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Cursed by peppermalfoy

Format: Novella
Chapters: 23
Word Count: 35,337
Status: WIP

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language

Genres: Romance, General, Angst, Drama
Characters: Draco, Ginny, Harry, Dumbledore, Hermione, Ron, Lucius, Pansy
Pairings: Draco/Hermione

First Published: 10/04/2004
Last Chapter: 06/17/2005
Last Updated: 06/18/2005

Summary:

"Two summers ago .. I never told anyone about this. Not even Harry and Ron." ... "You're wrong, Father. I won't be a Malfoy anymore." ... "Don't tell anyone you know what's wrong with Hermione. Please, Potter." CHAPTER 23 is UP!


Chapter 1: of snakes and angels
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's middle name ;)

A/N: I've written tons of fanfic before but this is my first ever attempt at writing a HP-based one. Please R&R, I know it's not the best but it'll get better with each chapter! :D

***

OF SNAKES AND ANGELS
***


The name on the pristine white envelope stood out bold, almost defiantly staring back at him. Listlessly picking it off the table, he couldn't resist rolling his eyes upon seeing his name. Draco Angelus Malfoy. Whatever were his parents thinking when they named him .. after a snake and angel? Granted they just took their ancestors' names just to give him something to call but the outcome was nothing short of making him sound like a walking paradox.

Draco flipped the letter between his fingers carelessly, though uninterested in knowing it's contents. He continued making his way into the house and up the sweeping staircase into his room. Upon reaching it, he promptly tossed the letter upon the floor and flung himself onto his bed, exhausted in more ways than one. The lean blond boy stared upwards at the heavily decorated ceiling, a mixture of feelings arising from within.

'I hate this place' he thought after glaring at the intricate designs longer than intended. His hatred however wasn't a new feeling. He'd always hated the way his life turned out. After all, living the way he did wasn't exactly anyone's idea of paradise. Sure, his parents were rich, feared and influential, which rubbed off on him. In school, he had the power to intimidate and the power of money to sail him through quite easily. Yet to this boy, there was always something wrong. Something he sorely yearned but will never admit to wanting it.

He wanted to be loved. Love that he had never gotten from his parents. His father, Lucius Malfoy had been a rampant supporter of Voldemort and a highly influential member of his malicious Death Eaters. This however, the authorities finally put a stop to him no thanks to a certain Harry Potter which explained why he was no longer living and breathing in the very house he raised his only son in. Narcissa Malfoy, wife of Lucius was equally disturbing. A beautiful, spoilt socialite, she spent her time attending high tea and dinner parties fraternising with other females such as herself. Now that Lucius was locked up in a high-security cell in Azkaban, it was a rare occasion if Draco as much as caught a whiff of her perfume at home. It would be quite a surprise if she ever came home one day and asked how her son's day went. She never did.

Draco sighed and rubbed the spot between his eyebrows, randomly wondering when all the hatred was going to end. It was bad enough he had to come home to an empty, cold, unwelcoming house that summer but knowing the fact that he would soon once again be going to school with people like Harry Potter was enough to make his blood boil. 'So what if he killed Voldemort? So what if he's the bloody boy-who-lived? He's just a whiny puny halfbreed who doesn't deserve all that damned attention he gets.'

A shudder rippled through underneath his skin as he involuntarily remembered what happened before summer. Voldemort had gotten strong enough to finally assemble an army and construct an all-out war against Harry, Dumbledore and everything that stood in the way. Every single living Death Eater still loyal to him were broken out of Azkaban once again. It didn't help that even Muggles had noticed the alarming increase in riots, chaos, accidents and death. It seemed that the intoxicating power of evil emanating from the very core of Voldemort ahd seeped through to magical and non-magical folks alike, causing mass panic all over the world.

This would have been entertaining for Draco had it not been for the sudden change in him, though subtle. He couldn't explain what exactly made him refuse Voldemort's demand for him to join his father in the ranks of Death Eaters and true, he almost did become one. After seeing his father kill 30 people with one powerful curse there was without question being a Death Eater wasn't in his destiny. He may be cruel but murder was just something he would never do.

And so he ran to the very last person he would ever dream of seeking security: Dumbledore. Until now, he wasn't sure what made him do it but he was not complaining. After all, he's still alive, isn't he? Draco's heart contracted slightly at this thought. He might still be alive, but many of his so-called -'friends' weren't. Being Slytherins and having Death Eaters for parents had blinded them into thinking Voldemort was all-knowing, all-powerful and right. How wrong they were.

Sighing softly, Draco hoisted his slender yet slightly muscular frame off his bed and reached for the tossed letter on the floor. Grabbing a silver letter opener, engraved with his initials underneath a carving of two coiled snakes, he ripped open the letter and shook out it's contents. A chink of metal rolled out onto his bedsheets, the sunlight streaming through the window dancing merrily upon it's shiny surface. His eyebrows raised alarmingly high to the point of disappearing behind his long golden bangs.

He blinked, thinking it must've been a mistake.. but no. Head Boy. Him. Draco Malfoy. The new Head Boy. It shouldn'tve been such a shock to him since he'd been coveting the title of Head Boy ever since he was made a prefect in his fifth year. Now that he was entering his seventh and last year at Hogwarts, he should have known that badge was coming. But yet he had been too preoccupied with other matters on his mind, what with his father imprisoned in Azkaban and unwillingly witnessing the gruesome final battle between Harry and Voldemort in which the latter was finally banished into nothingness just a few weeks before summer began ... being titled Head Boy now just seemed so trivial.

A soft sigh escaped his lips as he stared at the badge in his fingers. It suddenly dawned on him that he didn't want to be Head Boy anymore. It all seemed so unimportant now. He realised that he didn't care for power now that Voldemort was dead and his father gone. What was the use? There was no one to control him now, no more Voldemort-controlled Lucius to make a hate puppet out of him anymore. Not quite knowing or even realising what this sudden change of heart would mean, he placed his badge and Hogwarts letter and booklist on his table. 'Tomorrow', he thought, 'I just want to sleep right now. I wonder who the Head Girl is...'

And with that, he slipped into an uncomfortable sleep filled with confusing dreams he'd been having since the start of summer.

Chapter 2: incidentally diagon alley
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's sundae ;)

A/N: Thanks for the reviews so far, I really enjoy constructive criticism though *hinthint* But anyway, more chapters coming soon if you keep on R&R-ing :D

***

INCIDENTALLY DIAGON ALLEY
***


Draco Malfoy couldn't remember a time he felt worse than a time like this. 'Well, except for that one time Moody turned me into a ferret all because of stupid Potty boy,' he thought, rolling his eyes. He knew he should be grateful to Harry for putting a stop to Voldemort and all the hysteria he caused but well, hate does not dissipate overnight. In fact, he even felt a twinge of jealousy even though he would never admit to it. Subconsciously, he wished he was the one to destroy Voldemort. He wanted so badly to exact revenge on the evil that caused his family to fall apart. Granted, they were never a happy family seeing how Voldemort's rancid influence had already consumed Lucius before he got married to Narcissa but it only fuelled his anger even more.

He almost tripped over a pebble, bringing his thoughts back to the present, which didn't do that much difference to his mood. He was in Diagon Alley, getting his school supplies as he always did every year. 'Except this year I'm shopping alone...' If only he could kick that annoying voice in his head. Yet it was true. He'd never gone school supplies shopping alone and he couldn't help but envy as he watched everyone else around him. There was Crabbe and Goyle with someone that must've been a relative since their parents were Death Eaters; one dead and one in Azkaban. An excited-looking boy who looked like he could've been a first year shot past him, followed closely by anxious yet proud-looking parents. He scowled at their retreating backs and decided to take a breather at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. Big mistake.

It was like walking into a movie made for muggle pre-schoolers. Everywhere he looked, people were sitting together with their family members in comfort, talking and laughing as though they had not one single worry in the world. 'Of course they don't, Voldemort is gone,' he thought bitterly, sourly wishing he could share this joy, yet knowing it was impossible.

He quickly placed his order and made his way to the back of the shop, choosing one of the only two empty tables left. The boy slouched backwards in his seat, closing his eyes in search of temporary relief but even that, it seemed, had to be taken away from him.

"Come on, there's an empty table at the back."

"Will it fit all of us, though?"

"Hermione, there's only four of us or have you lost your ability to count over the summer?"

"Oh shut up, Ron."

"Nice comeback, Hermy."

"Ronald if you do not keep your big, fat-"

"Quit it you two, you're always at it."

Draco groaned inwardly and slumped onto his folded hands on the table. Of course, what else could make his day other than having Boy Wonder, School Genius, Weasel King and his Weasel sister intruding on his little personal space by sitting at the next table? He tried remaining in his position, inconspicuous, hoping to avoid any confrontations with his next-table neighbours. 'Maybe they'll just get their ice creams and go-'

"Your sundae, Mr Malfoy." 'Thanks alot, Florean. Not.'

He looked up and nodded in acknowledgement, refusing to glance sideways, knowing full well Potter and company clearly heard his name being called. He picked up his spoon and absentmindedly began poking his ice cream disspiritedly.

"Malfoy! What are you doing here?"

"Eating." He replied monotonously, shoving a spoonful of ice cream into his mouth to demonstrate his point. An acid remark burned on the tip of his tongue, bad habits are just hard to break sometimes but he refrained, knowing if he allowed his habit to take over, he'd end up calling Granger 'mudblood', a word he swore to himself would never escape his lips again. He didn't know yet why but had a strong feeling he'd actually regret his words if he continued insulting everyone left and right like he used to. Regret just wasn't something a Malfoy was accustomed to and he wasn't about to start.

"What, no snappy comeback?" 'Damn that Weasel, why did he have to test the waters?'

"Oh Ron, give it up, just be glad he's not insulting you." Draco exhaled slowly, trying to remember the last time he felt gratitude for Granger and failing.

"Yea let's just hope he keeps his obnoxious, arrogant, annoying mouth closed like that throughout the whole year. Then maybe I'll start believing in miracles." 'The fact that I'm not hexing you left and right should be miracle enough, Weasel King.'

He sighed softly as he stared down into his sundae, his spoon patterning swirls in it as he stirred his ice cream slowly, appetite gone. Stealing a quick glance sidewards he quickly averted his eyes upon making contact with the muggleborn Granger's for a split second. He frowned. 'This is going to be one heck of a long year...'

Chapter 3: no surprises
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's clumsiness ;)

A/N: This one took a little longer to write because I've been a little busy with work lately oops ;p

***

NO SURPRISES
***


The train ride aboard Hogwarts Express was about as eventful as a History of Magic class. Draco had headed straight to the Heads' compartment without waiting for any of his fellow Slytherins nor did he bother shooting out any insults towards the 'Wonder Trio' when he accidentally bumped into them due to lack of concentration on his part. Instead, he merely mumbled a barely audible 'excuse me' and made himself scarce. Upon reaching the Heads' Compartment, he realised there was already someone in there. 'Probably the Head Girl', he thought as he slid the compartment door and skulked inside just as the train sprang to life causing him to fall forward flat on his face. 'Great. Just great.'

"Ugh." He picked himself up and somehow managed to dump himself along with his things onto the unoccupied seat, barely acknowledging a soft giggle directed at his earlier clumsiness. Draco finally settled into his seat and proceeded to stare out the window, mindlessly watching the scenery, beautiful as it is, whizz by as the train steamed closer and closer to their school. His mood seemed to lighten slightly though not by that much difference at the thought of school. 'At least I'll be away from that empty house ... it's enough to drive anyone up the wall, never mind Azkaban.'

"Er...Malfoy?"

The distinctly female voice broke into his thoughts and he blinked, a slight frown on his face. After a few seconds, he turned to finally cast his eyes on the other occupant in the compartment, the new Head Girl, Hermione Granger. Of course. Contempt flitted across his face for a split second before it contorted back to its nonchalant demeanor.

"Granger. Why am I not surprised."

"If you'll just keep the sarcasm to a minimum, Professor Dumbledore left both of us instructions and um .." Her facial expression became unreadable, something between disgust and mirth and something else he couldn't put his finger on. ".. you're kinda sitting on yours."

He fought hard to keep the embarrassed look off his face as he shrugged. "I know. But I figured why bother when all I gotta do is boss my way around just like you? Besides, you've read yours I suppose and it can't be different than mine now can it?"

Her balling fists told him so much more than her next few choice of words, "Ugh you're such a pain."

"Mmhm." He nodded, then waited until she immersed herself in some thick book before discreetly pulling out his instructions and glancing through them. He was half right. Dumbledore had merely given basic instructions on the proper conduct of behaviour on the train and at school. He had also included directions to his new Head dormitory and the passwords needed. Right then.

They reached Hogwarts and the Sorting and Welcoming Feast came and went in one big blur. He didn't even realise he was blindly following his house down to the Slytherin common room until a clutch at his left arm and a reluctant shout of his name two seconds later brought him to his senses. Pansy Parkinson was clinging to him and that bushy-haired muggleborn Granger had just called out his name. It took him another two seconds to realise he had a different dorm now and gladly shook his arm away from Pansy, irritated at her behaviour. 'You'd think after that whole fiasco with Voldemort and almost dying would make her avoid me. What an idiot.'

After half-heartedly explaining he had to go to the Heads' quarters (and squashing any hope of Pansy's that she would be allowed to visit), he turned and trudged along behind Granger, half-annoyed that he would be staying so close to her yet half-pleased that he would at least be far from Pansy's reaches. Minutes passed in silence and they appeared at the entrance of the common room, muttered the password and walked in. Recalling the directions in his mind, he automatically walked over to the left side of the spacious room, schlepped up the curved staircase and into his room, closing the door proudly emblazoned with the Slytherin emblem behind him, failing to hear a soft sigh somewhere in the middle of the common room.

Chapter 4: history of magic
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's smirks;)

A/N: I know this chapter is kinda boring but I've been quite inspiration-less so I decided to write a filler chapter before I start to neglect this story -gasp- hee don't worry, I won't. Thanks for all the reviews, please keep them coming! :)

***

HISTORY OF MAGIC
***


The first week of school passed by leisurely it seemed but yet, as Draco settled lazily into his chair just before class started, he was quite startled to find he was already in his second week of his last year at Hogwarts. It just sounded wrong to him somehow that he managed to let a whole seven days slip through his fingers without paying any particular attention to any particular activity. Professor Binns floated through the chalkboard and almost immediately began his monotonously dreary lecture, as though challenging himself to be increasingly insipid with each lesson. 'Why am I still taking this stupid class? Oh.. right. Bloody extra credits.'

The male blond student soon found his mind wandering, whether he wanted to or not was quite another matter entirely. He started thinking about Valentine's Day. A prefects' meeting on the night of their second day of school had shed light on some pretty vast changes to Hogwarts' school activities and despite his very verbal opinions on the matter, he was outvoted on the event that a ball of some sorts would be held on February 14th. Apparently the Yule Ball was not as popular now as it was back in his 4th year when the Triwizard Tournament had taken place. In fact, attempts to create an exact atmospheric replica of the Ball the previous year were dashed when safety became more important than being the first to ask the most popular girl out. Now, three years along, the prefects' had unanimously decided to cast out the idea of a Yule Ball in favor of one held on Valentine's Day itself. Of course, unanimous had meant his vote had fallen on deaf ears as the girls began to excitedly plan for the event even though it was almost half a year away.

His focusless gaze fell quite unconsciously on that Granger girl, sitting a row to his front and two seats away to his right. The Head Girl hadn't shown much interest in the outcome of the first prefects' meeting either and had clearly shown her distaste by pursing up her lips and rolling her eyes every now and then during the meeting. Then again, even she was unable to stop herself from volunteering to be the overall in charge of the Valentine event although Draco had a slight suspicion she only did it to feel in charge of something big.

Of course, Draco thought with a slight frown on his face, when Granger had volunteered herself to steed the Ball, she had volunteered him unwillingly. Her reason, as she spitefully revealed upon reaching their common room after the meeting, was that she didn't see any reason why she should be the only one steering the event and the Head Boy be left responsibility-free.

He had stared at her dumbfounded as she swiftly turned and walked off into her room, her stubbornly voluminous brown hair swishing past her proudly-held shoulders and down her small back. Now, he once again stared at the same unruly locks half-covering his sideway view of her as she sat in full concentration to the lesson, her lips almost ready to purse up any moment. Professor Binns had barely began explaining the sudden rise of some lord or other to become a certain influential Minister for Magic when an eager hand shot up and those same pair of lips shaped a question.

Whether or not Professor Binns replied, he didn't pay attention because a smirk tugged at his own lips. Granger had pursed her lips and such a look of concentration had contorted her features that he became rather amused. So amused, in fact, that he did not realise he had snickered out loud nor that his attention was entirely on Granger now instead of the class. Naturally, Granger's head whipped around to face him, thinking he was laughing at her question, shot him a look of pure unadulterated contempt that he was immediately shot out of his reverie.

Draco blinked and shook his head, not quite understanding what had just happened. Of course, it was a bit of a stretch to say it wasn't beyond him to always know why he did things half the time but it left him feeling puzzled all the same. He then decided to be safe and try show a little interest in the professor's boring recital and by the time his mind began wandering again, the school bell rang, signalling the end of class. Taking his time to pack his stuff back into his bookbag, he sauntered out of the classroom after almost every single student had gone.

"You think you know everything, don't you?"

He looked up. The bushy-haired muggleborn was standing a few feet away, her arms crossed with a look of disgusted impatience on her face.

"You think that just because you're a Malfoy," she spat out his name as though it was taboo just to say it, "You think you're so above everything else. Well let me just warn you, ferret boy, don't you dare try any funny business around here or I swear on Merlin's name you will NEVER live to see the end of my wrath."

Once again, as though struck by deja vu, she rotated sharply on her heels and stalked away, her hair and robes billowing out behind her. Draco stood rooted for quite some time before what happened sank in, causing yet another irrepresible smirk to play upon his lips. He hoisted his bookbag over his shoulder and walked off in the opposite direction. 'Who needs the WWN when there's Granger?'

Chapter 5: the scarlet ribbon
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's letter ;)

A/N: I really appreciate the reviews, they keep my determination to see this fic through to the end :) And yes, this chapter goes back to being all drama and angsty because I felt the last 2 chapters were too 'light' for my liking. Anyway, enjoy! :D

***

THE SCARLET RIBBON
***


The screech of hundreds of owls filled the Great Hall as the windows welcomed the routine morning post. A particularly handsome grey and white eagle owl soared into the Hall without flying all over like some of the other owls but sped straight towards the Slytherin table. A piece of rolled-up parchment fell from it's claws and onto the lap of the Head Boy.

Draco raised any eyebrow. He recognised the owl as Fidweten, one of the family messenger owls. He stared at the parchment, at the bright red ribbon securing it with a neat little bow. A sense of foreboding loomed in his mind and suddenly he didn't want any more breakfast. His whole appetite vanished as he wondered what in the world could have caused his mother to use Fidweten for he was only used when there was grave danger or worse, death within the family. The scarlet ribbon gave him no assurance either, for it meant the very same thing.

Muttering a barely audible excuse about forgetting his Charms textbook, which incidentally had been true thus saving him from further questions from his fellow Slytherins, he grabbed his bookbag and nearly bolted out of the Great Hall. Draco unconsciously headed seemingly towards his dormitory to get the textbook and also some privacy, the scroll of parchment clutched in his left hand, his right hand on the strap of his bookbag on his shoulder. Pretty soon, his curiosity mounted to such a peak that he finally noticed he was actually going the wrong way. He was instead in some empty corridor he assumed must be at the south end of the castle for he could see the lake from over the stone railings.

He set his bookbag down on the railing and hoisted himself up so he was sitting on it, half-leaning against the pillar. His fingers carefully unravelled the ribbon and smoothed out the slightly creased parchment. It was a letter addressed to him .. and yet it wasn't in an envelope nor did it have any indication as to who it was from.


Dear Draco,

You may not know who I am but let me only introduce myself as a distant relative of yours. My full identity is not of importance. However, what I am about to say is. I do hope you are seated as you read this.

Draco, your parents are dead. Your father, Lucius Malfoy attempted a breakout, unfortunately, his life was taken in the unsuccessful event. Your mother, Narcissa Malfoy has passed away to unknown causes. It is my personal belief that her death was a result of an ancient Malfoy binding curse.

It is with a heavy heart that I had to relay this message to you but someone had to do it. However, being a Malfoy, you must continue to be strong and carry on the family name, pride and honour. In fact, you are required to get married to a respected pureblooded witch as soon as you graduate so as to ensure that the Malfoy name will not diminish. And I must warn you, that whatever happens, never, I repeat never fall in love. It is for your own good.

Signed
a relative



Draco looked up, his pale eyes wide in shock. His parents ... his mother and father ... dead. Gone. Forever. He knew he should be devastated but in truth, he felt nothing. Not anger, not hurt, not sadness, not loss ... nothing. True, the news was nothing short of a shock to him .. after all, it wasn't everyday he gets letters informing him of his parents' death, but still he had expected he would feel at least liberated from the strangling evil throes of his parents. None whatsoever.

He did not know how long he spent sitting on the cold, stone railing reading and re-reading the letter, mulling over a million questions in his head but it must've been quite awhile for students began filling up the previously deserted corridor. Yet he sat unfazed, as though not even noticing in the change of population. It wasn't until a certain black-haired, snub-nosed female wearing a wrinkled expression of haught on her face caught sight of him, walked over and prodded him did he finally come back to the present reality.

"Draco dear, what are you doing here? I've missed you at Charms, where were you?"

"I-uh...wha-oh .. Pansy." He mentally shook himself a little. "Nothing I um .. what do we have next?"

"Herbology of course. Come on, class starts in ten minutes."

Pansy then noticed the parchment hanging limp in his hands and she cocked her head slightly at it. He sensed her shift in attention and swiftly stuffed the letter into his the deep pockets of his robes, sliding off the railing quickly.

"You're right, we're going to be late." He then set off in a fast pace, causing Pansy to forcefully gather her bearings and tear after him, falling in step with him, that haughty look hitched back onto her unattractive face, a slight smirk on her lips.

Draco frowned. The last thing he needed or even wanted was to have Pansy Parkinson dog his trail for the rest of the day and so hurriedly racked his brains for a way to get out of the predicament. Just before they reached the greenhouses, he stopped mid-step, feigning a look of sudden remembrance.

"Oh bloody hell, I left something behind, you go on ahead."

"You left something behind again, Draco? That's the second time today."

"Yes well I'm not perfect."

"I'll come with you."

"No! ... I mean, no you go on ahead, it won't do to have both Slytherin's best late for class now, will it?"

He'd hit the right buttons. Pansy's squashed face stretched into what looked like a grin, nodded and left. He sighed softly, shaking his head. He knew he would probably pay alot for ditching two lessons in one day but he was sure if he had to stand a whole class with Pansy hanging on to his every word he would snap. Draco slowly trudged southwards towards the lake, not noticing a certain brunette watching his actions in puzzlement before striding confidently into the castle.

Choosing a well-sheltered spot under an old tree with generous spreading branches, he threw his bookbag down and sat down beside it. The ground was soft and the grass was lush. His eyes gazed out at the vast lake, his mind running questions around the letter in his pockets. He withdrew the letter and glanced through it for about the hundredth time. Hate began forming in his heart.

'How dare they', he thought. 'How dare they force me to think about marriage right after informing me of my parents' deaths? How dare they assume they still have control over my life? How dare they not tell me this in person but use a bloody owl and a bloody letter and expect me to be okay with this? How dare they use being a Malfoy as a reason?'

He hated being a Malfoy ever since that final war against Voldemort and his supporters. He hated how being a Malfoy prevented him from being a human being with feeling. He hated how people thought the only reason he switched sides during the war was to save his own skin.

'They don't know how I feel. They don't know how horrible it is to be a Malfoy'. And it was all because of his father's ancestral instinct. 'Lucius bloody Malfoy.' He wanted so much to be glad Lucius was dead but even he wasn't quite the ungrateful child he was taught and brought up to be. Draco groaned, hugged his knees and hid his face in his arms.

'I hate you father. I hate you for dying now.'

A voice at his back startled him to alertness. "I think, Mr Malfoy..." Draco turned around to see Albus Dumbledore staring down his half-moon spectacles at him, an unreadable expression on his aged face.

"I think we owe us a talk."

Chapter 6: unwanted answers
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's pie ;)

A/N: Quite a long chapter and believe me, it was initially much more longer than this but eventually I decided to cut it in two so you will just have to wait for the next chapter if you're still unsatisfied! Thanks again for all the reads and reviews, yay! :D

***

UNWANTED ANSWERS
***


It was after dinner and the crowd in the Great Hall was gradually thinning out as students left for their respective dormitories. Draco had barely touched his pie, swallowing a bite or two only to shut up Pansy's insistence that he eat something. He did not understand why she cared, to him, she was just an aquaintance. Then again, he had made the mistake of asking her out to the Yule Ball three years ago and she had been insufferably clingy since then. He should have known she had feelings for him or he would not have asked her out.

I must warn you, that whatever happens, never, I repeat never fall in love.

It had been like that the whole day, bits and pieces of the letter swarming in his mind, poking incessantly at his brain, hungry for explanations. He shuddered slightly. 'I won't even dream of marrying Pansy .. much less fall in love with her.' Then he wondered why he'd thought of her to fill the role of his future wife. He hated her personality, her character, her voice, her attitude and most of all, he hated her in general. Then again, he hated alot so it did not really make any difference that she was on his hate list. In fact, she was the least important person he hated which was mostly why he put up with her annoying clinginess. He just could not be bothered enough with her to put her in her place.

Draco reluctantly pulled himself up to his feet and trudged out of the Hall. He needed to see Dumbledore, having agreed to meet him at his office after dinner. 'Maybe the old man has some answers to this bloody letter.' Ten minutes later found him standing outside the stone gargoyle guarding the entrance to the Headmaster's office. Only then did it strike him that he did not know the password. 'Okay, no, I know the password, it was in the stupid instructions from the trainride here .. but what was it?'

And so he tried every single password he could remember from the list. "Bobotuber pus ... golden snitch ... silver serpent ... ugh come on! Pumpkin juice! Oh, open up already you great gargoyle git!"

The gargoyle jumped aside, revealing the revolving staircase behind it. Draco blinked in amazement, then shook his head and stepped up to the staircase. As he reached the top, his feeling of anger, hurt and puzzlement returned and he knocked briskly on the wooden door separating the landing from the Headmaster's office. A muffled voice invited him to enter.

"Ah, Mr Malfoy. I was expecting you. I hope you'll apologise me for being a little slow in letting you through the gargoyle, I was a little caught up." A portrait of a kindly looking wizard behind Dumbledore gave a soft little cough as though indicating he was the one Dumbledore had been caught up with. "Please, do sit down."

"Now, I'm quite sure you know why we needed to have a little talk?"

A rush of emotions passed through him like a cold winter breeze. "I'm not entirely sure, sir. Please explain."

Dumbledore studied the young boy's face, noting the slight change in his breathing rate although he fought hard to appear as calm as possible on the surface. "Draco ... I believe there is a little piece of parchment in your pocket, although .. I might be wrong."

"Oh..." Suddenly Draco was finding it hard to breathe. This was it. Dumbledore had not wanted to see him about his cutting classes after all. The old man instead wanted to talk about his letter concerning his parents' death. He would actually get the answers he'd been pondering over the past 12 hours.

"You see, I like to keep myself updated in many aspects. Some people may define it as being nosy .. I don't doubt their assumptions. Perhaps I do get a little bit nosy when I let curiousity get the best of me. And perhaps I shouldn't because I know how well-disliked I am by certain people because I cannot control my curiousity. Your parents, Draco, could possibly be two of those people."

"You know?" was all Draco could breathe out.

A grave nod. "I regret to say that I do. It is things like this that give meaning to the phrase 'secrets should be left untold'." Dumbledore leaned forward, rested his elbows on his desk and brought the tips of his fingers together, his eyes still studying the boy over his glasses.

"Before you were born, before even your parents were born, there lived an ancient curse upon your family name, Draco Malfoy. A curse sealed by a man 11 generations before you came along. A curse activated upon his death. Some said the curse was a result of him being a bitter coldhearted man but I do believe the real reason was his wife."

"His wife was a beautiful young lady and a smart, powerful witch too. He loved her and worked hard to give her the life she had only dreamed of. They had many children and he was happy with his life. Until that fateful day when his wife was killed that his world shattered. That was when he became bitter and cold. He believed nothing was worth living for and his once-happy world turned into one of anger, sadness and hatred. And he decided that if and when his children ever got married, they would never have to experience such trauma."

"He cast a powerful curse to last 12 Malfoy generations of marriage. A curse that would kill the remaining half of each married Malfoy couple exactly 24 hours after the other half dies. A curse that would lose a Malfoy everything he ever owned and loved should he ever fall in love himself. A curse that would kill the offending partner if a Malfoy ever married a non-pureblood, for his own wife had been a muggleborn."

Draco was lost in a trance, his eyes glazed over as he slowly, painfully processed what he had just been told. A Malfoy curse! And he would be the last remaining generation trapped in the bloody curse. He seethed with anger. So that was why it had been drilled so hard into his head that all muggleborns were filth! That was why his parents had such a cold, distant relationship. Answers leapt out at him from every corner of his brain, then realised something with a jolt.

"My mother ... she died because.."

Dumbledore merely nodded.

Chapter 7: before the fire
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's uh fire? heh ;)

A/N: This is more like a part 2 of the previous chapter as I'd already explained so it would probably make more sense if you read both chapters in succession.

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BEFORE THE FIRE
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Draco could hardly remember what happened next. All he knew was Dumbledore was still talking yet no sound seemed to enter his ears. His head felt drowned, helplessly struggling against the strong current of news he had just been presented with. He finally came to his senses when the portrait of Rudolphus the Rotund loomed up in front of him. Somehow, he had been excused by the Headmaster and had walked back to the portrait guarding the Heads common room and dormitories in such a complete daze he barely knew he was doing it.

Upon murmuring the password, the portrait swung open and he climbed through. The normally cold common room was surprisingly warm and a quick glance at the fireplace told him why; a warm, cosy fire was blazing merrily, illuminating the room with its dancing orange flames. Not stopping to wonder why exactly the firewood was alight in the first place, he walked over to the couch and sat down, his light bluey-grey eyes staring into the blaze.

The moment his body rested against the soft cushioning material, his thoughts came back to him full force. His parents were dead. His father had tried to break out of Azkaban and died. And because of some demented family curse, his mother had passed away exactly 24 hours later. 'It's all so unfair!' he thought angrily. Had there not been a curse, his family would still be intact. In fact ... no, did he dare think it? Yes. If it hadn't been for the curse, the Malfoys might not have been such muggleborn-hating pureblood purists.

Draco paused. Had he just wished his family had adopted a friendlier attitude towards non-purebloods? Or would the power of Voldemort be unavoidable anyway? And why should love be involved in the curse as well? Wasn't death a curse enough to break apart any man? He was living proof of a broken man.

Yes, he was never that close to his parents ... lovers of the dark side that they were. Yes, there was once upon a time the power of evilness had tempted, enticed and seduced him to weakness, to succumb to the false glorification of being a dark wizard just like his parentage. But, he fought to impress the truth into his brain, he was not like them. He soon realised how wrong it was. He soon saw how much the innocent had suffered at the hands of his father who so enjoyed torturing muggles he would often recount his countless twisted stories with such a look of mirth and satisfaction in his eyes that it quite revolted the younger Malfoy to the core.

No. He was not like Lucius Malfoy. He had been, in fact, the one to bring his own father's downfall, leading to his capture and life term in Azkaban. From then onwards he made a silent promise to himself that no matter what happened he would never turn out to be anything quite like Lucius Malfoy.

And yet .. he was forced to live his life out just as his father had. A loveless life or he would lose everything he ever owned. He knew the curse had not only included earthly possessions and he could not afford to lose his dignity. A man's pride of course, was the one true possession he could ever own from the start to the end of his life. And he was forced to enter a loveless marriage. How he hated the very idea of it. He now knew why it would be so easy just to stay cold, heartless and cruel if this was the empty life planned out for him. All because of a failed romance 11 generations ago.

"When did you get back?"

Draco jumped slightly, his head snapping up to see that Granger was standing at the foot of the winding steps leading to her dorm room, a huge heavy-looking book clutched in her arms. His eyes narrowed. He was in no mood for small talk, especially with his sworn enemy.

"What's it to you?"

Granger rolled her eyes, shook her head and stepped down, walking over to the couch. "You don't have to be so snipey, I merely asked you a simple question."

"And you think I should give you the satisfaction of answering you?"

"No but what I would like is the satisfaction of you leaving so I can finish my homework in peace." She sat pointedly on the other side of the couch and he now noticed the several large books, quills, parchments and inkwell scattered all over the coffeetable, evidence that she had been doing her homework before he came in.

"Of course. Homework." He snorted but refused to leave. Somehow knowing the fact that he was merely sitting there greatly annoyed her gave him some sort of amusement and God knows how much he needed a distraction.

The Granger girl looked up at him, frowning. "And I suppose someone like you don't have any homework at all? But oh, I keep forgetting," she lightly placed her palm over her mouth in mockery. "You're a Malfoy, you are just too important for trivial things like homework. In fact, how come you're not already owling your dearest mummy begging for all your homework to be done by slave labored house elves?"

Her spat was too much, hitting a raw nerve that had barely stopped bleeding a few moments ago. His expression which had bordered on entertainment now melted into that of hurt and fury. 'How dare she?'

In one swift moment he was on top of her, his hand slightly gripping her neck, his weight forcing her to remain helpless under him as he stared menacingly at her.

"Don't you dare," he began, his voice a low, angry whisper, "assume things about me, Granger. Don't you bloody dare think that you know me because you don't. And as for my mother ..." His grip tightened a little, eliciting a small whimper from her. "She is dead. So is my father. Are you happy now? You filthy muggleborns can bloody well sleep at night because there sure as hell won't be another Lucius Malfoy."

He quickly released his hold on her and stormed up the stairs and into his room, leaving a confused and rather hurt Hermione Granger half-lying, half-sitting on the couch in front of the fire.

Chapter 8: at that particular moment
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's flute ;)

A/N: K well this was a little hard to write. I was quite museless for awhile which explains why this chapter is a little dragged out but I just had a hard time getting them to act uncanonly, mainly because it wasn't really time yet. I just wanted to give my readers a little teaser to satisfy you for the time being hehe hope you like this one! :D

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AT THAT PARTICULAR MOMENT
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Several weeks had passed since that fateful morning when Fidweten had delievered that letter to his last remaining master. It was now nearly Halloween and the school was abuzz with excitement. Decorations had gone up, bathing the old castle in an eerie glamour. Peeves the poltergeist who was already a tiresome nuisance on a daily basis became even less tolerable as the holiday drew nearer and the staff had quite a hard time because it was hard to control the excitable spirit.

As such, on Halloween Day itself, Peeves was his usual uncontrollable mischievous self, pelting anyone passing the corridor he was floating above with little black and orange balloons filled with nasty stinksap. And as it happened, a certain tall, blond-haired seventh-year was attacked with smelly stinksap bombs as he walked past unawares. Draco Malfoy looked up, cursing loudly as Peeves cackled manically. Narrowing his eyes, he pulled out his wand and without hesitation, recalled a little spell he remembered from his third year. "Waddiwasi!"

The effect was brilliant. The entire bundle of stinksap bombs shot straight at Peeves' face, forcing him to float away hurriedly. Smirking, Draco chanted the spell to rid himself off the stinksap and continued his way to the Great Hall for the Halloween Feast. The boy stopped at the entrance, leaning slightly against the doorframe. Quite unfathomably, he did not feel like heading over to the Slytherin table and joining his housemates for the Feast.

Over the past two months he had grown further and further apart from them, hardly spending time with them and never once had he even stepped into the Slytherin common room upon his return to Hogwarts. It was bliss at first, being ignored by them because most of them were just half-wits who couldn't bother themselves with noticing anything but their own thickheadedness and it would have continued that way if not for Pansy Parkinson.

He frowned as he stared at her from the doorway. She had been so insistent in following him around that he had actually finally told her off a week ago, saying he would rather be followed by a half-bred mongrel rather than the likes of her. Of course, the boy did not quite know there was a hidden meaning to his words but Pansy had taken it offensively and thought he preferred the company of that Granger girl and since then, she had been taunting him about it.

Draco's eyes strayed over to the Gryffindor table, his empty grey orbs scanning each face until they rested on the object of his frustration. Hermione Granger. It was bad enough that he had to share a dormitory with her but Pansy's ceaseless hateful teasing involving her was getting to his nerves. He watched as the girl laughed casually with her housemates about something or other, not knowing she was being watched. He noticed that she was seated incredulously close to the Weasel kid and for some unknown reason, that greatly irked him.

He decided quickly that he was just angered at the fact that she could find something to laugh about and he couldn't. In fact, the morning after he had grabbed her by the neck in a moment of fury she had acted like nothing had happened. True, she refused to look at him and always glared determinedly the other way if they ever crossed paths but the fact that she had not shown any vast changes in her attitude towards him had unconsciously made him think about her more than he wanted to. It did not help that he had found her crying quietly to herself on the couch one night. Draco had been having a recent scandal with insomnia and on that night, after giving up tossing and turning and wanting to sneak out and get some fresh air, he walked out of his room and down the stairs only to be interrupted by a soft sob. Upon investigation, he found the girl curled up on the couch in the cold cold common room, her face covered by that big bushy hair, her body gradually shaking with each sob from time to time. A part of him had wanted to comfort her or at least cover her with a nice warm blanket but all he did was stare at the crying girl for a whole minute before slipping out of the common room quietly.

'Now look at her, all smiles and laughter ... who would've thought little miss perfect actually does cry?' Draco shook his head, sighed softly and turned around. His appetite had waned and the appeal of the delicious-smelling Feast did nothing to him. The Head Boy retraced his steps and was halfway to his room when the temptation of the dark outdoors lured him out of the castle and into the courtyard. Choosing a secluded bench in the shadows, he sat down and closed his eyes, a feeling of restlessness overcoming him. He then rummaged through his robes and pulled out an old flute, looking it over and running his fingers lightly over the instrument. Playing the flute had been a childhood hobby of his, that is, until his father had put a stop to it. He had threatened to send him to live with their lesser-known squib relatives who lived as muggles unless he stopped "playing that infernal muggle instrument," so he did.

What Lucius never knew was every year Draco had snuck the flute into the very bottom of his suitcase, taking it out to play once in awhile. Now, the golden-haired teenage boy lifted the flute in his hands with his eyes still closed and began the blow a slow, haunting tune, his fingers expertly caressing the right notes. So engrossed was he into fingering the right musical tempo that he did not notice he was no longer alone in the courtyard. He did not see the brown-haired girl walking briskly out of the castle and into the courtyard, her arms held protectively tight around her body, her robes blowing about her in the night breeze. He did not see her stop dead in her tracks, a half-sob stuck in her throat as the sound of beautifully melancholic music tingled her ears and she looked up. He did not see her look around wildly in search of the source of the endearing sounds in vain. He did not see her step forward cautiously towards him until he came into her line of view, causing her to gasp softly.

The soft gasp was all it took for him to snap out of his reverie, his eyes fluttering open, the trails of music fading into nothingness. He stared at her as she stared at him, a battle of surprised eyeballing. He then noticed the way she held herself as though afraid of falling to pieces, making her a picture of pitiful fragility. The tearstains on her face were unmistakeable and his eyes widened slightly, wondering how she could be crying when she was just laughing merrily minutes ago. He slowly lowered his hands, discreetly tucking his flute back into his robes, his gaze never leaving hers.

It was then that realization dawned on the both of them; Halloween night and Hogwarts' Head Boy and Girl had just caught each other in their moment of weakness unwillingly. Under normal circumstances, this might have been awkward, leading to the usual childish arguments that their tempers were known to provoke, yet ... this time it seemed different. This time around, it felt like this certain situation was meant to happen. After what seemed like several minutes, although less than one had barely passed by, he softly broke the silent spell between them.

"You're crying again."

Her surprise was expected. "You knew?" she breathed.

He nodded. She bit her lip and her emotions seemed to take control over her once more as her facial expression fluidly changed to something not unlike misery. Draco watched her, a million questions running through his mind, the foremost one being why he wasn't already laughing at her for being such a crybaby and walking away, yet he pushed that thought the the far end of his mind. At that particular moment, she was just a girl and he, just a boy. He stood up, his movements slow and careful. His arms reached out to her in trepidation and she hesitated a second or two before giving in to her emotions and falling into them. A burst of tears came flooding forth and he found himself gently rubbing her back, whispering soft words of comfort.

They stood like that for quite awhile, not quite realising what they were doing but simply milking the tenderness for all it was worth, holding on to the other for the mere warmth and comfort of having someone who understood how bottled-up frustration and depression though mild as it was can be quite the devil. The clock tower rang out quite suddenly, making the boy and the girl jump apart, looking anywhere but at each other as though what just happened between them was illicit and wrong. Mumbling something under her breath, she quickly footstepped her way back into the castle, rubbing her tearstained face with her voluminous robes.

Draco stole a look at her retreating figure and sighed. Reality had returned to his senses and he could not help but wonder why, out of all people he could share such a lovely moment with, it just had to be the Granger girl.

Chapter 9: meeting of pure magic
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's balcony ;)

A/N: I had been busy with life and work lately, so sorry for not updating sooner. Also I didn't really know what to do with this chapter because this is just a filler so if it seems scattered and pointless.. well it is haha. Chapters 10 and 11 are already written out I just need to smoothen a few rough edges before I put those up ... which would be within the next week so be patient. And THANK YOU SO MUCH for all the lovely little reviews, I love all my readers I do! :)

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MEETING OF PURE MAGIC
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"...and what's wrong with pink?"

"It's too obvious! Too common!"

"There is no such thing as too obvious or too common when it comes to pink!"

"Okay, okay, you want pink fine. But does EVERYTHING have to be pink?"

"Well.. why not? It IS going to be a Valentine Ball, yknow."

"Yes, I know, but ..."

Draco shook his head. It was the first weekend of November and the Valentine Ball commitee were gathered in an unused classroom to discuss the decorations and activities for the event. It had gotten quite fine, moving fluently from somewhat agreeing on food, drinks, music and timing but when time came to discuss decorations, Granger had quickly flattened the suggestion of pink being abused as the main colour. He had to applaud her though, he could just imagine the looks of disgust on every male's face if they ever had to enter a pinkwashed Great Hall.

"Oh, this is getting ridiculous. We are not having an all-pink Great Hall and that is final!"

The meeting was adjourned about an hour later after much persuasion on Hermione's part that the Hall would look just as splendid and romantic without so much pink. Draco was greatly entertained upon seeing the look in her eyes when she uttered the word 'romantic'. He got up and made to leave as well for he had not bothered to bring quills and parchments to make notes upon. A tentative, small voice halted him in his tracks.

"Malfoy?"

He turned around to face the Head Girl.. the only other person remaining in the classroom. Her gaze swooped down as soon as his eyes fell on her and she made a big fuss out of keeping her remaining quill into her bookbag. She cleared her throat slightly as though testing her own confidence.

"Um .. you do know that .. well, you're in charge of the Ball too .. and er .. since I'm doing the decorations .. and that I'm in charge also .. and you are too .." Her scattered words faltered as she stood up abruptly and finally looked up at him, her eyes meeting his for the first time since the meeting had started two hours ago.

He said nothing, surprisingly patient in waiting for her to continue. He merely matched her gaze although he held no emotion whatsoever in his cold grey eyes. Perhaps it was this that fueled enough confidence in her to resume her spattering sentences.

"Well you are helping me decide on the decorations .. and you best be co-operative.." Her face seemed to pinken and she swiftly turned and practically ran off down the corridor, her robes sweeping furiously and her big hair flying untamed behind her.

Draco watched her leave, giving her a headstart before he too, took the same path as she did to their dormitories. He was still getting used to this strange side of Granger ever since Halloween night two weeks ago. The boy had expected her to be furious with herself for letting him see herself unguarded and would not have been surprised if she just bounced back to her normal sarcastic behaviour towards him like she always did .. yet he was still waiting for that day to come. For ever since that night, Granger had been acting quite ridiculous around him.

He had been noticing how she would be perfectly composed for example in classes, in the Great Hall or whenever she was with Potter and Weasel King but the moment he made his presence known to her, she would start fidgeting, looking around wildly, stammering through her barely-sensible sentences and quite a few times he would see a faint blush coloring her face.

Draco frowned slightly, jamming his hands into the deep pockets of his robes and shivering against the cold of the drafty old castle. He did not quite like how his mind seemed to think it would be entertaining to think about her so much but yet the more he tried steeling himself from thinking about her, the more his mind dwelled on her. In fact, these days he seemed to be thinking about nothing much other than the fatal Malfoy curse and Hermione Granger. Sure, he was aware the two heavy topics had nothing to do with each other and yet each always reminded him of the other somehow and it was a hard mind battle he had to fight each day just to survive through his classes.

Soon he was standing in front of a particular portrait, muttering of a simple word prodding it to swing open and admit him into the common room sealed within. The Granger girl was nowhere to be seen and he assumed she must've holed herself up in her room as always. A picture of her poring over giant textbooks on her bed made him smirk. It was just too typical of her if that really was what she was doing at that moment.

He made his way up the sweeping staircase but instead of turning to the left where the little winding steps led up to his room, he walked straight to the huge french windows instead and slowly unlatched a frame. His body stepped through the windows, carelessly swiping the curtains away and coming out onto the generous balcony. Not really paying attention to anything, he went over to the railings, placed his hands on them and drew in a long, deep breath. The cold night air filled his lungs, rushing through his body like some kind of frozen fire, invigorating his very being. Gently, patiently, his breath flew through his lips as he released with his exhalation all of his stress and tension that had been building up every single day. Little did he know his little actions were being observed.

A slight movement in the shadows from the corner of his eyes informed him he was not alone on the balcony that night. Someone else had already been there before him. His body became rigid for a split second before he realised that he must have been wrong about Granger being in her room studying. He nodded so slightly it looked like his head barely moved at all but it was just the right amount of movement to coax her out of the shadows.

They stood there, next to each other although with a considerable amount of space between them, quietly observing the whispery landscape and wistful night sky. The tender light of the moon half-hidden behind protective clouds lent an ethereal nature to the night. The air was thick with succulent promises of pure magic, the kind that happened not with wands and incantations but rather a magic that came from within each locked heart.

He finally turned to look at her a whole minute before the clock tower in the far distance would strike out its midnightly audio ritual. He silently observed her, a cacophony of questions in his head. He was starting to get furious with himself and wanted to know why she was constantly on his mind. 'I need to get my unwelcome thoughts of you out of my brain.' His head tilted ever so slightly. 'But you need to tell me how.'

He watched as her lips parted just a little and he knew he was making her nervous by watching her so intently and yet that did nothing to deter him. He simply looked on, taking in every single last second as though counting down to the moment the words he knew would flutter out through his own lips. And flutter they did.

"Go to Hogsmeade with me tomorrow."

The Muggle fairytale of Cinderella which he would not have known about if not for his Squib relatives came to his mind as the clock struck twelve the second the last syllable escaped his lips. He did not stay to wait for an answer or even the slightest reaction from her. An odd look flitted across his features and he turned away, through the curtains and French windows, up the winding stairs and into his room. Pure magic had indeed danced upon the night for Draco had finally uttered what had been subconsciously within his subconscious all along.

Chapter 10: crossing the lines
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's muffin ;)

A/N: A little short, I admit but this was originally written as a whole chapter together with chapter 11 and I once again, decided to chop it into two, so here you go, part one of the Hogsmeade visit!

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CROSSING THE LINES
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Tomorrow came all too soon, the bright dazzling sun washing the part of the Earth with its burning beauty. Draco Malfoy awoke, feeling the warmth of the sunrays filtering through the folds of his curtains. There he lay, quietly absorbing the morning through his closed eyes and open ears. The hearty chirrup of birds and insects alike which he never took much notice of before now pestered him for his attention. He took in a deep breath, the medley of morning scents teasing his nose and dissolving the final vestiges of sleep left in him.

After breakfast found him queuing up with the rest of the students who were allowed to visit Hogsmeade. He hardly ate, just swallowing a muffin and some juice and all the while without anyone noticing, effortlessly watching the Granger girl seated placidly at the Gryffindor table, mindlessly poking her porridge amidst bright conversation and lively laughter around her. His curiousity had peakened overnight and he became obsessed with understanding this new facet of his life.

He picked an empty carriage, managing this as he slipped away unawares from the stifling company of Pansy. Her momentary pause to look at someone and he was gone. He scowled at anyone poking their heads into the carriage as he sat there waiting. It must have been a peculiar thing to say, if he were to ever say it, that he was waiting for Her.. impossible even. And yet he was patient. She would be there, there was no doubt in his mind. He moved around in his seat, finding a more comfortable seating positing, then resumed his waiting.

And then there she was. She seemed to have entered without him knowing but yet he saw her slipping inside quietly, her movements fluid and gentle. His eyes took in the sight of her, a perfect picture of the familiar hatred he loved. How he studied her profile and how she blushed under his intent gaze, a rosy pink tinting her cheeks. Her small face half-hidden under the usual mess of thick brown curls in embarassment at being scrutinized. Her hands clasped, unclasped and fumbled upon her denim jeans-covered lap, her body, wrapped up in a loose green sweater fidgeted about ceaselessly. It was so easy to hate her and he knew he must be in love with hate. A smirk marked his lips. The carriages began to move one by one. He felt at ease.

They reached Hogsmeade and he, perhaps on instinct, perhaps acting on the fact that Pansy had just seen him and started walking over, helped Granger down from the carriage. He knew he would just love to see the look on Pansy's face but he had asked to spend the delicious Sunday with the wild-haired muggleborn Granger and Granger it was who would get his attention. He did not take his hand off her even long after she set her feet firmly on solid ground and not one word of objection leave her lips.

By midday the non-couple had progressed from sticky silences to choppy remarks to slightly civilised converations with the usual acidic sarcasm thrown in occasionally. He led them into Madame Puddifoot's for lunch. Now, seated across each other at a table for two on the edges of a delightfully-filling meal, they were talking like long-lost friends; shy and tentative yet brimming with stories to tell each other. He watched her as she spoke about elvish rights, a stubborn sparkle lighting up her face and that was when he knew. He knew why she had been constantly on his mind. Why she had been acting so curious around him. For ever since that night of All Hallows Eve, they became simply a boy and a girl in each other's eyes.

As realisation trickled into him, Dumbledore's words came to him and he frowned just a little. Oh, damn that Malfoy curse. Was he not even allowed to love someone just for who they were? The fact that love for a friend with a listening ear could quite possibly be fatal widened the rope of misery in him. It was amazing how it was only a tiny change in facial expression and yet she was receptive enough to catch it.

"I'm sorry .. I know how some people absolutely hate it when I talk about my views on elvish rights but it's just that I can't bear to do nothing when it is blatant slave lab-..."

"I'm just a boy."

She caught his eyes, puzzlement crossing her face. "Come again?"

He held her gaze, angry with himself for finally understanding why and angry with her for helping him understand without her actually realising she did it. "You're just a girl."

She let pass several minutes, just sitting there, fully facing him, trying to understand what he'd meant, knowing he was not critisizing her the way most people did when she ranted about house elves. She searched his eyes for the answer. And when she finally did, she swallowed. Hard. Guilt webbed over her face. Her voice became barely a whisper.

"Oh Malfoy..."

It was not the words floating through her lips that caught his breath. The way she had uttered them in such a gentle and caring manner would have been enough to send him into cries of shame but something else had stirred his heart. She had understood him, something that had never happened. He had been too much of a Malfoy all his life to ever have someone understand him without questions asked.

He blinked once, seized her hand and stared at it, fascinated by how soft and warm and good it felt in his cold and pale one. He looked back up at her, searching her face and finding the trust he had lost all faith in a long time ago. Right then he started to ache for that trust to belong to him. How he wanted to confide all his fears and problems, his worries and frustrations to her. It was inexplicable. His touch somehow sealed the shaky promise of trust that was carelessly built from Halloween night.

Slowly but surely, he moved closer to her. So close he could feel the heat radiating from her face where she wore a look of calmness but he was not looking at her expression. His eyes were locked with hers and right there in the deep brown orbs were pools so full of emotions it would be impossible to define her main feeling if not for the fear weaving a worried dance in her eyes. He whispered back, his open mouth so near her ear.

"I need this ..." he breathed, touching her earlobe with his lips.

Chapter 11: hermione granger
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's bedsheets ;)

A/N: This is a direct continuation of chapter 10 and uh.. that's all I have to say on this. ;x Big thanks to all who read this, it's nice just knowing people do read this :)

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HERMIONE GRANGER
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As Draco settled himself to bed that night, the day's events kept replaying over and over in his head. He could not quite get over what had happened and was almost sure that if he were to lay down to sleep, he would wake up and realise it was all just a figment of his imagination. Pulling the covers over his body, he snuggled down to a comfortable position, then turned his head to face the open window. A solitary star shone in the faraway night sky. His mind began playing a perfect memory of his day and it was almost as though he was back at Madame Puddifoot's.

Hermione had gone so stiff she vaguely resembled a glass figurine. Draco moved slightly so he could look at her right in the face. It was a war between their eyes, browns and greys searching each other for explanations within the other. Some semblance of realisation must have misted over them because they were no longer just a boy and a girl in each other's eyes. He could tell by the confused chocolate brown eyes in front of his. The girl had grown into something intricate. Something about her had bloomed in him not unlike a flower shyly maturing into a delicate form. He was the bee to this flower, needing her just as much as she needed him.

They left Madame Puddifoot's in a whirl of intensified emotions. Held hands they did not but rather walked as close to each other as possible, talking quietly all the while. Her silent promise of lending him the listening ear that he needed from her kept him patient as she began the thread by talking about her problems.

"Well, what do you mean they've changed?"

"I mean ... I just don't feel quite as connected to them as I used to all these years. And Ron ..." she cut herself off, looking into the far distance as her eyes became glassy.

Ron. That Weasel. He frowned. She had already informed him she had been seeing the Weasel King for the past year and he was not surprised that he never knew this. Why should he? He hated her. Never bothered once to take even a casual passing interest in Granger's life. But now ... how different things stood. He had become the girl's confidante just as she was about to become his in turn. She gave herself a little shake before continuing.

"I don't know what made him change but he has been so detached lately. He never really cared.." At this point she bit her lip and looked down. Her steps seemed to be carved heavily as though her feet were just blindly mimicking the pair of feet beside her. "Once, we had a little argument. It was so silly .. so stupid. I don't even remember what we argued about but oh, he was so childish! And it just ... went down from there. I tried.. I tried so hard to disregard it and pretend to .. I thought if I pretended to be happy he would stop acting like a prat and treat me better."

"He didn't, did he?"

She shook her head, her massive hair bouncing against her cheeks and shoulders. "He didn't. He never understood my needs, he's just too... self-absorbed with his thick head to notice that I'm just ... not happy."

A soft silence lingered between them for a short while as they turned a corner, taking a few calming breaths of the sweet, cold winter air around them.

"On Halloween night..."

"... he confronted me."

"He confronted you?"

"Said he'd been hearing from 'various sources' that I was with you. That I was so distant from them because I had secretly wanted to form a Dark alliance with you so that you'd be greater than Voldemort ever was. I asked him who the hell would tell him such things about me ..."

His veins tightened. "Pansy."

She nodded in affirmation and ceased talking. Thinking she was just reflecting on her bad luck with relationships, he let slip pass a few silent minutes before casting a sideway look at her, his eyes widening as they took in the tears coursing down her supple cheeks. She seemed to sense his stare for her hands quickly rose to rub the unwelcome wetness off her face.

"Something else happened..."

She nodded again, apparently unable to speak. And yet, he had to admire her strength as she took a shaky breath and her lips parted slowly. "Two summers ago .. I went to a Muggle clinic. And they warded me in a hospital for a week but .. I never told anyone about this. Not even Harry and Ron ... they had other things to worry about."

His eyebrows creased slightly, feeling the familiar sense of foreboding loom over them and he knew this was not going to be happy news. He guided her to a nearby bench and made sure she was sitting down properly before he settled himself beside her. His legs slightly apart, his elbows on his lap and his hands clasped together with his body leaning forward, he turned his head toward her, inviting her to continue any time she wanted to. And time she took. It seemed hours before she resumed in the same wavering tremble, her voice so fragile it threatened to break into a million shattered dreams.

"I am diseased with a hereditary Muggle sickness. When I first got my letter informing me that I am a witch .. my parents stopped worrying that I would inherit the sickness. They thought surely, a witch wouldn't be affected by Muggle diseases?"

She stopped again, exhaling heavily as she hid her face behind the palms of her small hands. He swallowed thickly, realisation upon realisations hitting him from all angles. So that was why she had been such a relentless studious bookworm. She had wanted to make the fullest use of her time before ... he blinked and sat up.

"But..."

Her voice was muffled and heartwrenching. "Now I have only five months left to live."

If anyone had ever doubted a Malfoy could actually have a heart, much less feel, one look at the boy right then would have quelled all doubts. His face was a picture of shock, anger and sadness all mixed up in a jumble of hatred. Hatred he had always felt and never went away. Hatred at how the injustice of diseases claiming innocent victims. Hatred at how the one girl that had recently made sense to his senses had to fall prey to disease. Hatred at how he had let so much hatred consume him before realising this was the one girl who could put him in such an emotional high and turmoil.

Draco snapped himself out of the memory, bringing him back to the present as he lay between the sheets on his bed. The star continued to shine, giving him a small glimmer of hope. He had listened as Granger confessed her troubles and he had decided to say nothing of his own although she persisted. He remembered the looks on several Hogwarts students as they visited a few favourite shops in an attempt to forget what secrets had been shared so intimately between them that day.

He showed no concern to what they thought. He did not care. Walking around Hogsmeade with her had awakened his senses and as they climbed back into the carriage at the end of the day, he finally saw her for who she was. She was not just a girl anymore. She was not just a confidante anymore either. She was his friend and the very idea of having such a friend as she had made him smile. One day, he would tell her his problems and she would in turn become his shoulder to lean on but desperate as he was to expose his skeletons, he had to be patient.

Draco closed his eyes and all worries and thoughts flew out except for one on which he fell asleep upon; Hermione Granger.

Chapter 12: his dead father
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's potion ;)

A/N: I had a hard time trying to get this chapter written down but eventually it came out a little longer than originally planned but .. well, hope you like it! oh...reviews would be nice too ;x BTW.. I can't believe I forgot this. Can anyone please help me out on something? I read a DM/HG fic here somewhere and the sad thing is, all I remember of it is that in one of the chapters there is the line "She was his." And there is a chapter where Hermione has her hair up in a braid, Draco doesn't like it, they go to Hogsmeade and stuff .. I'm trying so hard to find that fic but I can't find it anywhere. If anyone knows what I'm talking about please point me in the right direction lmao i'm dying to read it again ;x thanks! k, now i'll let you read the chapter hee.

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HIS DEAD FATHER
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Monday morning came a little too abruptly for Draco's liking and he arose reluctantly. His mind was a complete blank and he felt no particular emotion whatsoever. Sluggishly dragging his body over to the bathroom, he made to wash himself up in quick automated movements. Standing before the steamed-over mirror fifteen minutes later however, his mind seemed to awaken fully and suddenly. A strange stream of emotions, thoughts and worries drowned him and he felt himself struggle to find his own in vain. He was slipping away from himself. The more he stared at his hazed reflection, the more he began to see images in his mind's eye. He was Draco; and yet he was Lucius Malfoy.

It was indeed an aura not unlike that of his dead father that ran through his veins and for the first time in his life, he saw himself through his father's eyes. How he despised what he saw. It was not so much of the looks that revolted him but rather the knowledge of Draco that irked him so bad. Draco ... the annoyingly stubborn mule of a son who only pretended to obey orders from him. How dare he? Wasn't he, after all, his father? Did that not command respect no matter how much one might dislike to do so? He narrowed his eyes at the boy in the mirror.

"Draco Malfoy .. you are an absolute disgrace to the Malfoy name. A tarnish. You fill your head with all these whimsical fancy fantasies of yours. No doubt you have been poisoned. Haven't I told you countless times ... never associate with those beneath you. Never. They are filth, Draco. Filth. Filth that should be trodden down underneath us. They do not deserve anything. They are a waste of life, a waste of time and energy; space and attention. They deserve nothing.

"And yet ... you betray yourself. You betrayed your father, your mother. You betrayed your ancestors. How dare you, a Malfoy, smudging our pureblood lineage because you are so besotted with the idea of goodness. There is no goodness, Draco. No goodness for us Malfoys. You will distance yourself if you want to live. You will harden your heart which you have despicably softened. Draco, Draco. Such shame you bring onto your family. Shame that will make your ancestors turn in their graves."


Draco was weak, crying angered and hurt but his face showed no emotion. His eyes immobile, blankly staring from the mirror. A pitiful picture of weakness he was. Slender was his body, bare save for the white terry-clothed towel wrapped leniently low around his hips. Beads of condensed steam dotted and dripped down his naked skin. The trademark yellow hair wetly hanging from his head in a complete disarray. Yet his face was blanked, devoid of any sign of recognition to what was taking place. His pale grey eyes gazed ahead, lost to the point they resembled a pair of glass orbs and nothing more. The war in his head ploughed on, relentless, merciless.

"Don't you know what it means, Draco, to be cursed into oblivion if we Malfoys show as much as compassion to others? Why do you think we have thrived so successfully over the past century? Why do you think we command such respect be it in the wizarding world or not? Because we respect the path that our ancestors have chosen for us. We obey. We live up to the standards expected from us. Or we die.

"But you. A fledgling. A mere boy. You defy your father. You defy the natural course of being a Malfoy. You defy your blood. An utter disgrace. And you throw everything away because of a filthy mudblood. Do you want to lose everything? Everything you've ever known. Everything you've ever owned. You don't deserve to be a Malfoy if you continue to fraternize with that impure, contaminated mudblood. You will cease to befriend her. She is not even worth of being a nobody in our world. A warning, Draco. I may be gone in body because of your stupidity and lack of judgement but I will never be truly away from you while you still carry the name Malfoy."


The boy who was crumbling moments ago seemed to stiffen. Something in him had awakened, something that had been forced to remain dormant all these years. Draco was angry. Angry that he had fallen victim to his father's insults yet again. No. This time it would be different. This time his father was dead. This time ... he was not going to take everything thrown at him and stay silent. He would not accept the fact that he was useless anymore. Draco had had enough. The spell of Lucius lifted as suddenly as it came and he gritted his teeth, his fists clenching so tight that had his nails been longer there would be bloodshed. A low, guttural growl slowly seeped through his throat.

CRASH!

The mirror in front if him burst apart into a million shards. His right fist slowly lowering from the middle of the mirror. Now there was blood. On his knuckles and on the broken mirror. Yet he flinched not as he stared at his fragmented reflection.

"You're wrong, Father. You control me no more. I will befriend whoever I want to, muggleborn or not." A rebellious, triumphant smirk flitted across his lips for a fraction of a second. "I won't be a Malfoy anymore."

Draco left the bathroom to get dressed.

. . .

Potions class first thing in the morning and he was five minutes late. Snape stared at his favourite student with a look of distaste that he rarely wore for him. Draco paid no heed to this and proceeded to sit down at the first empty seat he could see. The instructions for the potion they would be making were already on the blackboard. Wearing no expression whatsoever on his face, he strode over to collect his ingredients and began making his potion while blissfully ignoring anything and everything around him. It was only when he fumbled around the desk for the powdered mandrake leaves while keeping watch on his cauldron did he shake out of his reverie. His hand had rested on another human hand. He raised an eyebrow, blinked and slowly turned to look at his hand.

There it was, a small undoubtedly female hand, soft under his callous palm. The hand, which seemed to stiffen upon his touch, started to move away as he stared at it. His eyes travelled up the robe-covered arms, the perfectly tied Gryffindor tie, the stubborn brown hair, the merest glimpse of neck and finally to the surprised face of Granger.

"What the heck are you doing here?" The words rushed out before they registered in his brain.

A mild look of amusement glanced upon her face. "Making my potion. That's basically what this class is for, you know."

He wasn't able to resist himself. After all, it had been a rather long time since he had last verbally sparred with anyone. "Well go make your potion then and please, stop leaving your hands all over. I do believe they are not part of this potion."

If he had expected a witty comeback as she had always endlessly supplicated him with, he was sorely wrong. The girl merely cast him an odd look and shook her head slightly. He was unsatisfied. Close they had grown over the weekend, that was true. But who was he to deny himself the pleasure of the war of words with her that he had subconsciously enjoyed all along? Nobody else had ever given him this pleasure, a challenge of intelligent remarks. Of course, she had once resorted to violence instead of clever cutting words but he supposed she had her reasons.

"Where are your bodyguards? Still giving you the cold shoulder?"

"What does it matter to you if I sit alone once in awhile?"

"It doesn't of course. I just like asking questions. It doesn't hurt to ask, you should know this."

"Give it a rest, Malfoy, please. I'm trying to concentrate on my potion and it is hard with you hissing in the background."

"If the two of you..." Snape's sudden voice cut through the hushed whispers that came not only from their table but otherwise forcing a dense silence to settle on the class. That distasteful look was hitched back onto his face. Clearly he did not enjoy the sight of the Slytherin and Gryffindor seated together at the back of his class. "... are quite done with your little squabbles, I should like to see some work actually being done in this class."

Granger pursed her lips defiantly but nevertheless said nothing as she went about making her potion. Draco frowned. Did she always have to use his last name when addressing him? His hatred for his family name intensified at that moment. He was beginning to see what it really was to be part of the Malfoy family tree and was he ever disgusted by his little discoveries. More and more he wished he hadn't been born as Lucius' son. Draco finished his potion in complete silence, handing over the flagon containing his finished potion to the professor at the same time Granger placed hers on the teacher's desk. Snape simply glared down at the two of them.

Sitting back down at their table after all unused ingredients had been cleared away and their cauldrons emptied and cleaned, Draco lazily tapped his fingers on the table, doodling on a piece of parchment with his other hand while waiting for the bell to ring. For some reason, the girl seated beside him found his incessant tapping highly irritating and kept shooting glares his way, her eyebrows knitted in a perfect frown. This only encouraged him to tap as loud as possible without catching the attention of the disgruntled professor.

"Oh quit it, will you?"

"No."

"Why are you so intent on being such an immature prat?"

"To make up for being mature yesterday, of course."

It had slipped out without intention and he mentally kicked himself in the head. It silenced her, though. She seemed to be mortified that he had made casual referrence to the time they had spent the day before in public ... potions class, nonetheless! Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as she looked around uneasily to see if anyone had been paying attention to their conversation. Temporary relief smoothened her face until her eyes rested on a few tables away where Weasel King and Pothead sat playing with trick wands under their desks. Her features seemed to crimp with annoyance and dissapointment and she slowly turned her face down to her lap where her thumbs lay twiddling away.

Just as he was about to make another random comment to cover up his previous folly, the bell finally sounded and she seemed ever so eager to get away from the class. Draco found himself debating whether he should give in to his father's raging demons inside him or go after her.

Chapter 13: conversations
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's tear ;)

A/N: Really random chapter. I'm so sorry it took so darn long to get this up but work has been just insane and some other things have been keeping me unbelievably busy. I'm working on chapter 14 right now so the next chapter hopefully wouldn't take so long and yes, it will be less random lol. p.s., I am still looking for that fic so please help me!! Other than that I doubt I need to say please please please read and review! :)

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CONVERSATIONS
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Yet another dinner took place in the Great Hall without the presence of a certain blond seventh-year Slytherin boy. It seemed lately he just could not be bothered to enter the Hall for meals. He hated how these meals had turned into a fussfest for Pansy. She could never get her hands off him, shooting him question after question and always hinting that he might one day allow her to enter the Heads' common room. He lost count of the number of times he shot down this idea. Pansy in his common room? What a dreadful thought.

Draco shuddered as he made his way through the winding hallways, hands jammed deep into the pockets of his robes. He replayed the day over in his mind, back to that moment where the bell rang signalling the end of the first class of the day, the end of potions for him. Granger had walked out in a huff after their usual banter and he would have gone after her too, if it wasn't for the mere fact that he just couldn't bother enough. The rest of the day had passed quite uneventfully and by the time the last lesson of the day, which was incidentally Arithmancy, he was in some sort of bored zombified daze. He barely even noticed when class ended, only snapping out of his blanked daydreams as a swish of robes and much too familiar brown hair swept past his desk and out the door.

Shaking his head and coming back to the present moment, he was just about to turn a corner in the winding castle corridors when hushed voices floated over to his ears, stopping him in his tracks. He recognized the voices .. three of them. Yes. Potty, Weasel King and that Granger girl were having a little corridor chat instead of having their dinner down at the Great Hall like the good little students they were supposed to be. Then again, who was he to judge on goodness? Draco stayed in his little spot as his ears strained hard to listen in on the conversation as he ignored every fiber of his conscience that told him eavesdropping was just wrong.

"... why you're talking to me about this, this is just so stupid!" Granger seemed to be put off about something, it was evident in her voice.

A male's voice, Weasley's, he assumed, started up next. "Don't pretend, Hermione practically everyone saw the both of you yesterday!"

Draco bit down on his bottom lip, a flood of unknown emotion washing over him. So this was about their Hogsmeade trip. It became clear to him now, Scarhead and Sidekick thought he'd done a number on their little librarian and somehow forced her to spend the day with him. He shook his head, laughing silently at how ridiculous the idea seemed. Even if he did still hate the muggleborn, why would he waste his time enthralling her to be with him? It made no perfect sense but he supposed this was normal seeing how the idea stemmed for the thick redhead.

"... cuddling and holding hands and who knows what el-"

"RONALD!"

He had to clamp his hand over his mouth to fight down the immense laughter in him. Well, Weasel King sure sounded a little jealous right there. It was pretty obvious that the redhead had not even seen him and Hermione and was merely going by what people had told him. Draco stopped listening and slowly walked back the way he came, taking a different route to his common room. Once there, he brought his body over and down on to the couch in front of the unlit fireplace. Staring at the slightly blackened logs, his mind drifted to the day before, revisiting random moments of his first Hogsmeade trip of the school year.

Weasley had been partly right. Yes, they held hands but that was only when he helped her down from the carriage when they got to Hogsmeade. There was absolutely no cuddling and as for the "what else", well, Draco allowed himself a laugh now that he was all alone. How ridiculous, really. Why would he, Draco Malfoy, even want to cuddle with Granger, much less getting involved in "what else" activites with her? Weasley must have not gotten over her if he was still having these jealous ex-boyfriend spasms now and then. Plus, including him in his jealous trips would just prove fruitless.

Or would it? Draco could barely think straight when it came to her upon their return from Hogsmeade, he would not deny that she was the constant thought on his mind since then. Just exactly what was it about the girl he could not figure out. 'Maybe I just pity her for having that awful disease.. must be really tough knowing when you're going to die..' He shuddered lightly. He had witnessed enough deaths during the Great War as the battle against Voldemort had become widely known as. Seeing the Thestrals for the first time as they captained the carriages into Hogwarts brought him no comfort either. Death ... it was just this expanding vacuum that sucked him into depression. Nobody knew of his internal battles with depression over the summer after the Great War.

Death. Hermione Granger was about to fall victim under Death's merciless claim. The door to the common room reopened and just like fate, Granger stepped in. Draco turned his head and simply let his gaze rest upon her. Death. It was all he saw now as he took in the sight of her too-big robes, her soft brown eyes, her hair. The hair he had made so much fun of in the years he had known her. The hair that had somehow became trademarkedly Granger, the one thing he had grown to look for in crowds during the days when he still taunted and teased Potter and his little gang. He became painfully aware finally that while he had been mulling over her hair, she had slowly taken careful steps towards him and was now standing next to where he was sitting, him now looking up at her.

"Your hair..."

A look of pure confusion rippled over her face as an eyebrow lifted slightly. "What...?"

He stood up, his movements gentle as he reached out and took a lock of her hair in his hand. Amazed he was at the softness and vitality he felt. Another unknown emotion swept over him, strong enough to force him back to his sitting position but he stood fast, completely bewitched at the magic of the hair in his right hand.

"Malfoy...?"

He rubbed a rough thumb against soft chocolate-coloured strands, not answering her query at his strange actions. She wouldn't understand. No, correction. He did not understand. He did not understand at all. How could something so beautiful, so vivacious, so full of life, be so ill-fated? It made no sense and he hated it. His eyes traveled upwards to her face, silently watching her mounting confusion and reading the question in her eyes. Death. Pooling right there in the middle of those almond-shaped orbs. On her supple pink cheeks flecked with careless freckles. Across her lush lips resembling two sun-drenched red rose petals. Death. They said everything, good or bad, loved or hated, must come to the ultimate end. Death. The only real friend he had finally made at Hogwarts after all these years of pure hatred. Death. Her face contorted to one of mild surprise and concentrated worry. Her own small hand rose up to his cheek and he felt a warm finger gently brush a tear he did not realise had fallen from his eye.

"Why?"

She made no effort to show her confusion, tilting her head slightly and openly staring at him. "Malfoy, what's wrong?"

Irrational anger came upon him and he grimaced. "How could you?" he whimpered just before his feet swept him away from her and up the first flight of stairs onto the landing separating the two bedrooms. Instead of heading to his room however, he unlocked the french windows and stepped outside to the balcony, a blast of cool night air hitting him in the face. He heard tentative footsteps behind him and paid no heed, the crazed bottled anger still swirling around in him. He growled inaudibly as he felt her hand softly settle on his shoulder. If he thought that slap back in third year was her boldest statement on him, he had thought wrong. Here she was, blatantly touching him and acting as though there had never been anything remotely wrong between them. He hated to admit it though, her touch calmed him down somewhat and he was able to refrain himself from sniping at her as she stood close beside him, her palm still resting comfortably on his shoulder.

"How could you?" he repeated with a slight shake of his head, his tone resembling that of a defeated man.

"How could I what?" He wanted to cry at her patience.

"You! Telling me you're going to die after ... do you know how hard it is for me to make any friends at all? Do you know how much you've affected me in so little time? I NEVER let anyone get to me and yet YOU ... you somehow got to me and then you ... and you're going to ... how could you, Granger?"

"Oh Merlin..."

"I could've just walked away you know, I have so much to lose ... so much to lose if I even as much as befriend you but here I am, talking to you and knowing the one thing about you that you have not even told your best friends. Here I am at your complete mercy. Here I am, about to lose just about everything I have ever owned because I am in love with your friendship that I have NEVER gotten from anyone else. Here I am and here you are and then you're not. So how could you? How could you do this to me?"

She was livid. "I never asked to die!"

"Well neither did I!"

They stared at each other, caught up in a moment of pure frightening silence. And when she spoke next, her was voice dripping with curiousity and worry yet again.

"You are not dying, Malfoy.."

"You don't know that ... you don't know anything."

"Tell me then," she replied, her strong unbreakable stare boring into him, challenging him to let her return the favour of being the listening ear.

And so he did.

Chapter 14: one step forward
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's hug ;)

A/N: well I did say it wouldn't take so long to put this up! Not exactly one of my favourite chapters I find this one a little too rambly despite its shortness (Yes I am fully aware how short this chapter is but it just can't be helped!) but nonetheless it had to be written so here it is. Enjoy!

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ONE STEP FORWARD
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It seemed to Draco that forever had passed since Granger and him had stood on the balcony when it was only over an hour ago. She had asked and he, after a long silent debate in his mind, surrendered the story of his family curse to her. She had listened carefully, giving him her fullest rapt attention as the twisted tale of ancestor Malfoy came tumbling forth from his lips. She was scared, there was no doubt Draco could feel the heat of her fright from the close proximity of the positions in which they were standing in. He could feel every thread of emotion weaving through her and it made his own physical and mental self respond in ways he had no control over.

A long yet somewhat soft silence ensued as he concluded his little storytelling session, trailing his voice off into nothingness. His mind fell into thought and he knew she was succumbing to the same thing. Silently, he wished he had mastered the skill of Legilimency but the moment he thought it out, he quickly banished it from his mind. No. Interfering with magic was always bad, he had had plenty bad experiences to learn from. Her whispery voice came flowing out of her lips in a tone that proved to him just how weakened she was by what he had just told her.

"Is there no way around it at all?"

"No, I ... hadn't thought of it ..." He paused. Why hadn't he thought of it? Why hadn't he searched feverishly for ways to counter the curse and escape death and disinheritance? Why had he readily accepted his ill fate without a second thought? Then the answer came to him. Of course. It was so obvious. "I mean ... don't you think the past eleven generations of Malfoys have tried to escape this curse?"

She nodded and he found himself relaxing slightly as though her nod was an approval he had been waiting for.

"I never knew ..."

"Neither did I ..."

She pursed her lips. The simple gesture comforted him for some unfathomable reason. He put it down to familiarity; he had been so used to seeing her purse her lips in anger at him although at that moment there was anything but anger in her expression. Instead, her face held a sense of calm serenity with a tinge of worry that had been the theme of the night.

"Malfoy ... can I ask you something?" He nodded, she paused. "Why, after all these horrid years ... why do you seek my friendship now?"

He had no ready answer for her and the more he stared at her, getting lost in the complex vortex of the soul in her eyes, the more confused he became. Why did he? Why her? What was so important about befriending her? And it came back to him. That terrible night. That fateful night. He swallowed hard and looked away at the distant stars twinkling innocently in the night.

"Do you remember ... the night after the end of the Great War? After Potter destroyed You-Know-Who and the remaining Death Eaters went on a rampage until they were almost all destroyed by each other? I had fought on your side, the good side and when I came home ... my father was there. He was furious with me for betraying him and the Dark Lord. You might not remember this but he had seen me jinx and hex several Death Eaters by your side when Weasley went down and Potter got engaged in a battle with You-Know-Who. He saw how much harder I fought when you were taken down yourself although at that moment all I wanted was to hurt as much of the Dark Side as possible. I had no other intention.

"When I came home, he confronted me, asking me how dare I, as a Malfoy, fight alongside a mu-ggleborn. Well, you can just imagine the names he'd used but I won't repeat them. He questioned my family pride and when I spat and told him I had none anymore whatsoever, he was livid. He accused me of being a traitor to family and I suppose that's just about accurate. He threatened to bring you down because he refused to see any other reason other than you putting me under the Imperius Curse just so I would do your bidding and help destroy the Dark Lord.

"I was pissed, basically. My father was never the rational one, always making impulsive false accusations but for some reason, that night he had gone too far. My tryst with the Good Side had come from no one but myself and to blame it on you was just preposterous. See, I won't deny I admire your skill because for a muggleborn witch you are exceptionally excellent. I for one, didn't want to see you get hurt by my father's crazed assumptions. He was already severely hurt during the Great War and I knew he was not up to par but I didn't give a damn.

"I ended up sending him to Azkaban and from then on I swore to myself that no matter what I would never turn out to be like him. I wanted to change, I wanted to be different from the Draco Malfoy I used to be. And most of all, I craved for friends, real friends. I wished for someone to understand me and never in a million years did I imagine I'd get it from you. You have to realise I did not plan this out, I did not come back from this horrible nightmare of sending my own father to prison thinking 'oh let's make friends with Potter and gang!' I still loathe Potter, I still dislike Weasley but you were different."

Draco blinked quickly and slowly turned around, leaning back against the railing and looking at her square in the eye. She was a picture of fragile loveliness that not even Rembrandt, known for his angelic portraits, could even paint right then. More than anything he wanted to be her shelter from the imminent death that was encroaching on her with each day and he sighed softly at its impossibility.

"I guess to put it simply you became the one good thing in my life since I came back to school. You became my source of welcomed distraction from my private woes although you didn't even know it. All those times we had to go patrolling together or when we had to attend prefect meetings and all we did was banter back and forth ... I reveled in those witty sarcastic comebacks you always supplied me with. And then I saw you cry. That was when it started. I saw you as a person instead of just someone to provide me with verbal entertainment."

His voice dropped down a notch, his eyes searching into hers for what he did not know. "Then Hogsmeade happened..."

"Hogsmeade..." She stepped even closer to him, amazement flitting over her face. "It finally started at Hogsmeade ..."

He gave her a faint nod, taking great notice of the minimal space between them and the fact that it just felt completely natural. He was at ease with their position and from the way her body language was moving in a relaxed manner, he could tell she was the same way.

"So we're friends now? After all those years you were completely horrible to me and my friends?"

"I suppose an apology is on the cards .."

"A full-out apology ..."

"I do owe you a big one ..."

"Yes, really big ..."

A moment of pause, then bright laughter bubbled forth from both of them. It was unknown what the cause might be, for nothing obviously funny had happened so Draco put it down to an outlet to relieving their mounting stress due to their own separate miseries. He had not really laughed for the longest time, not being able to find anything truly funny to laugh at. He shook his head and smiled at her, taking in the sight of the way her eyes lit up when she laughed; how her face shone as she laughed. Her crazy hair suddenly did not appear so crazy anymore, if anything it only added a certain zesty bounce to her appearance. He leaned in and gave her a quick tight hug.

"Goodnight, friend," he whispered and pulled away, giving her a playful salute before stepping out of the french windows and making his way into his room to retire for the night.

Chapter 15: quidditch glitch
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's ancestor ;)

A/N: okay I really have no excuse this time, I was just too lazy to write and no I have not forgotten about this story. I've just been a pig lately. Oops, please forgive me? ;)

***

QUIDDITCH GLITCH
***


The cheers that erupted from the stadium at Madame Hooch's whistle were tremendous, voluptuosly supporting their chosen team in unison. Flashes of red, gold, silver and green shimmered from the audience, banners, scarves and hair furling and unfurling in the wind. The bright sun-drenched sky amidst gentle winds made silent promises for an enjoyably good and thorough Quidditch match between the Gryffindors and Slytherins. The expectations and moods were high as Seamus Finnigan, who had taken over Lee Jordan, cheerfully began commentating the game.

Draco, who had only moments before shook hands with Potter as was tradition for the captains of both teams before starting the game, hovered in the air. Bludgers whizzed past him, narrowly missing him as he cleverly dodged them, his eyes keenly searching the surroundings for the Snitch while keeping watch on the game score. Slytherin were down by two hundred points to Gryffindor and he needed to make sure his team manages to score at least sixty points if they wanted to win the match.

An explosion of cheers and jeers forced him out of his calculations to realise that Slytherin had nailed the first ten points. He allowed himself a small smile, slightly pleased that they had scored less than five minutes into the game. However, it takes only a moment for things to happen and things indeed happened very fast. A bludger that Draco failed to notice, rushed madly at him, beaten by Crabbe who had been aiming for Potter who was flying by just behind Draco at that moment. The scarred boy however, was quick and sped off before the bludger could do him any damage and just as luck would have it, Draco had unknowingly moved into the oncoming bludger's path.

"NO, MALFOY MOVE, BLUDGER!"

Draco turned at Crabbe's cry, just in time to feel the heavy object ram hard into his left shoulder, losing him his balance. He swaggered and fell off the broom, spiralling downwards some thirty feet. He had barely time to register the scream in his head came from his mouth when his vision clouded over and everything went black.

...

His eyes were closed when he roused from his stupor. Slowly, his hand reached out to gingerly touch his injured shoulder. This mere movement caused him to blink open his eyes, a look of surprise on his face. Where a huge bruise and undoubtedly horrific pain should have been, his shoulder felt completely normal. In fact, he did not feel hurt anywhere on his physical body as far as he could tell. He frowned as his eyes continued staring up at the sky. 'The sky?' Draco sat up, looking around him. He was still in the middle of the Quidditch field where he had fallen off his broom and yet there seemed to be not a single soul in sight.

'Why am I not in the hospital wing already if everyon's gone?' Draco paused, a new worrying thought crossing his mind. 'Oh God ... did I die? Is that why no one's around?' Still, as soon as he thought that, Draco scoffed at his own thoughts. Him, dying from a fall just seemed perfectly absurd. 'Whoever heard of anyone falling from a broomstick onto soft ground and dying?'

Draco got up on his feet, squinting his eyes as he slowly looked around once more. The light seemed unnaturally bright and it hurt to stare at any one spot for too long. 'Damn this light ... I'm starting to see things ... or am I?' He squinted even harder, one hand over his eyes shutting out some of the glaring light. Somewhere to his distant right, something or someone seemed to be moving, although whether it was towards him, he could not tell. He turned and with his free hand, gave a tentative wave towards it.

"Hey.. HEY! Is anyone there? HEY, OVER HERE!"

The thing, whatever it was, picked up on Draco's cry and came towards him with unearthly speed. The light was just too bright, blurring his vision greatly but yet Draco could make out the slight outline of a man in robes although just barely. The man stopped suddenly just a few feet away from Draco, who now beheld an expression of pure confusion. There wasn't a single staff in Hogwarts that Draco had yet to see or meet and yet this man who looked a little over forty years was not anyone Draco had ever seen. Yet, there was something strangely familiar about him, something intricately ... similar.

"Draco Angelus Malfoy ... I've been looking forward to meeting you."

The blond teenage boy gasped lightly. How did he know his name, his full name nonetheless? He was sure nobody knew of his middle name save for his parents and some of the teachers of Hogwarts. Surely, this man must have known either of them to know his full name.

"Who are you?"

"Who am I, indeed? Why, Draco. Have you so readily forgotten your own ancestry? Then again, you did not care that your parents are dead..." The man trailed off, casually bringing his hands up and pressing his palms together.

He was outraged. "That's not true, how dare you make that assumption!"

"Oh I dare indeed, young one, especially if it is true. Did you not renounce your own family name to your dead father's echo?" He waved away Draco's utter surprise with an impatient gesture of his hand, then placed a finger of the same hand to the corner of his mouth. "Who I am, is not important. What I'm about to tell you however, is very important, my boy. Especially if you want to live."

He waved his hand yet again. "Take a seat."

Draco raised an eyebrow and was about to make a snipey remark on where he was supposed to sit when he realised that chairs had materialized behind them and that the man had already occupied his seat quite comfortably. Draco sat down gingerly, thinking how crazy it must have looked to be sitting on an armchair in the middle of the stadium. The man nodded approvingly.

"That's better now, isn't it? Now. Listen carefully dear boy and you might wish you hadn't so clumsily decided to give up your duty as a Malfoy."

"In a time and place not so far from here and now, a young wizard as foolish as you might turn out to be, married a muggleborn witch. Oh she was beautiful, yes, exquisitely so. She was intelligent and witty and had an impeccable charm to her. Diana Sunev was her name, Diana Malfoy she became. The young wizard was ecstatic, having acquired such a witch for his wife. And they were happy for quite a spell, living out their married life to the fullest as one would say. Diana gave birth to six beautiful babies who each grew up to be just as enchanting.

"It was the perfect life a man or wizard could ever want. A beautiful loving wife, a lovely home and half a dozen children who had all grown up on familial trust and affections. Yes, it was a picture of perfection and this wizard could not have wanted anything more. He had everything in his life and needless to say, his family was the right playful envy of their social circle and quite possibly the wizarding community. You see, the wizard Malfoy, as it has always been, was an important figure in the wizarding world. Having inherited from his ancestors the wealth a Malfoy has always had was no secret."

The man paused, drawing a long, deep breath and even though Draco knew what was coming, he had fallen into silence, patiently waiting for the secrets of the ancient curse to be fully revealed to him.

"Now, all good things must come to an end. The wizard knew this and he was well prepared for it, except for the impact and how soon it all happened. His wife, his lovely Diana was murdered, brutally it seems, while out and about in the muggle world. His wife was taken away back to the muggle world from which she had come from. All she left behind were her six children with him. As I have mentioned before, this wizard was foolish. He might have led the perfect life for the twenty five years that he was married but he was still the same foolhardy boy he had grown up to be. It was a trait of his to make reckless plans irrationally and without Diana to talk him out of his mindless capers, Malfoy was once again his old self.

"A month of grieving over his wife and he finally realised she was never coming back. She would never again sit by his side in front of the fire on cold winter nights. He would never hear her angelic voice as she sings her hymns as she went about her work. His irrational side took over, the devil within deciding to put the blame on the entire muggle society. He hated how he had let himself fall so deeply for a muggleborn witch. He gathered his children before the fire one night and gave his manical warning.

"He warned his children against impure marriages, against love. Love which had been the fatal cause of it all. Love which had brought about all his misery. He warned his children to stay far away from muggleborn witches and wizards, telling them to build an empire of purebloods. He warned them to never let any mudblood get in the way of their lives if they did not want to suffer the same fate that he did. He told them to heed his warning as he would not be around to tell it to them much longer. The wizard then raised his wand, casting an immensely powerful dark curse upon his bloodline. He swore it for twelve generations, knowing for certain in his unreasonable mind that after twelve generations, Malfoys would still be making respectable pureblood marriages in his honor. He was sure of it.

"Then he died, his curse having affected him as well for his wife had after all, been muggleborn. His children, seeing the true impact of their father's words, had no reason to pay no heed to the curse. So it has been, for eleven generations of Malfoys now. An empire of purebloods. Until now."

The man stopped, raising his heavily-lidded eyes to stare piercingly, almost challengingly at Draco, who swallowed thickly. There was no doubt in his mind now that this man sitting so casually in front of him was the crazed wizard in the story. Somehow, the man had found a way to preserve his memory to give this warning to him. He closed his eyes, his head suddenly throbbing. He placed a hand up on his temple and slowly opened his eyes yet all that greeted his sore eyes was the unflinching glare of the unnaturally bright light. He shut his eyes tight, the dull ache in his head growing bigger each moment. He was then aware that his whole body had begun to ache and hurt in different ways. A soft moan of pain wheezed through his lips and he curled himself up as tight as he could, bringing about a greater wave of pain.

Yet, amidst all his suffering at that moment, a name burst clearly into his mind. His middle name, in fact. Angelus. 'Yes. Angelus. It must have been his name...'Draco blacked out once again.

Chapter 16: revelations in the night
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's pain ;)

A/N: here i come dressed as santa and bearing this chapter as my gift to you faithful readers ... heh heh heh ..... oh merry christmas everyone :')

***

REVELATIONS IN THE NIGHT
***


The sunlight, though dim as it was filtering through the heavy clouds, hit his eyes hard as he slowly opened them. Draco blinked his eyelids several times, forcing himself to get used the light. Judging by the orange tinge to the quickly-diminishing light, he figured it was either around sunrise or sunset, though which he was not quite sure. Sterile white beds laid out in front of him and to his right, the cold stone wall of the hospital wing to his left. A wave of smells fought for the attention of his nose, pungent and antiseptic smells of potions used for ill-healing and wound-cleaning. Light flowery scents accented the air now and then from the small vases of fresh brightly-coloured flowers accesorizing the little tables beside each bed.

The sound of footfalls in the distance snapped Draco to focus and he turned his head to his right towards the huge double doors of the infirmary. A second later, the door opened slowly and a small familiar figure advanced towards him. A slight smile peeked from his lips as Hermione Granger came closer, a full tray of something in her hands. His small smile mirrored itself on her face as her lips too, carved a smile in return. She set the tray down on his bedside table.

"I had a feeling you'd wake up today," she started, lowering her body down onto the chair beside his bed. "I took a chance and brought you some food in case you got hungry."

"That's ... nice of you, I ... wait, did you say today?" She nodded. "Exactly how long was I out?"

"Oh, about a week. Well today would've been a total of eight days so I would say seven and a half days."

So it was just after sunset, the last feeble rays of light had only just disappeared from the sky moments ago. Draco frowned slightly, thoughts filling his head. A barrage of questions surfaced and danced on the tip of his tongue and yet he could not find the right words to shape them. What he did manage to ask instead was a weak-sounding, "why aren't you at the Great Hall?"

"I had a heavy lunch," she shrugged lightly, then tilting her head a little as she studied him. "How are you?"

He watched her eyes roam over him, taking in the sight of the half-healed bruises visible, the little worry upon seeing them reflected in her eyes. "I'm ... alright. I suppose. I'm awake aren't I?" he smiled lightly.

"Well yes, but you were out for a week! Nobody was sure when you would wake up, Madam Pomfrey was quite over her head worrying about you and casting about a million protection and healing spells to heal what she could. But she says you won't be properly healed until you wake up and drink a potion or two. It was quite a big fall and you hit your head, not to mention that bludger did something nasty to your shoulder."

Draco focused his attention to his right shoulder, moving it just a little to assess the damage done. His face scrunched into a grimace. That felt like a whole lot of damage. Granger's eyes widened. "Is something wrong?"

He shook his head and she nodded. "I also took the liberty of noting down all your homework so you can get right on them when you are .. you know, in a better condition to study."

This caused him to smirk. "You never give up on it, do you?"

"You know your studies are important, especially now, we're having our NEWTs this year!"

Her adamant remark only sent him into fits of chuckles, taking in a sharp breath as his shoulder protested strongly. "You amuse me ... so much."

"Apparently," she huffed, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Could I have a drink, please?" He smiled.

She rolled her eyes and went about pouring some water into the goblet on the tray. He slowly sat up with a little help from her, righting the pillow up against the metal bedframe and fluffing it so he could lean against it. Accepting the goblet from her he drank slowly as she continued her little ramble on schoolwork and the lessons that he had missed out on, reckoning he could do with a little coaching to get him right back on track. He listened to her babble quietly, nodding a little now and then, all the while watching her animated one-sided conversation.

His mind began to wander and for a moment, it felt as though his eyelids were drooping. A faraway voice warned him of the iminent danger he was in, insisting that he did not get too close to the filthy mudblood. His eyes flew open at the mention of the word.

"Who said that?!"

Granger backed up in her seat, gazing at him in a stupefied manner. "I was just telling you about the memory charms you need to read up on .."

"No, no, no!" He shook his head fervently, ignoring the sharp pain it brought about. "That voice, that word! Who said it? Who insulted you?"

"Nobody..."

"But I heard him! I swear, he called you a m-"

"Malfoy..." She started, her voice small and almost afraid. He turned to look at her, his vision blurred by the magnifying ache in his head. His blurred vision made her appear more angelic than she really was. "Malfoy ... there's nobody else in here ..."

Draco stopped, wincing as his head began pounding and he lowered it into his hands. "Oh God ... oh God, I'm hearing voices.."

"I think you need to lie down ... you're not properly healed yet ..."

The last thing he remembered was feeling a pair of gentle hands coaxing his body to lie down, smoothing the covers over him in such a loving manner. A coma-like sleep overtook him just as he thought how great it would feel to be loved like that always.

...

When he woke up next, it was dark. The only source of light came from a small flame dancing merrily upon a solitary candle standing on a nearby table. Madam Pomfrey came bustling out of her quarters, smiling sternly at him as she cheerfully talked about swallowing a potion or two as though it was the most normal thing to do. All he could do was sit up slightly to accept the vile-smelling goblets from her and drinking up the fluids. He stuck his tongue out, scrunching up his face in disgust as she went disappearing back into her quarters. A slight movement to his right caused him to slowly turn his head, paranoia flitting across his mind momentarily.

It ceased quickly however, upon seeing the small mound of a body curled up on the chair next to him. A thick curtain of hair veiled the person's face and upon the sight of the hair, relief replaced his paranoia. It was none other than Granger, though why she was sleeping on a chair next to him in the hospital wing instead of her comfortable Head Girl dormitory was beyond his understanding. He merely watched as her upper body gently moved with her slow breathing. Remembering the odd voice in his head earlier, he frowned slightly and hesitantly, reached his hand out.

Fingers gradually came in contact with hair and with gentle movements, he lightly ran the tips over the surface of her curls. As though sensing his touch, the girl stirred from her sleep, her eyes blinking drowsily beneath her dark tresses. He moved her hair out of her face, smoothing back the strands and carefully tucking them behind her ear while she gazed at him in amazement. It was plain that she rather disbelieved that he was quite capable of such a docile action, more so that he was doing it to her.

"Hermione ..." he murmured, as though testing the way her name flowed on his lips.

She drew a light gasp. "Dr.. uhh, yes?"

"Why are you sleeping here?"

"I fell asleep waiting for you to wake up again."

He nodded slightly, not really caring what she said. "Hermione ..."

"Yes...?"

"We are doomed aren't we?"

"No, I don't believe so."

"How is that possible? We're dying."

"Death is not really all that bad. It's really an end to all suffering, don't you agree?"

"I don't know what to think anymore."

"Why do you think so much?"

"I can't help it, everything reminds me of the curse. Then everything reminds me of you."

"... why do you think of me?"

"Hermione ..."

"Yes ... Draco?"

"I think I might love you..."

Chapter 17: her name is hermione
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's card ;)

A/N: Eep! I know, I know. It's been AGES since I last updated this story. There's a reason for that (btw I'm sorry this chapter is so short!) The truth is, I recently broke up from a relationship that was going nowhere just before Christmas '04 and I was feeling rather loveless for a long time. Part of me wanted to give up writing this since well yeah it's a romance fic of course. Luckily for you readers, I decided not to trash it but wait until I felt good enough to write again. So I am back, have no worries, this story will definitely continue until it's finished. Err..as for my other story, eheh I'm taking my time with that so do forgive me ;) lotsa love - pepper xox

***

HER NAME IS HERMIONE
***


Three whole days passed by before Madam Pomfrey reluctantly agreed that Draco had indeed fully recovered and was to be released from the hospital wing and back into the hustle and bustle of the school. He thanked her, something he had never done before in all his times spent there, gathered what little get-well-gifts he had received and made his way to his dormitory, disposing them haphazardly onto his bed. One of the cards fell open upon hitting the bed and his eye caught sight of the signature. Slightly raising an eyebrow, he picked the card up and sat down on the edge of his bed gingerly.

It's strange how lonely it gets in the dorm without your snarky comments. Get better soon. By the way, Merry Christmas.

hermione granger


"...merry christmas" he muttered the words out in a low whisper and snorted. 'Hardly merry was it, being unconscious at Christmas ... having no family to go home to anyway if I wasn't. Bah humbug.' He released a soft sigh and stood up slowly, leaving the card on his bed along with the other items. His bookbag lay as he had left it, on the floor next to the bedside table. Packing his bag according to and getting ready for his classes for the day, the boy cast the card one last look before striding out of the room. His entrance to the Advanced Charms class was met with immediate murmurs and excited whispers. Professor Flitwick almost bounced himself off the tall stack of books he was standing on at the sight of the blond student.

"My apologies for my tardy, sir. Madam Pomfrey only released me from the infirmary barely a little while ago."

"Oh no, dear boy, it's quite alright. I do hope you're feeling well enough to pick up on the lesson so far!" The little professor twittered, making enthused little movements with his wand such that bright little sparks flew from the tip. Upon noticing this, he proceeded to busy himself with trying to calm his excitable wand with random mutters such as "oh! oh dear me, dear me!" heard every two seconds.

Draco smirked to himself, amused with the professor's flurried actions. Scanning the room quickly, he walked over to the only empty seat available which just happened to be right next to Pansy Parkinson. A wide grin appeared on her face and it was all he could manage to ignore her instant incessant questions and babbling. The charm that Professor Flitwick had set the class to work on was complicated yet something he could achieve without much effort. There was after all, a reason why he was made Head Boy but lessons were not the only thing on his mind. Apart from trying to block out Pansy's annoying voice and focusing on the charm, his mind was painfully picking apart memories of which he had been trying hard to push to the back of his mind.

"...and now that you're back you can keep Crabbe and Goyle on their leash, they've been so annoying, following me around and asking me when you are getting back. Oh it's been ever so lonely without you in classes and meals. It's lovely that you're back though, I've been meaning to tell you about the other day..."

"Hermione ..."

"Yes ... Draco?"

"I think I might love you..."


He frowned. 'Don't remember it, don't start remembering it ... oh hell, why can't I stop remembering it?' Mentally kicking himself, he waved his wand with a trifle more vigour than he meant to and a bright green flame erupted from his wand tip. He blinked and quickly muttered the counter-spell to extinguish it. So much for concentrating on the charm.

"I'm ... I'm sorry, did I hear you right? Because I thought I heard you say that you ... ahh, never mind..."

"You didn't hear wrong."

"But ... oh it can't be.."

"Why not?"

"Because, you shouldn't!"

"Hermione..."


"Draco, are you even listening to me? As I was saying, it's a pity you missed Christmas. I was looking forward to spending it with you - I chose to stay here at Hogwarts during the holidays as well since you weren't in any position to go home of course. Then there's this whole ball coming up next month..."

"Oh hang the bloody ball," he grumbled, extremely put-off with Pansy's unyielding rambling.

"... would be great going together, don't you think?" she prattled on as though he hadn't said a word. "I already have the perfect dress robes for the occasion and I had it fashionably altered at Rose's Robes during our last Hogsmeade visit..."

"For goodness' sake, Parkinson, will you shut it?" Draco huffed just as the end-of-class bell jangled out. "I'm not going to the stupid ball with you!" he half-yelled at her before swiftly grabbing his belongings and sweeping out of the class leaving behind a very stunned Pansy who forced herself to gather her bearings and rush out after him.

"What in Merlin's name did you mean by that?" she demanded, striding hard to keep up with his pace.

"I mean exactly what I said, I'm not going with you."

"You're taking that disgusting dirtybred aren't you?"

His fists clenched, his jaw firmly set as he checked his anger. "Who I take to the ball with me is none of your business, Parkinson."

"You are! What could you possibly see in her except filth, she is beneath us, Draco!"

"Who are you to make assumptions about her? You know nothing about her."

"I know enough, she's a bloody mudblood that's what."

He stopped abruptly, his temper reaching an almost uncontrollable point as he turned to face her. "Her name is Hermione, Parkinson and if I hear you utter that filthy word about her or even make any crack about her I will personally see to it that you will live to regret blabbing your nasty little secrets to me all these years. Have I made myself clear?"

Her face paled, horrified at the suggestion that he would actually spill her secrets to the world. Of course, Draco had no intention of doing so; secrets told to him would always remain secrets but Pansy was not to know that. He was merely making empty threats to shut her up. She nodded slowly.

"Crystal," she replied, eyes wide and searching his face.

"Now leave me alone before I change my mind and spill anyway."

Pansy made a strangled sort of noise, dejectedly turning around and stalking away, the sulkiest of looks apparent on her face. Draco on the other hand, rolled his eyes and went on his way out of the castle. He had a free period but instead of using it to catch up with his staggering accumulated workload, he decided to while away the time by the lake. Sitting down by his favourite tree, his eyes idly looked over the wide expanse of the glistening surface of the lake, broken now and then by random schools of fish leaping over the water. Every now and then, a large tentacle would lazily break out of the water only to submerge itself again almost immediately.

"No, no you can't ... you don't mean that."

"I do..."

"Oh sweet Merlin ... please don't.."

"Why? Hermione ... I know what you're thinking and I don't care."

"But you can't just throw your whole empire away just because you think you fancy me! I won't let you lose everything on my account, Malfoy, I won't allow it."

"I said I don't care."

"Malfoy please ... it's the fever you're having ... you shouldn't say things you'll live to regret."

"I regret nothing."

"Don't do this to me..."

"To you? You're the one constantly on my mind!"

"No! You don't know what you're saying! I won't let you throw your entire life away because of me!"

"HERMIONE!"


He groaned angrily, gently rubbing the spot between his eyebrows with his thumb. She had ran out on him, away from the hospital wing and not once did she come back during his remaining stay there. Worry bubbled within him and he wondered briefly if telling her was a big mistake, then quickly shoved the thought away. No, he was sure he did the right thing coming clean with his feelings to her. He knew exactly what risks he was taking. He remembered every word of the letter, every word Dumbledore told him, every single detail of his horrid dream. Yes, he knew it all and he was absolutely certain his feelings were reciprocated. His lips blew out a small sigh.

"Oh Hermione," he whispered softly to himself, "I didn't mean to scare you so badly..."

'I just want to love you before you leave me forever.'

Chapter 18: in sickness and in health
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's err, well, Hermione's medication ;)

A/N: Ahem, excuse the extreme fluffiness of this chapter. I got bored, my internet is running at an incredibly SLOW pace and I just pulled this chapter right out of my head. Anyway, seeing how it's not doing any damage to the story in general, hope you enjoy it better than I did! P.S. I will award fifty house points to both Gryffindor and Slytherin if anyone can tell me the answer to Draco's Potions homework question! :D

***

IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH
***



It was a calm Sunday night, a light breeze toying through the dark outdoors. A handful of stars generously spaced apart in the deep velvet of the sky twinkled away dutifully. On the grounds of the magnificent castle, a soft chorus of night creatures could be heard as they went about their nightly romps. A picture of serenity and yet inside a certain student's private room, a bustle of papers could be heard coupled with vague mutterings. A solitary lamp gave out just enough light as needed by the young boy hunched over his books. Impatiently tapping a quill against the desk with one hand, Draco flipped through his textbook with a slight frown etched on his forehead.

"No .. no that's not it...oh good Lord what are the secret properties of Henbane?"

A soft tapping on his window startled him and he looked up to see a familiar brown owl with a letter attached to its leg. Curious as to who would be owling him at almost midnight, he crossed the room in long quick strides and retrieved the letter. The owl cocked its head to the side and pecked his hand affectionately before taking off. Draco raised an eyebrow at this then turned his attention to the letter in his hand, pausing only a second before tearing it open.

Dear Draco

It's been weeks and you have not said one word to me. Did I do anything wrong? I assure you I have said and done nothing about her. Please do talk to me soon, I miss you terribly.

yours truly
Pansy


He crumpled the letter up in a tight ball and tossed it away. Parkinson might have written him a rather detached and formal letter but he knew her true feelings better. The girl was bitter and deeply jealous of the supposed bond between him and Hermione. Draco snorted. She was no fool, that Parkinson. She knew through his subliminal actions and words that he was falling for the witty witch and yet was adamant to believe this was true. It was a sick fantasy of hers that someday he would ask for her hand in marriage, he knew. Draco often thought that would only happen if they were the last two people left and the world's population depended on them. He wished fervently that he had had a way of knowing she would obsess about him ever since he took her to the Yule Ball two years ago.

Making his way back to his desk, the boy soon realised he was in no situation to complete his homework. Knowing fully well the consequences of not finishing his Potions essay, he blew out the light in the lamp and headed out of his room. Draco was about to walk down the stairs when his glance fell upon the stairs leading to the room opposite. His heart gave a sudden thump and he found himself making his way towards the stairs and up them, one tentative step at a time. His right hand slowly raised and after a moment's hesitation, gave two quick knocks. A whole minute passed by without a reply of any sort and he sighed lightly.

Whatever possessed him to do that, he did not know. Draco put it down to his frustration of barely seeing her over the past few weeks since his release from the hospital wing. She had stubbornly avoided any contact with him and when he tried reaching out to her before or after classes that they shared together, she would simply ignore him. Eventually she had taken to coming to class just in time and leaving at the exact minute the bell rang out. This left him deeply annoyed and yet worried that her odd behaviour might have been his doing. After all, how often does someone who you once thought of as your mortal enemy confess their love for you? She was scared, he knew this and was desperate to let her know that she had no reason to be. After all, this was his life in jeapordy should he love a muggleborn.

Shaking his head, he made his way down and over to the couch. He waved his wand at the fireplace which soon produced a warm, inviting fire and he laid back on the couch. 'Hermione Hermione ... how do I get you to talk to me now?' He thought back on Parkinson's letter. Perhaps he could send her a letter? But the moment he thought it, he shook the idea out of his head. He could just picture his letter being delivered to her only to be ripped apart to shreds within seconds. No. He needed to talk to her face to face. Just as he began formulating a plan to corner her into letting him say his peace, the portrait door swung open inwards. Draco sat up just in time to see Hermione stumble in, losing her balance as she did so and falling onto the floor.

'Thank you God.'

He stood up slowly, waiting for her to regain her bearings but when she remained on the floor in a crumpled heap, worry once again seeped in. He made his way over to her and knelt down beside her. Her small body, hidden under massive amounts of robes and hair shook slightly, giving reason to his worry for her well-being.

"Hermione...?"

A low sound emitted from the mess that was Hermione, something that sounded like a cross between a tortured groan and a stifled sob. Her body shook again with a more visible pain. His anxiety leaked through to his voice and he dared gently touch her back in a small gesture of concern. Upon contact however, he almost withdrew his hand for even through the multiple layers of her clothing, he could feel the heat of her body. Without another word, he swiftly gathered her into his arms and carried her over to the couch, laying her down on it. Another soft cry clearly indicated the amount of pain she was holding back, causing him to throw caution to the wind and sitting down next to her.

"Hermione.." he tried again, this time managing to get a slight movement from her although he could tell it hurt her just doing that. He thought it was only right in suggesting that he inform Madam Pomfrey of her condition. Her next reaction however caught him unawares. Contorting her face into a tight grimace, she made a wild grab for his hand, then proceeding to violently exert her scant energy in trying to hurt him. His eyes widened and quickly took her hands in his, an act which she struggled against. "All right, I take that as a no, calm down."

She did as he said and took long, deep laborous breaths before slowly opening her bloodshot eyes to him. "I'm fine ... leave ..."

"No, you're not, you're far from fine."

"Yes I am," she hissed back.

"Hermione look at yourself, you're shaking and running a fever. I don't have to be a medi-wizard to know that you're anything but fine."

"Ugh ... oh go away Malfoy.."

"I won't until I know you're well."

She narrowed her eyes at him, clearly annoyed at his insistence. Realising that he meant what he said, she asked for the medication that she kept in her bedside table drawer. He took one look at her before getting the things she requested. He only had to take look at the strange-looking objects in the bottles in his hands to have enough sense to get her a glass of water as well. Hermione took them wordlessly from him, barely protesting as he helped prop her up while she downed the medicine and water.

Draco watched as her breathing slowly returned to normal. The bright red flushing in her cheeks seemed to be gradually fading as well and her body stopped shaking as much. Biting down on his bottom lip, the boy reached his hand out and carefully brushed her hair off her face but she quickly turned away from him.

"Leave me, please ..."

"What are those things you just took?"

"They're my medication. Tablets, if you must know. Muggle medicine but what would you know about that?"

"Why are you so angry at me? I'm only trying to help."

"Just leave me alone, Malfoy, please. I'm not a toy for you to play your sick, twisted mind games with, all right?"

Draco's mouth fell open in shock. So that was why she had been avoiding him, she thought he was playing with her mind. He shook his head, exhaling lightly. "Really, is that what you think I'm doing?"

Her head whipped around to face him, her face contorted with anger, hurt and something else he could not quite figure out. Sadness? Disappointment?

"Isn't that what you're doing? I told you my secret, I trusted you for some strange, unfathomable reason and what do you do? You twist it around and you play with my feelings. You think it's a fun trip knowing I'm going to drop dead soon and then hearing you tell me that you MIGHT love me? Where the hell do you get off hurting people like that, huh? Tell me Malfoy."

He was rendered speechless at her little rant. All the while he had been thinking she worried about him losing his family fortune because he loved her when she was in actuality angered that he was attempting to string her along, something that was never his intention. 'I shouldn't have used the word might. Oh damn it.'

"It's not what you think, I-"

"No I don't want to hear your rich little excuses, Malfoy. Go back to your Parkinson I'm sure she would be more than willing to buy all those lies that you've been selling to me."

"Would you please listen to me, Hermio-"

"And stop calling me Hermione!" she yelled, hiding her face behind her hands.

The two of them sat there for a minute or two, him twiddling his thumbs and her sobbing silently into her palms. Draco took a deep breath, prepared to be insulted again as he parted his lips to speak.

"I really do love you," he whispered tentatively but when she made no attempt to shut him up, he continued on. "I know my actions may be proving otherwise but ever since we became friends I keep thinking about you. How much pain you must be in, the horror of knowing when you are leaving this world. I know that there is nothing I can do to stop it but God, I just want to be able to ease your pain, Hermione! Can't you accept that?"

Draco reached out and gently pulled her hands away from her face. Her cheeks glistened with fresh tears and her lips were trembling. With reluctance and a slight glimmer of hope in her eyes, she looked up at him.

"I can't..."

"Why not?"

"I'm not worth being loved at this point. I'll only serve to let you down."

"I promise you with all my heart you are worthy of all the love you deserve and so much more. And I know we won't let each other down if you'll just let me help you get through this."

"And you'll accept me for who I am? I'm not the world's most perfect person ... Draco."

"I believe the question is, will you accept me? The only thing I want right now is for you to let me love you until the very end. Hermione, I love you."

She did not reply. Instead she gently pulled her hands away from his grasp, carelessly rubbing the tears off her face with the edges of her sleeves. She then gathered her bottles of medication, stuffing them into the deep pockets of her robes before sliding to the edge of the couch. His heart sank rapidly, mentally kicking himself for revealing so much of his heart to her. 'What was I thinking, that she loves me back? Am I that arrogant to believe she feels the same way about me? Ohh I should just curse myself into oblivion right now..'

Draco was sharply jolted out of his thoughts as she threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around him in a tight embrace. He barely had time to register what was happening when he felt his own arms sliding around her waist, holding her close to him.

"Hermione.."

"Promise me no regrets," she stated simply, tilting her head up to look at him, her face mere inches from his.

His eyes searched her face, a small smile upturning his lips as he laid a gentle kiss on the little button-like tip of her nose. "I promise."

Chapter 19: the fall of malfoy
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's misfortune ;)

A/N: I had to re-post this chapter because of a certain rating glitch and I can't be bothered with Author's Notes for once lol so all I'm saying is just please enjoy the purely fictional value of this chapter and I'm sorry it's so short!

***

THE FALL OF MALFOY
***



Dear Mr Malfoy,

I am writing to you on account of all your stock investments, magical and muggle. It has come to our attention that the stock markets in which you have invested shares in have hit an all-time low recently. Measures have been taken to stabilise your shares, however, it cannot be said that they were effective. In an effort to save the companies, we were forced to sell your shares below cost. This has resulted in losing all of the royalties coming in from these investments.

Mr Malfoy, I regret to say that you no longer have any more shares in your name. The current loss now stands at a grand total of sixty-eight hundred and seventy-two thousand gallions, four sickles and two knuts with an additional of nine hundred and forty-three thousand dollars and fifty-eight cents from the muggle shares. I suggest that you make an appointment with me in the near future so I can advise you on the best next step to take in order to regain your fortune in the shares.

Please contact me for an appointment as soon as possible.

sincerely
Wilmer Keystone

Head of Inter-Magi-Muggle Relations
Magical Law Enforcement

...

Dear Mr Malfoy

I am writing to inform you of a financial problem that has surfaced from the businesses that are listed under your company, Malfoy Management. As you are well aware, the company relies heavily not on business profit but rather profit from your stock investments. I have been informed that currently there no longer is a single share under the Malfoy name and this puts the company in jeapordy.

As of now, the company is using the business profits to continue running but I must impress that this is not permanent. Using business profits to run the company will only result in major loss in the long run. I advise you to use other forms of financial support or Malfoy Management will be forced into bankruptcy. Please contact me soon to discuss this matter further.

Sincerely,
Blaire E. McPherson

Financial Advisor
Magical Law Enforcement

...

Mr Malfoy,

We at Gringotts Wizarding Bank are sorry to inform you that your vaults have been magically broken into last night. You no longer have anything stored in our vaults as everything had been stolen by the intruder. Ministry officials are looking into the matter at the moment so until further notice, it is highly recommended that you keep your vault keys for the time being.

Griphook

Gringotts Staff

...

MALFOY FORTUNE BURNT DOWN

It was a night of fiery displays,
writes Daily Prophet reporter Vangie Ivori, last night at the stroke of midnight. The Malfoy Manor, once a mighty establishment exuding power, fame and wealth is now mere blackened ruins, a sad shadow of its former self. It is believed that the ignition began in the kitchens where a careless house-elf must have left a magical fire unattended. It would have been much easier to handle the ashwinder emerging from the fire but as fate would have it, the creature's eggs were not frozen in time, resulting in the manor bursting into a blaze from the eggs.

Reportedly, the house-elves had a fine time trying to put out the flames but it seemed as though their magic was not strong enough to save a manor as big as the Malfoys'. Within minutes, the entire manor has caught on fire and it was near to impossible to salvage anything. However, the manor is not the only Malfoy property burnt to the ground. Recent scoops have unearthed startling new problems that the remaining descendent of Malfoy has to face.

It appears to be that the financial situation of Malfoy has seen much better days when things took a sudden sharp decline with no hope for recovery. Stock market shares were sold for close to zero value within minutes and thus affecting the family company which had existed for several decades, Malfoy Management. The company has been forced to cease transactions and shut down when Malfoy refused to meet up with Law Enforcement officers to discuss matters over.

The salt to the wound, however, had to be the fact that Malfoy holds not a single knut now their Gringotts vaults. A brief interview with hassled Gringotts staff revealed that a severe Confundus charm had been placed on several staff members into deluding them to allow a couple of intruders to steal everything from all five vaults under the Malfoy name.

"We are allowing Malfoy to hold on to the keys just in case the fortune is recovered. As you know, Ministry officials are looking into the matter as we speak but there is a very low chance of recovering anything if you ask me," says a staff of the wizarding bank who refused point-blank to allow his name nor picture to be published.

After centuries of the Malfoy name being associated with all things glorious and powerful, it seems that Lady Luck has finally ran out on Malfoy. After the Manor was grazed to the ground, Malfoy was officially announced bankrupt by the bank. Following the untimely deaths of convicted Death Eater Lucius Malfoy and his wife Narcissa Malfoy, the last remaining descendent of the Malfoy clan is young Draco Malfoy who is currently finishing his last year of studying at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He could not be reached for comment.


Chapter 20: karma
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's food ;)

A/N: I'm so so sorry I took so long to get this chapter up. To be honest, this was finished at the same time as chapter 19 but I was too tired to put up two chapters at that time. I didn't realise it would take so long for me to find the time to edit and publish this chapter and again I apologise. Also, please excuse how it gets slightly OOC towards the end. Like I said, I was really tired. Don't worry, it won't spoil the story. I'd just like to say that I had a lot of fun making up the spells mentioned in this chapter. Yay for broken Latin ;) haha. And just to pacify some of you who keep pestering me to update thinking that I'm not continuing this story, worry not. I have the entire story in my head, I know exactly how it's going to end. I'll just need a lot of time to put my ideas in words but it WILL all eventually end sometime. Thanks for the reviews and encouragement, let's hope I don't get too busy to put up the next chapter! :D

***

KARMA
***


"Hey..hey Malfoy! Are the rumours true? You're a homeless beggar now?"

"Aw look he's all alone now. Not feeling too superior now, are you, now that you've lost everything?"

"How does it feel now, Malfoy, being lower than low? Pretty crummy, isn't it?"

"Here's a knut Malfoy, it might be just enough to buy you some reality!"

"OH SHUT YOUR BLOODY TRAPS ALL OF YOU!"

Stunned silence greeted this outburst, shortly followed by the soft plink of a bronze knut bouncing off Draco's robes onto the floor where it rolled a little before stopping right next to his right heel. The boy's eyes flashed with anger as they bored into the eyes of the one who had tossed that knut at him. His right hand was stretched in front of him, wand tip pointing dangerously close to the other boy's face. A series of hexes flashed through his mind's eye but before he could find one fitting enough to use on the other student, a different thought crossed his mind. 'What's the point?' he sighed inwardly. While being mercilessly teased and taunted the moment that accursed article appeared in the Daily Prophet, it went without saying that he probably deserved it. The strange thing about karma, what goes around eventually comes around. Undoubtedly he was now paying the price for being such a heartless bully in all his years at Hogwarts.

Shaking his head slightly, he turned sharply on his heels and stalked away from the group of taunters. It had been a whole week since he had last confessed his love for Hermione and things had, if not for his knowledge of the curse, unexpectedly taken a sharp turn to the worse. He was now nicknamed The-Boy-Who-Lost by his crueller schoolmates and with the strange turn in events came a startling revelation. His housemates hated him. Sitting at the Slytherin table for meals had slowly become a routine torture for him such that he had taken to sitting at the corner alone to avoid the most of the malicious glares and pranks sent his way.

Three days into this horrible treatment however, he nearly crumbled and it took him all of his willpower not to send hexes and jinxes all over the house table. The eighteen-year old then resorted to confiding in Hermione, who reacted rather strangely, asking if he would like to accompany her to tickle a pear. He had only to raise an eyebrow for her to grab him by the arm and dragging him all the way down to where he assumed must be under the Great Hall until they were facing a certain painting which had eventually led them into the kitchens. From then onwards, with the help of his former house elf who seemed rather ecstatic upon seeing him again, Draco went down to the kitchens during mealtimes and if he was ten minutes late, food would be sent to their common room where he could devour his food in peace, comfort and occasionally with the warm company of Hermione.

As with all problems, not all could be solved all at once. Draco was still forced to face the spite of the rest of the Slytherins during classes. The practical jokes played on him started out subtle in the beginning, like weight charms ("Ingravesco,") placed on his quills or parchment so that it was nearly impossible to pick them up. This barely ruffled him and the jokes became quite risque. During one noisy Transfiguration lesson in which Professor McGonagall had set the class to work on the impossibly complicated task of transfiguring part of their own physical appearance ("Inflecto imago,") Draco was hit by ache jinxes ("frendo,") at random intervals resulting in several angry bruises to appear on his body and a night spent in the hospital wing. The boy took comfort in overhearing snatches of stories how the students who had jinxed him got their just desserts when Hermione forced a truth spell on them where they had no choice but to blurt out their evil deeds aloud in front of the very angry Head of Gryffindor house who wasted no time in giving them a week of detention and a night of disembowelling frogs sans magic for Professor Snape.

Cursing inwardly at nothing in particular, Draco muttered the password upon reaching Rudolphus' portrait and was immediately allowed an entrance. Walking without hindrance and his mind wrapped around several trains of thought, the boy effortlessly made his way into his room, tossing his bookbag onto his bed. He then proceeded to enter his bathroom, cleanse and dress himself carelessly before grabbing his wand and carving footsteps towards the kitchens for his dinner.

"Mister Malfoy, young master Draco, sir! Oh, Dobby is most glad to be seeing you! Dobby thought something bad is happened ... but Dobby has been thinking wrong! You is here for dinner, yes?"

'That's just something I will never get used to,' he thought as Dobby greeted him the moment the elf caught sight of his ex-master. 'Father ill-treated him so much, it's amazing how kindly he takes to me now ... poor wretched creature.' A tired shadow of a smile loomed upon his face. "Yes, Dobby, I'd love to have my dinner now, if you please."

At once, a pile of dishes appeared on the little side table that had been his dining table the past few days, brought hurriedly by several eager little elves. The young Malfoy thankfully sank into his seat as the elves bowed before him. His eyes crinkled in amusement. A year ago, this behaviour would have been seen as perfectly normal to him but now that he finally learnt the meaning of humility and placing everyone or thing as equals, he was rather overcome by shame. Draco felt he was in no position to deserve 'slave labour' as he had heard Hermione mutter one too many times. He nodded lightly.

"Thank you, all of you. I'd like to have my meal in peace now, please," his comment caused the elves to scurry away, tumbling over themselves in their hurry.

Dobby however, blubbered senselessly, wiping his large bulbous eyes vigorously with the edges of the bright orange scarf he wore around his neck which clashed terribly with his maroon jumper, green knitted hat and mis-matched socks. "You is most kind, sir! Dobby thought young master never learns to say pleases and thank yous!" A short pause, then his already huge eyes widened in horror. "Oh... oh oh no, Dobby is saying bad thing about young master! Bad Dobby! Bad, bad bad Dobby!"

The little elf proceeded to grab the nearest empty, and coincidentally the largest, pot on the stove and began banging it onto his hat-covered head, howling incessantly the entire process. Draco mentally slapped himself at the elf's antics and rushed to separate suicidal elf from banging pot. After ensuring that Dobby was safe and sound and back to his business of attending to dinner which was going on in the Great Hall at the same time, Draco went back to his meal while silently observing the bustle of the kitchens around him. It was only after he ate the last morsel of food on the table before him, thanked the elves yet again and made his exit did his disturbing thoughts come back full force to him. So absorbed was he that he barely noticed himself taking the shortcut to his dormitory through the hallway the Slytherins usually passed by en route to their common room.

"Well well, if it isn't everyone's favourite prince-turned-pauper."

'Crap,' he thought as he looked up to see Pansy smirking cruelly at him, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle. If it wasn't for his utter dislike for the girl, he would have been rather amused at the sight. Seeing Parkinson voluntarily hanging around Crabbe and Goyle was like seeing Potter and Snape skipping down the hall hand-in-hand. Draco blinked the mental image away and raised his eyebrow.

"What's the matter, Malfoy? Lost your tongue as well? Or did you have to cut it off and sell it to buy your overlarge ego?"

"No but that would be a good idea for you wouldn't it? Try investing in looks and brains for a change, Parkinson, you'll be doing some good to the world at the same time."

"I have no use for goodness as you well know it, Malfoy. I also happen to think that it's high time you learnt your lesson for leading me on."

"You're delusional, witch. The only time I will ever lead you on will be you on a leash and muzzle to protect others from your rabid self."

Pansy's eyes narrowed to dangerous little slits as she raised her right hand, flicking her wrist as she motioned for Crabbe and Goyle to move in. The two boulder-sized fools simultaneously pointed their wands at Draco, who simply repressed his urge to laugh at the incredulity of the situation. It was common knowledge that Crabbe and Goyle could barely manage a decent spell to save their lives and as though proving his point, the two goons cried out a jinx and hex at the same time. Their aiming, being so off the mark, caused their spells to collide but before they could reach him, Draco heard a third spell being cried out from somewhere behind him.

"Expelliarmus!"

"Hermione! Why'd you go and do that for?-"

"Oh shut up Ron!"

He had hardly time to process what was happening. One moment Pansy had ordered Crabbe and Goyle to hex him into oblivion and yet the next, Hermione had her wand pointing squarely at Pansy's flat nose, both girls wearing similar expressions of pure fury.

"If you EVER attempt injuring ANY other student I will personally make sure your prefect status will be revoked, Parkinson. And trust me, there will be a HELL lot more coming to you than that."

Watching Pansy crumble under Hermione's anger was entertaining and he would have enjoyed hearing the girls battle it out with words but to his disappointment, Pansy merely lifted her chin in defiance, sniffed snottily and left closely followed by the other two blumbering Slytherins. He turned to look at Hermione and his eyebrows raised in alarm as he noticed her wand arm shaking lightly as she lowered it, tucking her wand safely into her robes. Before he had any chance to question her health however, annoying Weasel butted in.

"Why the hell did you defend that stinking ferret?!"

'Here we go again..'

"Keep your voice down, Ron.."

"NO! .. No, Hermione I've been trying to ignore it but it's been getting so obvious lately. I don't know what's going on with you and ferret-face but I don't like it!"

"Gee, Ron, for something you say is obvious you sure as hell are clueless."

"You still didn't answer my question, why the heck did you defend him just now?"

Abandoning all pretence, Hermione glared at Weasley, her entire body shaking although Draco doubted it was from her anger. His eyebrows creased with worry. "Because I love him, Ron. Was that what you wanted to hear? I love Draco! I defended him because I love him, you stupid, mental git!"

And with that outburst, the frazzled witch left in a flurry of robes leaving the two boys staring disbelievingly at her retreating figure.

Chapter 21: happy valentine's
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's sled ;)

A/N: I have nothing to say except shame on me for not updating this story for so long! Oh well, I hope you will learn to forgive me. Here's a nice long chapter for you guys, enjoy while I try to fit in writing the remaining chapters into my unearthly schedule!

***

HAPPY VALENTINE'S
***


It was well past midnight and while the silent darkness hushed students and teachers alike to sleep, the Head Boy and Girl lay wide awake in their corner of the school called Hogwarts. The soft crackle of a fair-sized fire made for the sole source of sound in the room as the boy draped his arms tighter around the small frame of the girl. Feeling her move slightly against him assured him she was still in a responsive state. He broke his gaze from the bright flames and turned to study her calm form from his vantage point. Everything about her mesmerized him at that moment; the soft glow on her skin, the way her body fit perfectly against his, the gentle rise and fall of her chest with each slow breath, even the way the light from the fire danced off her abundent curls took his breath away. Sighing inwardly, he dropped a chaste kiss upon the top of her head, inviting her to incline her gaze towards him.

"Are you feeling any better?" He murmured softly. Somehow using his normal tone did not quite fit the mood of the moment right then.

A delicate nod affirmed his query and the smallest, sweetest smile greeted him. "Much better. Thank you."

"What for?"

She gave him the feeblest of shrugs indicating her lack of care for the current topic. He tilted his head at her, amusement waltzing across his face as the smallest smile played on her lips.

"Hey Hermione..."

"Hmm?"

"What you said earlier to Weasley ... did you really mean that?"

He watched her as she frowned lightly, initially confused by his question for a moment before lighting up a little upon realisation.

'Because I love him, Ron. Was that what you wanted to hear? I love Draco!'

"Oh ... Draco, " she bit down on her bottom lip as she tore her eyes away from him, her voice sounding thin and unsure. "You know I said that to shut him up. Or else he would go on and on ranting and raving about how a mad lunatic I must be to defend you. The thing with Ron as you know, once his first impression has been made there's just no turning back. He still thinks you're a class A evil prat even when you've been proven otherwise."

Draco pulled away from her, holding her inches away from him and gently turning her face towards him. Yet the girl stubbornly kept her eyes downcast, refusing to meet his gray ones.

"You didn't answer my question..."

"I ... I did.."

"No ... you rambled."

"Oh honestly, stop acting like you're thick."

He allowed a hopeful smirk at her retort. "So you did mean it, then." She nodded. His smirk grew. "No, say it."

"Say what?"

"Now who's acting thick?"

"Draco!"

He laughed softly at her whine, finding it strangely endearing. The Hermione he knew had never whined to his knowledge and it was a fresh change from the usual moods he had seen from her.

"Come now, Hermione. It can't be that hard if you mean it, can it?"

She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Of course not. Ohh fine. I love you. There, I said it. Are you happy now?"

Draco grinned. 'This is turning out to be more fun than I thought..' He shook his head, much to Hermione's annoyance as she seemed to realise he merely wanted to see how much of a rise he could get out of her. It was not entirely a bad thing, however but the boy could see that she was not quite in the mood for games of such. He knew how lethargic she must be feeling right then and he was already mentally planning how to make up for her willingness to simply be with him for the night.

"Now you're just being impossible, I'm really not up to-"

Whatever it was that Hermione was not up to doing he never found out because Draco decided to cut her off by leaning in unexpectedly and softly planting a virgin kiss on her lips. Her entire body seemed to stiffen and he knew he was right in thinking she had never been kissed before. She merely sat rigidly in his arms with his lips attached to hers.

Gently sliding his arms tighter around her, he carefully brought her body closer to his as he lazily traced the outline of her lips with his tongue. That seemed to break her out of her shock and he felt the pleasant sensations of her responding, though timidly, to his kiss. It was only for a moment however and she became comfortable enough with his touches to part her lips, allowing him to savour the bittersweet feeling of her tongue dancing with his. Catching himself before a soft moan escaped from his lips, he withdrew slightly, whispering softly against her lips, "say it like you mean it," before giving in to another long, beautiful kiss.

She ended the kiss this time and he had barely opened his eyes when she whispered back, so softly he almost had to strain his ears to hear what she was saying.

"I love you, Draco."

...


"Right, so this is going to help me ... how?"

Draco turned to look at Hermione, smirking as he noted the slight confusion battling for expression with her amusement on her face. Throwing a mischievous wink at her, he tightened the bounds on the sled he had copped together with his wand.

"It'll help you to live for today," he whispered cryptically before getting on the sled himself. "Ready?"

"Draco, I really do not think this is-...AAAAH!!"

But whatever it was that Hermione thought was quickly cut off as a loud squeal of surprise escaped her throat. The sled had pushed itself forward seemingly by magic and was gaining top speed towards the edge of one of the high hills surrounding the castle. Draco laughed aloud, enjoying the cold wind whistling past his ears and as the sled tipped and began its merry descent downhill, his left hand formed a one-armed hug around Hermione's waist. Holding his wand out towards themselves in a sled speedily bumping down a snow-covered hill was not as easy as he thought it to be but he somehow managed to yell out a cushioning charm just before the sled hit the bottom of the hill. His actions caused them to roll out of the sled as though in slow motion, tumbling over and over in the snow.

"Draco Malfoy I am going to KILL you!"

"Really?"

"Yes, that was extremely ..."

"Fun!"

Draco turned his head around to see Hermione fighting to keep an angry look on her face. He grinned. She pouted. He chuckled. She stuck her tongue out at him, then conceded defeat and allowed a small smile to play on her lips.

"Oh alright, it was quite fun," she admitted grudgingly.

"Just quite?"

"Don't push it."

"Okay," hoisting himself up on his elbows, he leaned over her and captured her lips in a soft kiss...Only to be broken by a sudden squeal from her once more. Draco pulled back, sniggering to himself.

"Tag, you're it."

"Oh no you don't," was her reply as she gained up on him, reached out and began tickling him back. Ten minutes later saw them lying flat on the snow beside each other, pink in the cheeks and out of breath. "You know..." she started, her voice soft. "I never thought you to be one who knew about Muggle games like sledding and tag.."

"Well..." he tore his eyes away from the pinkening sky to focus his gaze on her. "I'm just full of surprises I guess."

"Yes ... you are," she said slowly, her eyes fixed on the light spattering of shapeless clouds in the sky. He observed her as she fell silent, a strange thoughtful look appearing on her face. Her voice was shaky when she spoke again. "Draco ..."

"Yes?"

"Will you promise me something?"

"What is it?"

"Could you not ... that is ... I don't want ... I don't want anyone to cry for me when I ... when I'm gone."

There was suddenly a large dry lump in his throat at that moment. Draco found that he could not bear to look at Hermione anymore. Turning away from her, he watched a thin wisp of air blowing out from between his lips as he sat silently for a minute. Then, swallowing thickly, he slowly hoisted himself up onto his feet and held his hand out wordlessly to her. They stood there, facing each other with faces full of emotions different from the light ones they had just minutes ago. Draco broke the soft silence with a little sigh.

"You will be missed, you know, " he muttered softly, keeping his eyes averted.

He then reduced the sled to be small enough to fit into his pocket and turned to make his way back to the castle. The sound of boots plodding heavily on snow could be heard moments later as Hermione caught up with him. She grabbed his arm, forcing him to look at her. He spoke just as she opened her mouth to speak.

"Hermione, there's a lot of things I can promise you ... if you asked just me to not cry I could try but ... like I said, you will be missed," he took her hand in his as he lowered his voice. "You haven't even told Potter and Weasley ... how do you think they will react?"

She sighed in admittance. "I don't know, Draco. I don't want them to treat me like a charity case once they find out I'm dying."

"Only because they love you ..." he shook his head, ending the conversation topic. "Let's just ... forget about this for today, alright? Come on, the Ball will be starting in an hour and we still need to get dressed."

...

Walking into the Great Hall for a Valentine Ball with Hermione Granger on his arm was something Draco never dreamed of his entire life and yet, there he was with his arm curled protectively around hers. He looked around, taking in the results of weeks of planning on their part. The Great Hall looked simply wondrous draped in shimmering shades of gold with slight pink accents thrown in. Fairies fluttered around vainly, enhancing the magical ceiling which had been enchanted for the occasion to broadcast a perfect starry sky lit with a bright full moon. The house tables were gone and in their place was a long buffet serving of Valentine-inspired hors d'oeuvres and pumpkin juice. The rest of the floorspace was left free for mingling and dancing. An enchanted gramophone churned out WWN's hit love songs, adding on to the atmosphere.

Draco leaned closer to his date, whispering softly in her ear, "You look more amazing than all of these put together," and he meant it.

It should not have been such a surprise to him to see her all dressed up. After all, he had seen, if only just, a glimpse of it during the Yule Ball in their fourth year. She had been hanging off Viktor Krum's arm then, enticing envious looks from his fanclub but he doubted Krum was the only reason for their envy. She had shown everyone present her true beauty and even he had to admit back then she looked rather stunning in her soft blue robes. Now, history seemed to be repeating itself. The Great Hall appeared to cease movement upon their entrance and he could see why. Hogwarts' Head Boy; reformed son of Death Eater and Head Girl; a real Cinderella appearance-wise, arm-in-arm.

Hermione smiled at his compliment, a slight glow accentuating her cheeks. He watched as she carefully smoothed down the front of her yellow robes with her free hand and allowing him to lead her out to the dancefloor. The silence from everyone else slowly rose to a murmur, no doubt commenting on what looked like a most bizarre coupling. Draco had barely time to wonder who would be the first to interrupt them when Weasley appeared with an expression of one trying his darndest to control anger.

"I knew you were up to something."

"Ron, not here, not tonight, please."

"I can't believe you are letting yourself be fooled by him!"

"There is nothing foolish about anything I do involving Draco, Ron."

"Don't you dare put my name after his in the same sentence," hissed the redhead, frowning before shaking his head and shifting his glare to Draco. "You. I'll be watching your every move. One small mistake and you will regret ..."

"I will regret nothing," he interjected, half-amused, half-tired of Weasley's antics. "Weasley. If I even wanted to hurt her, which I would never dream of doing, do you honestly think I'd do it here in front of everyone?"

For the next hour or so, the Ball carried on with less dramatics and interruptions. Pansy revealed, although not on purpose, that despite her spitting remarks and glares she still harbored feelings for the Head Boy. This she gave proof by demanding, albeit through biting sarcasm, a dance with Draco throughout which she never stopped her critique. Getting no response from him, she resorted to consorting with none other than Weasley which, he had to admit, burnt just a little. Other than that, all was perfectly fine with things running the way they should.

Draco stood off to the side, quietly sipping his pumpkin juice as he idly kept an eye on Hermione and Potter who were dancing. It was a little awkward when it happened. He had been enjoying a dance with Hermione and just as the song ended, he felt a tap on his shoulder. Potter had politely asked if he could have a dance with his date. Of course, his first instinct was to say no, it was their night but even Draco could not deny Potter time with Hermione. After all, who was he to say no to Wonder Boy? 'Why can't Weasley be more like Potter? His unfounded anger is really beginning to annoy me.'

And then it happened. One moment she was on her feet, dancing contentedly in Potter's arms and the next she was kneeling on the floor, clutching her chest in pain as her erratic breathing wheezed through her lips. Potter looked highly alarmed as he tried to help and not knowing how while Weasley was shouting obscenities at him, sure that it was he who caused Hermione's pain. Admirably, Pansy and a girl he knew as Lavender Brown seemed to be restraining Weasley from lunging at him as he crossed the Hall to get to Hermione. Her breathing was staggered, her skin flushed as her body temperature raised alarmingly. He knew she needed her pills but if he was foolish enough to run all the way to their dormitories to get them and back, it might be too late. She needed immediate help.

"Potter, run ahead and tell Madam Pomfrey."

"But Hermione..."

"I'm right behind you," he replied, carefully lifting her into his arms without obstructing her breathing. He stood up shakily, adjusting to her weight, then glared at Potter. "Go!"

With quick strides, Draco made his way out of the Great Hall. Brown's frightened whisper echoing in his head as he left for the hospital wing.

"She's not going to die ... is she?"

Chapter 22: the second step
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's apology ;)

A/N: Here you go, another chapter. Hopefully I'll be able to squeeze in the next chapter before my class tomorrow but no guarantees :p Sigh this fic is soon coming to an end, I will be sad to finish it off but ... it must be done. Just a few more chapters left! Meanwhile, enjoy this one :)

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THE SECOND STEP
***


"She is still unstable. I won't know her proper condition until she wakes up. Right now it looks bad."

Hovering around in the background while watching the gaggle of Gryffindors fuss over an unconscious Hermione did not suit Draco well. 'Wasn't it me who brought her up here? I'm the only one who knows what's wrong with her.' The boy watched the school nurse check Hermione's pulse and after multiple warnings not to touch the patient, bustled into her office. Draco wasted no hesitation in following her.

"What are you doing in here, boy?"

"I just wanted to tell you ..." he trailed off as he noticed what the nurse was doing. "You knew!"

Madam Pomfrey looked up from her task of grinding what looked unmistakeably like the little tablets he once saw Hermione take. Giving him a small smile and a nod, she went back to reducing the tablets to powder and mixing it into a glass of water.

"But ... she said no one knows about her condition."

"Ah. What she doesn't know won't hurt her now, would it?" Smiling again, though gravely this time, Madam Pomfrey motioned for Draco to take a seat before settling down into her armchair. "Miss Granger doesn't know, no. Her parents contacted Professor Dumbledore when they found out about their daughter's ailment two summers ago. Very caring parents they are, not wanting her child to stay here with no one to keep an eye out for her. Your Headmaster arranged for me to be able to acquire the Muggle medical supplies needed for Miss Granger. Medicine, syringes ... honestly, I did not even know how half those contraptions work. Oh, don't worry, I had help learning about them," she added upon seeing Draco's slightly horrified look.

Draco could not believe his ears. All those times when Hermione suffered the brunt of her sickness and they did not know professional help was on hand. His mouth became quite dry as he tried to form his next words.

"Are you and Professor Dumbledore ... the only ones who know about this?"

"Oh, no dear, of course not. Your good Professor has informed all staff concerning Miss Granger's health to make sure if anything happens during classes ... well, she would be taken care of. Your friend is in good hands, young man. Which reminds me, I need to check on her. Will you excuse me?"

Draco let Madam Pomfrey pass and had barely time to digest anything when a hard yank on his arm made him yelp in surprise. Rubbing his sore arm, he looked up to see an irate Potter glaring down at him, silently demanding him to get up and face him.

"Damn, Potter, trying to finish off Buckbeak's work on my arm?" he muttered as he stood up.

"I heard everything."

"Yeah, good for you, then," Draco muttered distractedly as he lifted his sleeves to check, then froze as he slowly looked up at Potter. "Wait ... what do you mean you heard everything?"

"What you and Pomfrey were talking about."

"What exactly did you hear, Potter?" he asked, circling around the boy, who turned to fix his stare on the blond wizard.

"What exactly do you know, Malfoy?"

"Why are you being so inquisitive? Curiousity killed the cat, you know."

"Why won't you tell me what you know about Hermione?"

"I don't know, maybe because Hermione doesn't want you to know. Or Weasley. Or anyone else. Scared of being treated like a charity case."

"Charity case?" Potter's face paled slightly. "Malfoy, tell me what you know."

Perhaps it was the fumes from the nearby healing potions cabinet. Perhaps it was the defeated look on Potter's face. Perhaps it was even the face that his nagging conscience told him it wasn't right for Hermione's best friend to be on the brink of finding out and not be told anything. Perhaps he just needed to talk to someone close to Hermione about her fatal disease. Whatever it was, Draco found himself giving in, sighing slightly before launching into a detailed babble on everything he remembered Hermione ever telling him at Hogsmeade. Finishing his story, Draco avoided looking at Potter - the grievous look on his face was too much for him to handle.

"Look ..." he began awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck. "You wanted to know and ..."

"Over a month left..." he repeated Draco's words, his voice strained. "How can you be so calm?"

"I'm not calm, Potter. I get panic attacks when I see her having one of her fits. I drive myself silly wondering if she'll make it. Do you know how scary it is knowing she has a ticking timebomb inside her and there's not a damn that I can do about it? She doesn't even want to talk about it and when she does, it's to tell me things like not wanting anyone to cry for her when she's gone. If you love someone as much as I love Hermione, hearing her talk about her dying day is not something to be taken calmly. But what can I do about it? She doesn't want to be treated any different."

"Malfoy, I didn't ..."

"Don't tell anyone you know what's wrong with Hermione. Please, Potter."

The look on the Gryffindor was priceless. Undoubtedly, he was taken aback by Draco's pleading. It's not every day that someone who has been your antagonist for almost seven years suddenly pleads for a secret to be kept. A moment's odd silence settled as he nodded in agreement. Draco leaned back against the wall as Harry slowly sank into the chair Draco occupied minutes before. 'Harry? Since when did I think of Potter as Harry?' And then he felt it. It was strange. Draco felt like he had just forged an alliance with his former enemy. Maybe sharing a secret about a mutual love had something to do with it.

Harry's voice was soft when he spoke next, obviously measuring his words carefully. "How do you keep something like this from everyone? How do you keep yourself from treating her like she's ... fragile? Which she is."

"I don't know ... she made me promise."

"Oh ... I'm sorry."

"What for, you did nothing wrong. If anything, I should be the one apologising."

"What?"

"If there's one thing I've learnt from Hermione ... prejudices are childish. My father was childish. And I let him take me down with him before I realised he was all wrong. I'm not Lucius. There's so much value to be put on life and friendships for childish prejudices to get in the way. And ... I'm sorry for all the wrongs that I've done, and all the wrongs that my father had done. It's not much but ..."

"Boys," Madam Pomfrey reappeared, making the small office feel even more cramped. "Miss Granger has awakened. You may have a small talk with her but she needs her rest. I'll have to keep her under my care for the week. You may go now."

Without a word, the two students left the office and made for Hermione's bed, where she sat propped up on several pillows. Harry took his spot next to the youngest Weasley, then moved over slightly so Draco could have some space. The Head Boy smiled at Hermione and settled for keeping his comments to himself. He watched as little Weasley chatted animatedly with Hermione although he did catch a few glances in his direction, no doubt wondering why he was there. Brother Weasley however had a harder time keeping his anger in check but everytime he tried, he received a frown from either Hermione or Harry.

Draco allowed himself a small smirk at that, then gently laced his fingers through Hermione's. For the next few minutes, he let the conversation roll around with the Weasley's chatter, Harry's words of concern and Brown's slightly inappropriate gossip of the Ball which received a few laughs and smiles from Hermione for some strange reason.

It was well past midnight before Madam Pomfrey seemed to realise her patient was still awake and not resting. Hermione's little group of visitors were chased out by the nurse and with promises to visit her often, they left the hospital wing to their respective common rooms.

Chapter 23: burying the hatchet
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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's past ;)

A/N: God, I apologize so much. I actually had this chapter written and posted on ff.net over a week ago and I completely forgot to post it up here. Nevertheless, here it is. It's a little short and I am a little wrapped up with homework for now (ugh!) but I can safely say that I will have the next chapter posted by Monday. In the meantime, enjoy this one. p.s.: i really enjoy feedback :)

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BURYING THE HATCHET

***


He watched her as she tilted her head back. Her arms were spread, her lips carved in a sweet smile as the wind teased through her brown locks. It was a picturesque scene, he thought. She was a portrait of simple happiness amidst a landscape of drab, gray winter. The snow which had blanketed the scenery over a week ago had melted, leaving behind splotchy wet patches of ground. Draco shivered inwardly, feeling as though he was looking at a painting mocking him of what was to come. He watched on as she breathed the cool air deeply, her face pale and rosy at the same time as she wrapped her arms around her small chest, lowering her head and turning to face him. That sweet smile was still etched onto her face.

"You look sad," she commented, stepping towards him.

He forced himself to smile for her then. "I was just admiring you."

"Draco..."

"Don't," he cut in, exhaling lightly as he reached out a gloved hand through her hair. "I'm just ... glad you're out."

"Mmm yea, it's nice." She closed her eyes at his touch, then took his hand in both of hers, moving closer to him. "One week in there with Madam Pomfrey fussing over me was just ... ick."

He chuckled then. "Ick?"

She grinned, a soft, almost childish grin and pressed the side of her face against his chest. "Ick. I don't like the smell of antiseptic."

"That muggle sterilisation potion?"

"Chemical," she corrected him as his arms went around her waist, holding her close.

"I learn something new every day."

Hermione chuckled softly, opening her eyes as she tiptoed to peck him on the lips. "Cute. Listen, I'm going to go into Hogsmeade with Harry and Ron and Ginny today, alright?"

It wasn't really a question. His eyebrows creased lightly. He had been looking forward to spending the entire day of the second Hogsmeade visit with her. 'But I can't prevent her from being with her friends, can I?' He answered with a vague nod and half-hearted smile which earned him a roll of the eyes and a light playful smack on the arm from his girlfriend.

"Oh, don't give me that look. I'll meet you in the Three Broomsticks for lunch, how about that?"

"I'll be waiting," he agreed, pulling her close for a kiss before she went off in search of her Gryffindor friends.

Shoving his hands deep into his pockets, Draco trudged off to the carriages to find Pansy smiling brightly at him. Before he could react, she grabbed his arm and pulled them into one of the waiting carriages. He smiled weakly at her as she closed the doors, signalling the thestrals to proceed to Hogsmeade.

. . .

The ride to Hogsmeade had been awkward. Pansy spent about ten minutes explaining that she still thinks he's a jerk and needed a reality check but what he did for Granger had changed her mind and decided he had learned his lessons so would it be too much to ask for her best friend back? He had been taken aback by her ramble and even more so when she broke down and started apologizing for her erratic behaviour towards him. His heart softened and he calmed her down, admitting that he did miss having her as his best friend. She had laughed at her own follied attempts in seducing him, revealing that she had thought that was what he wanted after the Yule Ball in their fourth year. He shared her laughter and after promising to catch up with her soon and insisting that he needed to be alone, they parted ways in Honeydukes.

He sampled a few of the new sweets Honeydukes had to offer and spent most of his morning wandering around Hogsmeade, feeling more or less at peace with himself. With half an hour to spare before his lunch date with Hermione, he made his way towards the Three Broomsticks, somehow managing to trip over a loose flagstone along the way and bumping into someone.

"Pardon me," he apologised without thinking, picking up the shopping bag the person had dropped.

"Wow."

He looked up to see Lavender Brown looking at him with an expression of utmost surprise. Draco straightened himself up and handed her the bag. She took the bag from his hand, her eyes focused on him with curiosity. It was only when he made to leave that she seemed to find her voice.

"Malfoy, wait." He turned to look at her, she faltered. "I-uh...well, thanks."

He nodded warily as she stepped closer, a light smile curving her lips. "How is Hermione?" He blinked and her smile turned a little remorseful. "I haven't been to the hospital wing since Valentine's and ... I heard she got out last night but I seem to have missed her."

It was his turn to smile. "Well she can be evasive sometimes. She's alright though. Probably in Zonko's right now with Potter and the Weasels."

She nodded, her face crimped with thought but before he could begin wondering if he should ask, she spoke, her voice soft and strangely distant.

"Malfoy, I ... I may not be in any position to ask and you don't have to answer me if you don't want to. It's just that ... when I saw Hermione that night, writhing on the ground and ... fainting in your arms ... it scared me. And I don't know if you know or if you care to know but it ... well, it reminded me of ..."

She broke off then, unable to continue but it was unneccesary for her to do so as Draco put two and two together. He wasn't stupid.

"I'm sorry Brown. I do know what happened. It must've been horrible, watching the Patil twins die."

She shivered, both hands clutching the handle of her shopping bag. "They were like my sisters, you know? I loved them. That war just ... it destroyed so much." She broke off, scoffing at herself. "I'm sorry, you didn't need to listen to all this."

"It's fine."

"Hermione isn't fine." The look in her eyes somehow told him she knew more about the situation than the average student. "I know she's ill ... she's been ill a couple years now and everytime I ask her about it, she just brushed me off, saying she's fine. I bought all of it then but now after watching her collapse ... I know she's ill. And I know you know, Malfoy. Look," she raised her hand to silence him when he opened his mouth to speak. "I'm not trying to get the truth out of you or trying to be nosy here. I'm just saying, Hermione is my friend too. I love her and it scares me that she's shutting so many people out lately. It scares me that she collapsed and spent a week in the hospital wing. It scares me to think that I might lose another friend."

Lavender made no move to stop Draco from gently wiping away the stray tear on her cheek. She simply stood there, clutching her shopping bag with a face full of emotions. Her eyes were wide and glassy as she fixed her watery gaze at him.

"Just ... take care of her, okay? And if ... if my worries come true, I ... I want to know that you at least made her happy."

"How do you know?"

"She stopped crying in the girls' toilets. Don't stop whatever you're doing to her."

"I have no intention of stopping."

"Good, good," she nodded. "That's good, she deserves to be happy..."

"Lavender..."

She fidgeted. "I have to go, I'll ... I'll see you around, Malfoy."

His hand which caressed her cheek just moments ago hung in the air, slowly curling into a fist. All of a sudden, his surroundings seemed to crowd in on him as though the buildings and people weren't there before. His mind worked quickly and Draco soon found himself a little furious with himself. Was he so completely wrapped up in himself that he had failed to remember the deaths of Parvati and Padma Patil? While it was true that he was never close to the twins or even Lavender for that matter, it should not have been forgotten so easily. He remembered vividly now, crouching between bushes and turning at the wrong moment to see Lavender bending over twin corpses. There had been no time for tears although he did catch a glimpse of the pure horror and disbelief on her face.

Draco sighed heavily. He knew he was being hard on himself. There had been too many deaths during the War, including that of one of his closest friends, Theodore Nott. Of course, Nott had been on the wrong side. Draco had failed to convince him not to follow their Death Eater fathers' footsteps but the Notts were too completely immersed in Dark Arts and the glorification of Voldemort. Theodore's death was not to be quickly forgotten. Draco had been haunted by exaggerated nightmares of the event the entire summer, starting out in variations but always ending the same way, watching Theodore die and being completely helpless to change the situation.

"Well," he muttered to himself, staring at the direction Lavender had gone, "I can't change the past."

He shook himself a little, glanced at the time and began carving the remaining footsteps towards the Three Broomsticks.

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