on tip-toe, her arms sliding up his body and encasing his neck. His tongue entered her mouth, tasting and devouring her. His hands soon became tangled in her mess of curls as she responded and kissed him more deeply. 

    She began undoing the remaining buttons on her blouse, fully aware of Draco’s startled expression. His arms hung at his sides, unaware of what to do with them. “You’re sure?” he whispered against her face. 

    She nodded. Her breath escalated into panting like a ravenous animal when he slipped the blouse from her arms. Draco’s palms began to sweat and he left a trail of moisture on her skin. His nerves had got the best of him. 

    He took a short moment to relax and allow them both to steady their breathing. But with his fingers still clenched in her naked shoulder blades, none of it made any difference. Draco no longer wanted to contain the demon inside of him. He tried desperately not to lunge at her but had executed failure. Excitement flooded his veins; those veins that harbored the blood enslaved to Voldemort. 

    He tore off his green necktie and shirt together, and looked her dead in the eyes. “I love you,” he repeated, tossing his uniform to the tile floor. “And I don’t care if you won’t say it back.” 

    The golden light brimmed the top of her breast; he watched her chest rise and fall as she heaved in difficult gulps of air. She was grateful at his last statement because Hermione no longer believed she could assemble those words for him. Not now, and maybe not ever. In theory anything had been possible for them. But as they moved in the dark, hands upon skin, the lion and the snake, “love” was far too unreal to submit herself to. 

    He tickled her bottom lip with the tip of his tongue. Ecstasy entangled her better judgment. She started kissing his bare chest, pressing her lips lower to his porcelain stomach and even lower to his defined hips. When she reached his slacks, she swiftly pulled them down with his boxers. When she got to her feet, Draco moaned with satisfaction as she allowed her hands to slip beneath his hips to touch and please him in a way no one else could. A fever jolted through his body and the animal inside of him stirred. 

    He picked her up effortlessly and viciously put her on the edge of the bathtub. Hermione saw the danger mixing with the muted silver in his eyes, but she ceased to care. He bundled her skirt up to her waist and slid her knickers down her toned legs, letting them dangle at her ankles. His craving overwhelmed him when she bit her swollen lip, assuming she was gratified with his decision. He opened her legs and came in closer, desire and urgency lusting in his body. 

    “Do you really need me?” he asked seriously, flicking the blonde hair from his eyes. 

    “Yes,” she could barely utter, feeling his hand naturally move up her thigh. 

    Draco leaned in close to her ear, his platinum hair falling in front of his face again. “Then take me,” he whispered. He grazed her earlobe slightly with his teeth. 

    Hermione nodded in agreement, utterly blind as to what any of this really meant. The hindsight of it all would have to pummel her later because she wasn’t letting go now. As he moved himself inside her, his hips pressed into hers, and she dug her nails into his back. She clawed at him more uncontrollably when he thrust his body hard against hers and back out again. In and out, he ventured to measures her body had never endured before. And if he was being honest, he had never experienced either. 

    Hermione and Draco: naked and intertwined in the dark prefects’ bathroom. Nothing could keep the sweat from dripping to their lips. 

    They spent the rest of the day, ironically, quietly inside the Library; Hermione’s domain. It was conveniently empty during classes and secluded. The hours seemed to tick away and Madam Pince was obviously oblivious to their inhabitance of it. 

    They chose a table in the back, far left corner, where Hermione normally resided for her studying and leisure time. She fiddled with the pages of a book, creasing and uncreasing the corners while Draco caressed the back of her hand with his thumb. She propped herself on her elbow, her hand cupping her chin. She was looking at the past hour in retrospect, battling with herself. Had this been the right thing to do? She glanced at Draco as he watched her, a secretive smile on his lips. She turned the page and smiled internally, realizing she didn’t care what was right. She was past "right" by now. 

    Draco laced his fingers in between hers and felt thankful for the few moments of repose he could find here with her. His world held the utmost chaos that he was unsure of how to deal with anymore. 

    His father being a Death Eater, always caused an unsettling fear to stir inside of him as a child, but he had been, nevertheless, proud. He was likely to ignore his father’s business in the past, much the same way his father had done to him. Unless it was something to spoil the Malfoy name, Draco was disregarded. Scraped knees and nightmares tended to nurture themselves. The only parent Draco had ever truly known was Narcissa; perhaps what caused him to be so attached to her through his youth. But now Lucius’ endeavors were made Draco’s. There wasn’t time to hide himself behind vulgarity and trouble making. He was to perform right next to his father; however unsorted he might feel about it. 

    He longed for the bravery to reveal all his horrible secrets to Hermione, but she was so pure. Despite how dirty her blood might be, she was the epitome of chaste, and he refused to contaminate her with his deceitful ways. 

    His idolizing was ferociously interrupted when a group of Gryffindors entered the Library, Harry included. Draco released her hand as Harry walked over to the two of them and furrowed his brows. 

    “I thought you might be here. What are you doing, Hermione?” Harry sounded confused. 

    “T–Tutoring,” she stuttered. 

    “Can I have a word with you, then?” Harry’s eyes flickered from Hermione to Draco rapidly, waiting for an answer. Draco glowered at him and left without a goodbye. Harry watched him exit the Library completely before sitting down and explaining himself to her. 

    “You missed Defense Against the Dark Arts, Hermione. That’s a first in like what, seven years? I mean I can’t believe you’re even tutoring the bloke! You know what happened last year!” He paused, taking in a deep breath to calm his boiling blood before blowing up at her. 

    “You said it yourself, Harry. He was lowering his wand…” 

    “That doesn’t make him a saint,” he said matter-of-factly. 

    “I’m only doing it to get closer to him. To see if he knows anything.” She had said this so quickly. Immediately, she felt her lie sting painfully inside her body. 

    Harry sighed. “You need to be careful.” Hermione said nothing, and Harry carried on. “Listen, Hogsmeade is tomorrow and I…” but he couldn’t finish. 
    “I know,” she said soothingly. 

    “Do you remember what I told you about the sword?” 

    “Yes. You can count on us.” 

    “It’s extremely crucial, you understand that right?” 

    She nodded. 

    Ron and Ginny joined them a few moments later. Ron took the seat next to Hermione and laid his head in his arms on the table shamefully. Ginny did not sit. She stood distraughtly next to Harry, her eyes filled with tears, her arms crossed on her chest. Harry observed her melancholy expression, and comprehension dawned on him. 

    “Ron, you didn’t!” 

    Ron just shook his head in disbelief as Ginny let out a cry. “I can’t believe you were just going to leave without saying anything, Harry!” she screamed. 

    Harry didn’t yell back or explain to her it was better that way, but rose from his wooden chair and plainly held onto her, wrapping his arms around her waist. Ginny responded by putting her arms around his neck and sobbing into his cardigan. Hermione left to leaf through the Library again, suddenly feeling like she was intruding on a special moment for them. 

    “I’ll be back,” Harry reassured her, stroking her hair. 

    “No you won’t.” she said, sobbing harder. 

    Her tears collectively soaked Harry’s shoulder instantly. He said nothing because despite what all of them had hoped for, she was probably right. He wasn’t coming back. Nobody was sure if he was even going to be alive in the end. 

    “Can you promise you’ll come back to Hogwarts? Or at least to the Burrow?” Hope was twinkling in Ginny’s eyes. 

     “I promise.” Yet as soon as he said this, he knew it had been a terrible thing to vow.

    That night in the Heads’ Dorm, Harry and Hermione reviewed their plan for Harry to escape. She was inexplicably on her feet and attentive about this and could sense Harry was confused about her abrupt change. Hermione could hardly comprehend it herself but still cherished her secret: the prefects’ bathroom. 

    The duo had stayed up all night until the early hours of the morning, mainly due to Harry’s worrisome thoughts. The sun was just showing over the horizon. Harry ruffled his shaggy black hair and yawned as Hermione stretched her legs. He rose from the Gryffindor rug, gathering his parchment. 

    “I think I’m going to get in a couple hours of sleep. Do you mind? I’ll probably need it.” 

    But Hermione did not want to think of what Harry might need out there when he went searching for the Horcruxes, so she nodded him away. He ascended the steps, and she suddenly felt like sleeping for days. Weariness swept over her. She curled her legs up to her chest and rested her face there on her bony knees. Harry leaving in a few hours time was too surreal. I should have been prepared for this, she thought. She had always known Harry was setting out alone, but some small voice deep inside of her conscience failed to believe so. And as she struggled with the visions of him alone in the wilderness, dying without aid, Hermione drifted into an abysmal sleep against the foot of the couch that she never desired to wake from.

Chapter 5: The Hardest Part Is Letting Go
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    Hermione awoke groggily, residing on the Gryffindor rug. For a single passing minute, today was just like any other. She rose to her feet, her legs wavering between Bed and Hogsmeade. 

    Hogsmeade. Reality poured itself into her amygdale, and fear rained on the Common Room. She stumbled towards the obnoxious, golden-framed mirror mounted between the two staircases with liquid desperation weighing heavily on her limbs. Pursuing to tame the mess of curls about her face, she scrutinized her reflection, pulling at the anemic skin she seemed to inherit over night on her cheeks. She looked like death. She felt like death. 

    “You look like death, Hermione.” Harry coasted down the stairs easily, vividly light. 

    “Ha ha,” she said sarcastically, now bunching her spiraled hair together to repress the frizz. 

    As Hermione prepared, Harry sat composed on the chaise lounge, folding and unfolding his Invisibility Cloak. He stuffed it into his robes at once along with his wand as Hermione descended the stairs freshly dressed, feeling much more suitable. 

    “Ready?” he asked holding his hand out for her to grasp. 

    “As ever.” 

    The two departed the Head’s Dorm, hands joined. Harry took a sweeping single glance back at his personal dorm, never to see its regal appearance again. 

    When they came upon the courtyard, it was massively packed with students, each linked to one other. The pairs were filing off with their Heads of House towards the awaiting carriages, bundling close together to avoid the nipping wind. Ron and Ginny were still absent, and the anxiety on Harry’s face was not disguised. 

    Hermione and Harry followed McGonagall to the empty carriage, flanked by Neville and Luna. The four stuffed themselves inside, Neville watching Harry frantically look among the Gryffindors’ faces. 

    “Hi Harry,” he called to him rather cheerfully. 

    “Hi Neville.” 

    “Hey Neville,” Hermione meagerly waved. 

    “It’s great, isn’t it, Harry? We get to miss Transfiguration today.” Neville swept his plain brown hair from his eyes, his round face gleaming. 

    “Yeah…” Harry replied while his eyes scoped the students nervously again. 

    “They’ll be there, Harry. Don’t worry,” Hermione whispered into his ear. 

    Harry removed his glasses and wiped them clean on his robes, eliminating the slight fog created by the chilly Autumn air. The trees towering the path to Hogsmeade swayed kindly above them. A red sycamore leaf separated from its branch and floated swiftly into the moving carriage, resting serenely in Harry’s lap.

    “Could you please stop it, Harry?” 

    Hermione eyed him as he put his hand in his robe for the twentieth time, no doubt checking his cloak had not fallen astray. She looked about The Three Broomsticks timidly and then drained the last sip of butterbeer from her mug. 

    “Where are they? It’s been fifteen minutes already!” 

    She couldn’t help but feel a little worried herself but made sure not to let Harry on to that. Sighing, she stood from their table in the pub and evened the wrinkles on her jeans. 

    “I’m going to get another butterbeer. Do you want one?” She tipped her empty glass towards him. 

    As Hermione had erected her position, Harry’s eyes flew around the room and rested on none other than Draco Malfoy, who seemed to be watching Hermione from two tables down. Something lying in his expression was magnetic. Harry cocked his head a bit and continued to survey Malfoy’s visage. 

    “Harry? Do you want a butterbeer?” she asked again, growing antsy. 

    “N-No,” he stammered. 

    She turned on her heel and headed to the counter where Madam Rosmerta had been busy refilling glasses for Hagrid and Professor Flitwick. Draco’s eyes had followed every inch her feet took her, incapable of looking elsewhere. As he bit his lower lip, staring at Hermione’s backside, Harry’s heart skipped a beat with understanding. He hastily arose from the table and valiantly walked up to Draco’s; his booth was empty all but for him. Before he could retort at Harry’s unwanted presence, Harry sat down across from him and booted him hard in the knee. He whipped out his wand, placing it under the table at the Slytherin boy’s lower half. 

    “Potter!” Draco yelled with disdain. Anger had not crept up his throat this harrowingly in months. He felt at any moment his body might explode with contempt, firing the Killing Curse at his former enemy. 

    “I know what you’re doing.” The words slipped off Harry’s tongue like a smooth liquid, harsh enough to spit at the most evil. 

    “What the hell are you talking about?” Draco said stoically. 

    “Stay away from her,” he warned, baring his teeth in a snarl. He was taking in every perfect feature of Draco’s; everything he hated. 

    “Even if I had the damndest idea who you were talking about Potty, what makes you think I’d stay away on your orders?” His eyes flashed menacingly to Hermione once again, toying with Harry. He examined the muscles in Harry’s neck as they tensed, feeling satisfied now. 

    Harry whipped his hand in a semi-circle under the table. “Stupe–” 

    But Draco had felt Harry’s wand brush against his injured knee. He grabbed Harry’s wrist abnormally fast under their booth and twisted it unnaturally until his wand fell to the floor with a clink, before Harry could wish to finish his incantation. 

    “One more thing, Harry, if you ever try to threaten me like that again, rest assured it will be I who is killing you on that battlefield. And you will be begging for the simple wrath of The Dark Lord.” 

    Harry swelled with hatred and bent down to collect his wand. He slid from the booth, abandoning thought of reasoning with Malfoy and keeping his priorities in line. He noticed Hermione returning to their table and quickly retreated back to her. 

    “Hermione, we need to talk,” he started. 

    “It’s almost time, Harry.” 

    “Hermione listen. I was just talking to Mal–” 

    “We’re just going to have to do this without them,” she interrupted. 

    “But I – I won’t get to say goodbye...” 

    “She’ll be alright.” Hermione was conscious of his problem, even when he said nothing about Ginny at all. 

    The two of them made their way to the pub’s lavatory, quickly disappearing behind the door together. Harry’s movements were subtle, but professional. He was breathing heavily as he pulled the Invisibility Cloak from his robes. An immense amount of respect for his bravery was amplifying in Hermione’s body, and she found herself unable to move, wanting only to latch onto her best friend in the bathroom and never let go. He was slipping away as the seconds drew forward, unhinging her responsibilities. 

    He threw the cloak over the two of them, hunching over awkwardly to cover their feet and slipped back through the door. Draco watched the door open by itself, no one visibly there. Harry guided them swiftly through the crowd, all the while Hermione and Draco’s eyes were locked, as if he could see right through the cloak. 

    Hogsmeade streets were bountifully crowded with students and Aurors. Teachers stationed themselves outside each shop, patrolling. Hermione had to wonder who exactly was left at Hogwarts guarding the castle. They weaved in and out of people, careful not to startle someone by hitting them. 

    “It’s just right up here, Harry.” Hermione nodded her head towards the Shrieking Shack, and a heap of sorrow plummeted in her stomach as she thought of Sirius Black. 

    As they sluggishly clambered up the steep mountain side, their shoes boring into the unsteady terrain and crunching on the colorful leaves, two red-haired heads were just barely clear on the other side. Hermione tore herself from underneath the Cloak, and Ginny let out a cry of relief, sprinting towards Hermione and invisible Harry. He wrenched the Cloak off at the sight of her, his green eyes frenzied, and fled to Ginny as equally fast. 

    Hermione paused to pick up his discarded Cloak and joined them moments after Harry had embraced the petite girl. She was blubbering uncontrollably, and he wiped the tears from her face. He freed one arm, wrapping it around Ron in an awkward hug.
“Harry, I uh–” 

    “Yeah I know, Ron,” said Harry. “I uh you too.” Harry took both girls into his arms one last time before placing a sweet kiss on Ginny’s sodden face. 

    “I love you,” she said, tears dripping imperceptibly into her mouth. 

    “There they are! Oh, thank goodness!” McGonagall yelled many yards away. She was followed by Professors Slughorn and Burbage, apparently out of breath from the mountain climb. 

    Hermione shrieked. “Harry! You’ve got to get out of here!” She tossed the Cloak back to him, and he briskly hid himself completely with it, detaching from his former girlfriend. 

    “Harry?” cried Ginny, her hand searching in the air for his mass. 

    He didn’t respond, perhaps having apparated already, or thinking it best not to give in to Ginny’s cries. 

    “Harry!” She made her way further out into the hazy atmosphere, waving her arms frantically for him. 

    “Ginny, c’mon,” Ron said cautiously. “We’ll be caught if we don’t go now, Ginny.” 

    The teachers were darting towards the place where Harry had disappeared seconds before, but the defensive blockade Ron had cast was holding them at bay. 

    “Who was that?” shouted Slughorn. 

    “Harry Potter!” McGonagall barked, half-answering, half-calling him back. 

    Hermione took Ginny’s hand and proceeded to drag her along to the Shrieking Shack, but Ginny pulled it back with immense force. 

    “HARRY!” Ginny screamed into the sleeping air. 

    But nothing called back. Nobody came. 

    McGonagall disengaged the barrier; the teachers were now darting for them. Ginny fell forward, her body collapsing onto the rocky earth. Hermione and Ron could do nothing but watch as she pathetically rocked herself back and forth in Hogsmeade Village, tears staining her beautiful face. 

    Hermione couldn’t help the nerves in her figure to stiffen as she thought of herself in Ginny’s position: calling after Draco, with no response, for what may be the rest of her life.

Chapter 6: Mortel Bijoux
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     Ron and Hermione’s small shadowed figures rose and fell on the castle walls, illuminated by the torches, as they sprinted towards McGonagall’s office. All Hermione could hear was her deep breathing that suffocated her ears and the tread of their footsteps on the ancient floor. 

     They had scrambled out of the portrait hole as quickly as they could upon receiving a short message from Harry, stating that they were to retrieve the sword this very night. It also stated that Ron was to bring it to him once they had collected it, and Hermione was to stay safely behind as she had wanted. Something distinct inside of her was pushing her towards McGonagall’s office, dutifully heeding Harry’s orders. But there was also something foreign stirring in the mass of confusion, something pulling her back to the common room. When we get this sword…Ron will be gone too. She wasn’t ready to let go of Ron any more than she was prepared for Harry to depart. This conflicted with her loyalties; a part of her wanted to keep the Gryffindor Sword locked in McGonagall’s office forever, to keep her friend sheltered at Hogwarts. 

     Hermione’s feet had betrayed her heart and carried her too far. They finally stopped upon reaching the stone gargoyle guarding their Headmistress’ office. 

    “Dumble – Dumbledore,” panted Ron as he held the stitch in his side. 

    The gargoyle leapt aside to admit them, revealing a spiral staircase. The two mounted it, quite aware of how pressed they were to each other. The staircase began to revolve slowly upwards leaving Hermione’s panic in the second floor corridor. When the staircase abruptly stopped, it shook violently, causing Hermione to topple over into Ron’s durable arms. 

    “S-Sorry,” Hermione said. 

    She did not immediately pull away but instead continued to stare up at him awkwardly, her body paralyzed. Ron cleared his throat and helped her back to her own step, both of them feeling slightly more shaken. 

     “Come in,” McGonagall called from within the chamber. 

     Immediately they entered and halted clumsily in front of her rather large desk. Many of Dumbledore’s strange contents littered the room still. The atmosphere held a strange, sad aura. 

     “Miss Granger. Mr. Weasley.” McGonagall said startled. “I…I must admit I have done my best at avoiding the two of you. But now that you are here, there is simply nothing I can do.” Apprehension was looming in her tone. “I now need to ask you, very seriously, where Harry has gone last week? First, as a member of the Order, and second, as your Headmistress.” 

     “We can’t tell you that Professor,” said Hermione, bracing herself for reprimanding. 

     “I was afraid of that. And why on earth not?” McGonagall’s face was suddenly dire and forbidding. 

     “Dumbledore,” said Ron. 

     The lines in McGonagall’s face relaxed a smidgen and she turned to look at Dumbledore’s portrait behind her chair. His bright blue eyes were smiling from behind his half-moon spectacles at her. 

     “Albus?” she said quietly. 

     Dumbledore’s lips formed a tight grin in response. 

     “Speaking of Dumbledore…” Hermione carefully started, “we were wondering if we could possibly have the Gryffindor Sword. He…sort of left it to us.” Her eyes scanned the room but found nothing. Ron must have been searching as well. 

     “Where is it, Professor?” he asked. Waves of hopelessness thrashed in Hermione’s chest. It wasn’t here. 

     McGonagall’s fingers trembled slightly. “Albus?” McGonagall beseeched again, more desperate this time. 

     But Dumbledore’s eyes were now resting in a peaceful, helpless way, hands folded on his lap. “I believe Severus has removed the sword entirely from Hogwarts,” he stated. 

     “Is this true, Albus?” 

     “I am afraid so.” 

     Still, Dumbledore’s eyes did not open, and he did not move so much as an inch inside his golden frame. Hermione watched Ron whose ashen face was positively thunderstruck. 

     “We’ve got to send an owl to Harry,” Hermione said.

     Draco’s footsteps made a polite tapping noise as he paced the top of the Astronomy Tower. His black coat tails flapped in the wind with each step his polished shoes took. 

     Tip. Tap. Tip. Tap. 

     The anxious semblance intensified with every lonesome minute that sluggishly passed by. Where are they, he thought. His solitary presence here in the Astronomy Tower was anything but pleasant in Draco’s crippled mind. Memories threatened to take hold of him here and never let his sanity go. 

     He could hear Dumbledore’s words so clearly here, wise and pleading. 

     Tip. Tap. Tip. Tap. 

     Draco was beginning to feel even more alienated. 

     Tip. Tap. Tip. Tap. 

      Now Snape was there in his mind, shoving Draco out of the way. 

     Tip. Tap. Tip. 

     “Severus… Please…” Dumbledore had said. 

     Tip. Tap. 

     “Avada Kedavra.” 

     Tip. Tap. 

     As Draco’s heart deliberated and leaned towards returning to the Slytherin dungeon, a wisp of light flickered next to the full moon like a firefly, catching his eye and pulling it towards the open black sky. It was, because it just had to be, the tip of his mother’s wand. 

     Seconds later, not even enough time to conclude what else it could be, Narcissa and Bellatrix landed heavily on the tower, broomsticks below their cloaks. Draco took hold of his mother’s arms instinctively, supporting her up. She locked frightened blue eyes with her son’s grey but said nothing. 

     “Mother. Are you well? Did you get through the protective barrier alright?” Only when Bellatrix scoffed at their rattled look did Draco realize she had accompanied Narcissa. “Where’s Snape?” he asked, now looking from Bellatrix to his mother. 

     “He’s…indisposed,” replied Bellatrix harshly. She flicked her dark spiral curls from her drooping eyes and scrutinized him. She stared menacingly at his attire. “So formal and serious these days, baby Draco.” 

     “What does she mean about Snape, Mother? Mother?” 

     Narcissa’s eyes were in danger of spilling tears as she gazed at Bellatrix with disdain. 

     “Cissy, tell the boy,” Bellatrix spat. 

     “Darling, Severus has…abandoned us.” 

     Us. There had never been an opportunity to turn back. He had known this all along. But consorting them into one grouping (the Dark Lord’s followers), in the frightening way his mother said “us”, made this quite evident. 

     “I don’t understand. Where is he?” 

     “That’s not important right now.” Narcissa caressed her son’s face maternally. “It’s getting colder out here, isn’t it?” She bundled her robes tighter around her.
Draco could not fathom what was going on. Abandoned us? What did that mean? Where was his old professor? 

     And then something hit him like an atomic blast to his insides, first forming burns in his stomach and uprising to his mouth. His lips quivered with recognition, tasting cinders. Snape had abandoned ship, and wherever he fled to conceal his disloyalty, Draco did not know. This meant only one thing to him now: the man pulling for him was no longer Voldemort’s “most loyal Death Eater”. He was bound to be Voldemort’s most sought after, next to Harry Potter. The human shield that had once guarded him from Voldemort’s hands was a traitor, and Draco was left in an open mine field. 

     “You know what this means?” Narcissa said soothingly, still touching his face. 

     “No,” he lied, too petrified to face the reality of it. 

     “You cannot fail, Draco,” she whispered. “It is just not an option.” 

     “Of course he will,” snapped Bellatrix. "What makes this any different than last year?"

     If his aunt was right, then they all died. Not just one innocent muggle-born, but his entire family. Maybe the succession of this task was the necessity to pull his family from the reigns of Voldemort. Maybe then could they be in his good graces and possibly flee as Snape had done. 

     For the first time, Draco was relishing the idea of killing. 

     Bellatrix peered over the edge of the tower, watching for anyone. Narcissa moved in closer to Draco’s body, maneuvering herself in a way to cloak their midsections, and held out a tiny diamond ring between her fingers, gesturing it to him. The crystals inside flashed extravagantly in the moonlight. 

     “Take this,” she said. “Your father disagrees I have any help in this so please keep it hidden.” She was almost whispering now, as if to keep this from Bellatrix as well. 

     “What is it?” he asked, completely puzzled. 

     “Mortel bijoux. Slip it to someone. Whatever you must do, just make sure it is worn. The outcome will be instant fatality.” 

    It was exactly like the cursed necklace intended for Dumbledore. Draco opened his lips to ask more questions but his mother held up a hand.

    “This will ensure you’re not caught,” she finished.

     Draco twisted the ring over and over, running his thumb along the smooth gold as he walked down the corridor towards the Gryffindor tower. Here it was; the answer to his mission. Now that it seemed so easy, he was unsure if it was the right thing to do; if he could kill someone to save his skin. The different directions his mind was pulled was tiring to him, and he felt his body growing more weary underneath the pressure. 

     He slipped the ring keenly into his coat pocket when he reached the Heads Dorm and gave it a small squeeze for reassurance of its presence. He rapped ever so lightly on the portrait of Harry and Hermione; first, three times, then twice more as Hermione had instructed him. He looked up at Harry’s painted face and snarled at his stupid circular glasses. If it wasn’t for him, he thought. The portrait flung open, and he hastily crossed over the threshold. 

     Hermione was upright in a squashy chaise lounge, poring over several tattered books from the Library. Draco lingered by the door as it gently swung shut again. He stared, watching her eyes graze the old pages, and then lick her finger so politely to turn the page. There was a steady fire crackling quietly a few feet away that made her creamy skin shine in the light. 

     “Ahem,” he said with his eyebrows raised. 

     Hermione’s face snapped up from the old book with astonishment. “Oh goodness, Draco! I didn’t hear you come in.” She placed a hand over her heart, as if to steady its beats. 

     “Well if I had known I would cause you a heart attack,” he said with a grin, “I would have waited at your portrait.” He gave the ring another inconspicuous clutch. 

     “Don’t be silly, someone would see you.” 

     Hermione rose from the lounge and collected her books neatly into a stack. She placed her hands underneath and struggled to heave them into her arms. Draco darted across the room. 

     “Let me,” he said, quickly taking them from her. He took them into his own arms and crossed the room towards the staircase. Hermione followed clumsily at his heels. 

     “I’m more than capable, you know,” she said, trying to dart in front of him, but failing as he took the first couple steps in one stride. 

     When they reached Hermione’s dormitory, Draco gently placed her books on a small desk near the door and glimpsed a small piece of parchment already located there. 

     “Felix Felicis?” Draco’s face rose to meet Hermione’s gaze, his eyebrows raised. 

     “I was trying to perfect it,” she shyly admitted. 

     She ensconced her body into the Gryffindor blankets and motioned for Draco to come hither. He immediately followed her impenetrable stare and sat, too, on the crimson sheets. He watched his pale skin sink into the red and felt slightly uneasy. 

    “It’s kind of weird…being here,” he said, surveying the entire room. 

     “Not really,” she replied with a smile. “It’s whatever we want it to be.” 

     There was no other illumination but the moonlight coming through a vast window above the four-poster. With their faces both drained of color from the lunar glow, they sat patiently and awkward on her bed, barely touching hands. Minutes passed by without either of them speaking any words, and Draco’s fingers began to tremble with anxiety. 

     He was scarcely ever this quiet. Past moments when silence took a choking hold on his voice, he had been troubled about something. All he needed was for her to ask and his heart would open, willing all the negative out. The boy was fluent with his words. But he had never allowed himself to seem so vulnerable like this before. 

     “Draco?” she asked cautiously. She held his hand tight in hers, stabilizing his shaking fingers. He looked from their hands to her face, moonlight flashing harshly in his smoky eyes. “Is everything alright?” 

     His thoughts were screaming at him to confess everything to her: about his task, the meeting with his mother just moments before, about the deathly ring residing in his pocket. If he ever wanted to be overt with her, now was the opportunity. The words accumulated on the tip of his tongue, but he pushed them back behind his teeth before they left his mouth, nodding feebly in response. 

     “Are you sure?” she pressed. “You’re not like yourself tonight.” 

     As if the weight of the world dropped bombs on his shoulders, he felt his heart buckle under everything as she continued to search for his thoughts. He quickly choked back a small sob in his throat, causing it to well up inside his eyes instead. He couldn’t even remember the last time he voluntarily cried in front of someone, but right now wouldn’t be that time. Breathing in quiet, shallow breaths, he felt the moisture recede back into his tear ducts, just as a single drop betrayed him entirely, and rolled down his pallid face. Hermione inhaled sharply, completely alarmed by the lone tear pending by his jaw line. He was damning his emotions silently. 

     “I’m so sorry,” he began, completely embarrassed. He rose from the comforting bed. “I need to get back to the dungeon. Blaise will be looking for me.” 

     He took a couple advancing steps towards the open doorway when Hermione’s attention shifted to a shining object buried within the sheets next to her. She hastily picked it up between her forefinger and thumb, the diamond glittering elegantly. She raised it to her face. 

     “Draco?” she asked, skepticism in her tone. He hesitated by the door and turned partially towards her, his profile visible. “Is this for me?” She turned the ring over in her hand. 

     His head snapped up to meet hers, fear encasing his body. His eyes rested instantly on the lethal diamond pinched in her fingers. “What?” he replied, horrified. 

     She held the ring with one hand and very slowly, he watched her left ring finger attempt to slide into the golden band. Sweat trickled down his spine and he dashed for the four-poster, lunging his arms at her. He took hold of the magnificent ring and wrenched it from her hands easily as she surveyed his rattled appearance. A frown formed between her brows, utterly bewildered. 

     “It’s um…not meant for that. It’s a promise ring, actually,” he said huskily. His head filled with deceit, and he took a seat next to her on the bed again. “Best kept where no one can see, yes?” He touched the golden necklace resting at her collarbones. 

     She smiled at him longingly. “It’s perfect,” she said, admiring it again. She unfastened the chain from her neck and slid the pink opal from it, placing it on her nightstand. She then glided the band onto the chain, Draco watching her with apprehension. She pulled it around her nape, turning it to face him. “Could you?” she asked gently. 

     His fingers worked clumsily at the hook, smiling at the tiny curls resting on her neck. He wished he had been careful enough not to be in her presence with the wretched jewelry. How could he have been so stupid and reckless? She was everything to him, and the thought of her almost dying by his own hand was tempting him to rip the necklace from her neck and run. He continued cursing himself inaudibly. Considering the fact that he could not have told her it was for someone else, he was trapped. 

     Once it was clasped, he did the only thing that seemed natural. He bent his face lower to her and planted his lips to the top of her jaw line, kissing gracefully. “Just don’t wear it,” he whispered dangerously. His breaths were coming in quick against her. 

     “Why not?” she giggled, tucking it into her jumper. 

     “It will arouse suspicions, don’t you think?” He was still whispering into her neck, trying his damndest to conceal his panic. 

     Hermione let her head fall back, allowing him more access to her. He kissed on her more hungrily, holding her body to his. Draco let his endeavors and dilemmas wash away temporarily, enveloping himself inside her body. He spun her around and ferociously pushed her down into the sanguine sheets. He climbed on top of her and let his weight press down upon her, pinning her to the bed. A carnal fervor rushed his body as they sunk deeper into the mattress, granting him unguarded contact with her flesh. 

     His lips eventually met hers after they caressed each part of her enticing physique. Her lips were red and plump, bruised from his ravenous kisses. She sighed heavily as he allowed her to repose herself. Temptation hinted all over her face while she pulled at his belt buckle. He understood this silent communication and unzipped his suit pants. Hermione bit her lower lip, wincing slightly at the rawness of them. She slipped her knickers down to her knees and he devoured her, not bothering to remove any more clothes. His name was all that she could mutter. 

     She bit at his neck with such brutality; a reaction to the vigorous ways he explored between her legs. Her bite left a scarlet puncture wound beneath his jaw, vividly noticeable against his smooth skin. He grew immobile inside her, pausing to feel the pain she inflicted to course through his veins. Blood swelled to the brim of his skin and dripped almost beautifully into his dark collar. The corners of his lips curved into a maniacal grin; the ache in his neck from Hermione’s luscious lips was the most real feeling Draco felt in weeks. 

     “I love you,” he whispered, flipping his blonde hair to one side. His desperate gaze bored into her eyes, and he knew he would not hear it back tonight. He bent his hardened face back down to her lips and never parted from them.

Chapter 7: Requirement and Reprove
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      Sun tickled Hermione’s face through the window. The bright light filling the room shined against her resting eyelids. She stirred in her bed, awakening to the harsh glow. Her sheets were warm, heated by the sun’s rays. Draco sat composed in her wooden desk chair, watching her rouse. 
       “I didn’t know you’d still be here,” Hermione said weakly, stretching her arms. She ran a hand through her wild hair, trying to detangle it. 
       “I’ve been up for a couple hours.” He mirrored her movements and dragged a hand through his slightly more presentable hair. He rose from the chair and crossed the room, his elegant jacket folded neatly over his arm. He bent his head low to hers and brushed her cheek with his lips. “Can I show you something today?” He tossed the dark jacket to the foot of the bed and loosened the collar around his neck. 

     “Sure,” she smiled politely. “What is it?” 

      He sat down on the edge of her four-poster and tucked one of her untamed curls behind her ear. “The past.” 

      Hermione knew, moments before they reached the empty wall, where they were going, and this is why she trailed slowly, involuntarily, behind Draco’s anxious steps. When they arrived at the desolate structure, his eyes remained closed, deep in thought, while her thoughts attempted to counter his. He paced the area three times, and a door emerged on his final measure. His eyes snapped open, satisfied. She felt almost guilty at the disappointment written on her face. He tugged again at his black collar, and together they walked into the Room of Requirement, hand in hand. 

      It was black inside; the room held a clutter of things. Mess and treasures lay buried amongst the piles of rubbish. She could barely make out any of it while her eyes protestably adjusted to the darkness. She knew too well what they were here for. Draco lingered at each heap of odds and ends, his hands crawling at every stack. He was mumbling incoherently to himself. Hermione continued to explore the room, pausing only when she knocked something over from the scarcity of light. 

      “Draco?” she asked feebly. She stopped in front of a towering cabinet, her arms resting warily at her sides. “Lumos,” she whispered. She dragged her wand tip up and down to better view it, hoping for Merlin’s sake that this wasn’t what she thought it was. 

      He stopped his quiet rambling and directed his attention to the vanishing cabinet that resided directly in front of her frame. He stared dismally at it for a moment. Hermione looked at both him and the atrocious object, much too fearful to say anything aloud. He drifted closer to them, placing himself between the two, his hands now reaching out to run along its rough texture. 

      His fingertips stroked the unhinged door, and he immediately inhaled hard, jolting his hand away from the cabinet. She was watching him sorrowfully, certain at any minute he would break. Despair was plummeting through her stomach upon seeing him so terrified. His face was frozen to the bone, his eyes inert, and she was certain she had heard him sob. 

      “Draco?” she asked again gingerly. He turned his contour to her slowly. “Lumos Maxima,” she muttered. A great ball of light ascended from her wand to the steep ceiling and cast a blue-white glow upon everything. His cheeks appeared dry; he had not been crying, but she knew something inside of him was screaming to get out. He still refused to face her, maintaining his line of sight to the floor. His white, ghostly hand massaged his temple, and then it dropped at his waist. 

      “It’s magnificent...what you can do.” 

      Her face was gleaming in the light too yet slightly more cautious than his. “We don’t have to be here, Draco, we should just –” 

      “You know I can’t even remember what his face looked like. That’s kind of sick, right?” She realized it now. This was about Dumbledore. “Snape, Fenrir, even you, love.” With that address, his face rose and met her eyes. He ran a hand through his hair distraughtly, all traces of happiness gone from his features. “I can remember all of the faces from that night…except his.” 

      “It’s not your fau–” 

      “No, it is, Hermione. I’m sure of that.” 

      “It’s just something we’ll all have to come to terms with.” She was trying her hardest to sound as concerned as she was, but she, in fact, had still not come to terms with Dumbledore’s death and couldn’t expect Draco to either. 

      “Aunt Bella kept saying I wouldn’t be able to do it. Sometimes I think she wanted me to fail.” 

      Hermione crept slowly to him, reaching out and touching his smooth face. “I’m glad you did.” Her brows were permanently furrowed over glazed eyes. 

      “I do remember one thing about him though,” he said, ignoring her statement. “His fall. How I wished in that moment it had been me.” He quietly laughed and shook his head. “You don’t know what it was like. I’ve never wasted so much time on something so meaningless.” 

      “You have a chance to make things right, Draco.” 

      “I won’t pretend to believe you,” he said, “but at least I know how you feel.” 

      The room quivered suddenly. Hermione grew uneasy, watching the dust particles float from the ceiling into the dirty mess. She looked about the room, searching for the cause. The walls shook again, more violently, and several objects fell from their toppling piles. 

      “It only does that in here,” he said nonchalantly, answering her unvoiced question. He moved from his cemented spot, turning away from the horrendous vanishing cabinet. 

      “What’s happening?” asked Hermione. 

      “Someone’s trying to break the protection on the castle. It happened last year all the time,” he said, still casually. 

      “And what of the cabinet? Does it still work?” Hermione walked to it diligently, putting herself between it and Draco, and examined its broken hinges. 

      “Dunno,” he shrugged, “Probably not.” He came to her and grasped her wrist, pulling her slightly backwards. “Look, I’m sorry I brought you here. I shouldn’t have done. I just thought it might…help.” 

      “Help with what?” she asked gently, unable to tear her eyes from the cabinet still. 

      “Letting go,” he mumbled.

      Hermione reached Gryffindor tower a little dazed. The memories Draco had reluctantly bestowed upon her were swimming violently in her head. The entire situation had been an awkward and sorrowful affair, as had been everything else lately. 

      The war instilled fear and grief in her and her school mates that caused almost everyone to be on edge everyday. It was so far from the days when all inside the castle bustled carefree students. It was so far from anything that made sense. 

      “Another one bites the dust,” Ron said, waving the Daily Prophet in his hands. Hermione had entered the common room to scattered seventh year Gryffindors lounging about the couches and chairs. 

      “Good. Who was it this time?” she asked, plopping down on the couch next to him. 

      “Not Bellatrix or Snape, so it’s not worth mentioning,” he said, disappointedly. Hermione tried to snatch the newspaper from his hands but he pulled up, and she fell too short for his reach. 

      “I’m sure Harry would still want to hear it,” she said crossly at him. 

      “Alright, alright,” he said in a tone that suggested he were a child. 

      He flashed a smile at her with his white picket fence teeth and tossed the red locks from his eyes. She giggled at his ridiculous manners. Hermione had forgotten just how much she liked Ron’s company. They hadn’t spent any time alone together since the end of last year, and Hermione had been sure to keep it that way. Their last solitary encounter had been one of her worst memories of Ron; a fight that had left them in ruins. 

      He had long forgotten Lavender at the end of last year, but to Hermione, it had not been such an easy task. The sting of loneliness had never been so abundant like it was in year six, all thanks to the boy she had slowly allowed herself to care for on a different level. She had certainly taken some of the blame for the distance that grew ever wider between them these days, but at times she just felt helpless with him. 

      She was justified in her anger and pain when she had screamed at him, but now it was just embarrassing to be around him. After all, it was Draco that had rescued her from the ache in her chest, and she ceased to love Ron, if that’s ever how she really felt. She was unsure after Draco. With him it was easy and there were no games. She knew without a doubt in her being that he was eternally hers, as he had told her so. But the awkward relationship with Ron throughout the years had been a constant struggle; it just couldn’t have been meant to be. 

      “McGonagall mentioned a dance this morning at the meeting. She was furious you weren’t there. And she uh…also said something about you missing Ancient Runes again? She kind of went off her rocker about you being Head Girl,” he said, shuffling uncomfortably on the couch. 

      “I slept in,” she lied, finally grabbing the paper from Ron’s grasp. “A dance?” she asked, flipping passed the front page titled Dolohov: Deceased

      “Yeah. You believe that rubbish? We’re in the middle of a bloody war, but let’s have a party,” he said sarcastically. 

      She sighed heavily and closed the newspaper. “Might actually do some good, I think.” 

      “Course you say that. You’re a girl.” 

      “Honestly, Ron. If you don’t want to go then don’t.” 

      “I still have to go, I’m a Prefect.” 

      “I’m sure you’ll be scrambling to find someone suitable enough to go with.” He had not noticed the cynicism in her voice. 

      “Last year this would have been a cinch. Being a Keeper had its advantages, you know?” 

      “Ha, well then I’m sorry there’s no Quidditch for you this year to help with earning you a girlfriend. The professors are busy with other things like…keeping us alive.” 

      “Right, no Quidditch but we can have a ball? That makes loads of sense.” 

      Hermione gathered herself, rising from the couch, and prepared to leave just when Ron grabbed her wrist. She looked from his worried expression down to the whites of his knuckles clenched around her. 

      “Where are you heading off to?” Embarrassed, he released her arm. 

      “We’ve got Defense Against the Dark Arts in half an hour, Ronald.” 

      “Oh…right. Listen, I came by last night but you never came to the portrait. I was worried about you.” 

      She felt her face suddenly redden, growing hotter with every second he observed her. “I passed out early. I must have been asleep when you stopped by.” 

      “Oh…well, alright.” 

      She turned away to climb out of the portrait hole, feeling like a disloyal coward all the way back to her dormitory.

      As Draco descended the few stairs that lead from the Slytherin’s common room door to the sitting room, Blaise Zabini lay comfortably sprawled out onto one of the many leather couches. He looked like he owned the place. His dark skin might have been camouflaged against the black leather had there not been such a strong green shade to the furniture. 

      Draco surveyed the room. “It’s always green,” he said loathingly. 

      “Yeah, I think that’s the point,” Blaise said, moving his legs to the side for Draco to sit down. “Is there a different color that might suit you, Prince?” he asked mockingly. 

      “Where do you get off calling me Prince, Zabini?” Draco rested on the couch with a bored expression. He propped up his elbow on the arm of the sofa. 

      Blaise laughed in his teeth. “That’s what they call you isn’t it?” 

      “I wouldn’t know. No one here is really worth talking to anymore.” 

      “So I’ve noticed.” Blaise reached into his pocket and pulled out a small device Draco did not recognize. He turned it over once in his hand, then placed it back into his robes. 

      The relationship between the boys was anything but normal. Rarely did they get along and nor did their parents. But Blaise Zabini had been the last known Slytherin that Draco could tolerate, for he understood what it was like to have money and mad parents. He understood that the two did not mix well and that “keeping enemies closer” was a load of rubbish. Draco hardly found time or care to confide in Zabini willingly, but there was a certain unspoken bond that surrounded them, and whether or not he needed this bond, he was still thankful it existed. 

      Blaise was so unlike Draco’s interior, but their shells were twins. Blaise was pure-heartedly a Slytherin, and a popular one at that. He liked the company of many acquaintances and girls he hardly knew and lived for things like The Slug Club. This could be said for Draco as well, as of one year ago. The difference between the boys now was that Draco was slowly, but surely, secluding himself from it all. He was more than determined to prove to himself, over anyone else, that he had changed. 

      “Old McGonagall said something about a ball this morning at the Prefect meeting.” 

      “Cause that’s what we need,” Draco mumbled. “A ball…what a joke…” 

      “Actually, I’m looking forward to it,” Blaise said with an air of self confidence. 

      Draco rose from the couch and paced the fireplace, eyeing the portrait of Salazar Slytherin located on the mantle. “Certainly. Whose life will you ruin next?” 

      “Ouch. That was low Draco, even for you.” Blaise smirked maniacally and took the magical object from his pocket again. He turned it over in his hand once more and repocketed it. Draco watched him from the corner of his eye inconspicuously. “If you must know, I was thinking about taking Daphne.” 

      “Greengrass?” Draco’s eyebrows rose. “I’d never be caught dead with a Greengrass.” 

      “At least she’s a Slytherin. Besides, it’s only one night. I’ll just ignore her for the rest of the year anyway.” He paused, contemplating something deeply. “I’d never be caught dead with a Gryffindor. That’s all that matters to me.” Draco rendered a forced laugh but said nothing more to the pompous Slytherin. A strong urge tingled in his spine to hex Blaise into next week, but he refrained. “What about Parkinson? You could ask her.” 

      “Not likely.” 

      “What is it with you two anyways? Last year you weren’t so reluctant to grope her a little bit.” Blaise stretched on the sofa and linked his hands behind his head. “It’s starting to get a little annoying seeing her mope around.” 

      “It’s not like that with us anymore…I just moved on,” was all Draco said, now facing entirely away from his friend. 

      “Yeah I figured that much out already. With who?” 

      “What’s with the inquisition, Zabini?” He wielded around to look at Blaise and sneered at the dark boy. 

      “Just curious Draco,” he said casually. 

      “Well be curious elsewhere.” He started towards the staircase and didn’t stop to look back. “I’ve got homework to do.” 

      “You’re not coming to class?” Blaise called to his back. 

      “No!” he shouted from the top of the stairs. 

      “Typical, Malfoy.” 

      Pansy descended the staircase as he disappeared into his room. “Was that Draco I just heard?” She bounced excitedly down the steps and looked about the room. 

      “Nah. C’mon Parkinson, let’s get to class.”

      Hermione’s quill scribbled quickly onto her parchment, never pausing. The ink dripping from her feathered pen sank easily into the paper with urgency. Professor Huxtable, their newly appointed Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and old friend of McGonagall’s, was carefully demonstrating how one conjures a perfect Patronus. Hermione, having mastered the Patronus Charm with Harry in year five, chose to ignore her hawk-like Professor. 

      “Psst. Psssst.” 

      She stopped scratching the quill onto her paper and looked rather annoyed. Ron had been trying to get her attention for the last half hour. “What is it, Ronald?!” she whispered fiercely. 

      “Blimey, I was only gonna ask for your notes when you’re done,” Ron said defensively. Professor Huxtable eyed them suspiciously, growing distracted, and her Patronus vanished into silver vapor. 

      Hermione went back to scrawling down words and whispered again from the corner of her lips. “You should already know how to do this. Anyways, I’m not taking notes.” 

      “Then what are you doing? You’ve been writing all damn lesson!” 

      She ceased her scripting again, feeling more irked with Ron than ever. “It’s a letter for Harry, you prat.” 

      “Harry?” Ron’s eyes widened with interest. “You know where he is still?” 

      “No,” she breathed, her eyes never leaving the parchment. “But Hedwig turned up in my dormitory this morning. Harry found the sword,” she muttered excitedly. 

      “The sword?!” he yelled. Professor Huxtable now had her hand on her hip, and her pointy-toed heels tapped irritably on the stone floor. Their classmates turned in unison to stare at Ron. Pansy snickered something into Blaise’s ear at the front of the class, causing the Slytherin boy to smile wickedly. 

      “Detention, Mr. Weasley,” squawked the Professor.