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Hate, Prejudice and Secret Intentions by Rebekka

Format: Novel
Chapters: 22
Word Count: 123,857
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Mystery, Romance, Angst
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape, Draco, OC
Pairings: Draco/Hermione

First Published: 01/06/2005
Last Chapter: 10/03/2009
Last Updated: 10/03/2009

Summary:
Perfect banner by Jesse

What can you gain after losing everything you've ever had? Draco Malfoy is about to find out as his final year at Hogwarts begins. The very soul of Magick brings two enemies together, forcing them to cooperate under extraordinary circumstances. (Started before HBP)


Chapter 1: Peace Treaty
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Author's notes: I hope you have fun while reading this, because I had so much fun writing it. :) It will be quite long and I will update somewhat regularly.

Disclaimer: I love J.K. Rowling's work and this is my tribute to her. She is one of my inspirations of becoming a writer someday. I do not own the characters, except the ones I have created. All credit belongs to her. The story is mine though.





Hate, Prejudice and Secret Intentions



Peace Treaty


Their final year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry started in the shadow of the Great War.

Both sides were gathering their strengths, both sides were almost ready, but the time had yet to come. And then there was the middle ground; magic users who belonged to neither side. They were the lone wolves, walkers of the old paths, who answered to no one. Dark and Light were both trying to contact these strangers, because their efforts might tip the balance; they might be the crucial advantage.

The upcoming war was on everyone’s lips and every single one of them was terrified at the prospect, the change that was inevitably coming to their lives. No questions asked.

Hermione, Ron and Harry were no exceptions.

There had been so much violence, fear and hatred in their lives over the past few years that they had become too cautious, too suspicious, and they had grown up too fast, taking responsibilities they shouldn’t have taken at the age of seventeen.

They were standing in front of a huge notice board with at least half the school’s students standing around them. There was a set of school rules pinned to the board for everyone to memorize.

The air was full of disappointed cries like: ”What, no Quidditch this year?” and ”We can't go to Hogsmeade?” or ”What does it mean that we have to be in pairs at all times?”

Hermione knew these rules by heart, because Dumbledore had sent them to her with the Head Girl badge and the list of 'things to acquire before the beginning of term'. Actually she had added one rule by herself:

10. You are expected to participate in the war drills.

She didn’t like to admit it, but she was scared to the bone. She had asked Dumbledore to take care of her family, take them to the safe haven his army had created. At least they were safe now, even if she wasn’t. She just wished she could ensure Harry and Ron were safe too.

Hermione knew quite well that the Dark Lord wanted to capture Harry more than ever. The Death Eaters had become less shadowy and a great deal more open and willing to take risks. They had tried to kidnap Harry several times and now he was under strict orders not to go anywhere without a bodyguard. That is why he had stayed with the Weasleys for the summer and was now guarded by an Auror he hadn’t even seen himself. He just knew that the person was there, watching him.

It annoyed him a lot more than he was willing to admit.

”This is bloody brilliant, we aren’t allowed to do anything except study. Where’s the fun in that?” Ron grumbled unhappily while eyeing the rules in disbelief.

Hermione smiled pointedly at him, making him groan and shake his head at her. ”You are impossible; there is not a single person in this school who would disagree with me but you. You are a freak of nature.” He grabbed her in a bear hug and whirled her around and around. She screamed loudly, but soon her screams turned into laughter and giggles.

He always made things better; he made her feel happy, free. Things weren’t so dreadful when he was around.

Ron set her down and kissed her forehead before letting go of her completely. Hermione was still smiling when she heard a familiar voice behind her.

”Move aside, Mudblood. Other people want to see that fascist set of rules, too.”

Her smile died, when she turned to face her old foe. He was taller than before and his now almost white hair had grown over the summer and reached his shoulders, framing his face.

If he hadn’t had that superior, disgusted look permanently etched on his face, he might have been handsome.

”You of all people want to know the rules? Hah, that’s a first. Oh yes, you have to know them to be able to break them.” She smiled at him and was about to walk away with Ron and Harry when he grabbed her arm. He leaned closer, almost touching her ear and whispered, ”You are not going to survive this war.”

She looked shocked and reacted instinctively by trying to slap him with her free hand, but he grabbed that too and held her captured. For a few seconds they just glared at each other and then she spat in his face.

If Ron hadn’t come between them just then and pushed Malfoy away from her, she might have gotten hurt. He looked like he could kill and maybe, just maybe, he really could.

”Leave her alone, troll’s ass. If you touch her ever again, I’m going to beat you to a bloody pulp. Do you understand?”

Malfoy wiped his face and watched Hermione intensely, ignoring Ron completely. He pointed at her with his forefinger.

”You are as good as gone, Mudblood. The whole lot of you.” He could see how his words sank deeply into her, affecting her, hurting her. She bit her lower lip so hard a small drop of blood emerged on her delicate skin. She couldn’t keep herself calm, not now, not after he had pushed all the right buttons, making every muscle in her body tense and ready.

Her eyes were shooting daggers at him and just as she was about to retaliate, Professor Snape walked into the scene.

He had been watching them from further away, seeing their barely restrained hatred burst out into the open. He wasn’t a great supporter of inter-house relationships, but the war was everywhere and he didn’t want it on his doorstep. This kind of behaviour wasn’t helping anyone.

And besides that, he was having a very bad day, a very, very bad day, including several visits to the hospital wing. What was gastric ulcer anyhow?

The air around him went still.

”What is going on here?” He said with as much loathing in his voice as possible. He looked everyone, truly everyone, in the eye, making them feel small and unworthy the way only he could. It was his special skill.

He didn’t give them time to respond to his question, but dragged both Draco and Hermione away like it was the most natural thing to do.

The others felt extremely relieved just to be able to breathe again after his withering eyes had left them.

Hermione tried to object to their violent hauling, but Professor Snape wasn’t listening. Finally it dawned on her that he was beyond furious, and that he was dragging them into the dungeons.

Hermione didn’t like the idea of being alone in the dungeons with the two most hateful Slytherins she knew, but it was hard to come up with a getaway plan when both her hands were in the tight grip of a very powerful wizard.

”Now, listen to me, children,” Snape said after pushing them inside one of the ordinary looking classrooms. ”Do you have any idea what is going on in the world, in this castle, everywhere? You cannot fight openly, not while you are the Heads, not while your behaviour must set an example to the other students. You two are going to act like model citizens from now on, do I make myself clear? If I ever see you fighting again, I’m going to make sure that both of you lose your badges.”

”Professor…” Hermione began, but Snape interrupted her coldly.

”No buts, no what ifs and definitely no ’I didn’t start it’ nonsense. If I see you, you are responsible. Simple as that.”

He then walked to the teacher’s desk, unlocked the top drawer and took out a piece of paper. The scroll looked older than Merlin’s socks, as if it had seen more rain and thunderstorms than the pyramids and Stonehenge combined. He opened the scroll theatrically and gave them a meaningful look.

”Sit down, side by side." Both Hermione and Malfoy looked horrified at the order. "Today would be nice.”

They looked at each other for the first time since Snape’s interference and decided to sit as far from each other as possible while still sitting next to one another. It wasn’t easy.

”This is the first of your many tasks as Head Boy and Girl. Write down every idea you can come up with on uniting the Houses.” They both looked shocked.

”Really Professor, you can’t expect me to work with that…that girl.” Draco said while eyeing her dismissively.

”You have something against girls?”

Draco didn’t say anything, just stared down at the desk in front of him.

”Good. You can start now. I will come back in two hours.”

Immediately after Professor Snape had closed the door behind him, Draco got up, walked to the teacher’s desk and sat on top of it. He wasn’t in a mood to cooperate. He took a coin out of his pocket and started tossing it in the air.

Hermione concentrated on the scroll. It was, in a weird way, eye-catching and beautiful. It made her want to touch it. It made her yearn for the feel of history on her fingertips.

She poked it with her forefinger.

The scroll started to hum quietly, but quite soon the humming changed into an unbearable shrieking that filled the whole room. Hermione could see Draco shouting something, but couldn’t hear a word he was saying. He came to her, grabbed her hands and pushed them to the scroll. The shrieking stopped instantly.

”You idiot, now we can’t let go, unless we want to become deaf. Don’t you fucking know what you are doing? How stupid can you be,” he continued to lash at her, but she wasn’t listening. She was trying to remember.

”Oh my god, this is a Peace Treaty. Isn’t it? They are extremely rare, priceless. How did he get his hands on one of these?” She said, eyes wide with excitement.

Draco snatched his hands away from hers and slapped her in the face. The shrieking started again, but this time it was louder than before, as if it didn’t like hatred or violence at all. It seemed to get restless.

He put his hands on top of hers again.

His ears were ringing and for a second he couldn’t see clearly. The noise was that loud. It went crawling inside your skull, swelling your brain to the point it felt like your head would explode. Not a nice way to go.

Draco was gritting his teeth, so that he wouldn’t do something much worse, something that would hurt him as much as her. He looked at her with utter disgust. He had thought that she actually knew these things.

She was shocked. Nobody had ever hit her, not a boy anyway. In her world, it wasn’t right. You argued, you yelled, you screamed, you got annoyed, but…she was shocked. And then she got angry. She stood up.

”Don’t you ever do that again or I’m going to…” she spat the words out of her mouth.

”You are going to what?” he interrupted rudely. ”You are not in a position to make any threats.”

He didn’t have time to react, before Hermione was at his throat. She bit him hard, never once lifting her hands from the scroll. She wasn’t thinking, she was feeling pitch black.

No person had ever bitten him and he was quite glad of that. Her teeth sank deeply into his soft skin, making him growl with pain. His skin felt like it was ripping apart, burning under her hungry mouth. If he couldn’t get her off him, she would make him scream. He grabbed her throat with one hand and strangled her until, finally, she let go of him.

”What are you? A dog? A bitch, maybe,” he snapped, but regretted it instantly. She hit him hard with her head and now he had a burst lip too.

He glared at her under his brows, his eyes gleaming.

She didn’t look like her usual self at all. There was a wild light in her eyes and her lips and teeth had traces of blood in them. Even her hair was a mess. Who was she? Who was this girl, acting like a beast? Right now, even Hermione couldn’t have given you the answer, she felt so out of herself.

”I hope I’m there to gloat when they kill you…slowly and painfully,” Draco hissed and turned his gaze to the wall.

He had been beaten by a girl and it wasn’t an easy thing to bear.




His hands felt weird on hers, heavy and uncomfortable, like the air around them. They had been standing opposite one another in silence for at least twenty minutes now and she was getting tired. All the anger had gone from her and had been replaced with embarrassment. She had actually bitten him. It might have been funny, if he hadn’t been standing in front of her, clearly getting more furious by the second.

She noticed how he was tapping one of his fingers on the back of her hand.

”Much as it pains me to admit, we’re going to have to try working together if we want to get out of here,” Hermione said finally, unable to stand being in such close proximity to him any longer. ”This is a Peace Treaty, right? If it is, we have to leave here with some kind of agreement. We cannot continue like this, you know it and I know it.”

Silence was her only answer.

She tried again. ”I’m sorry I bit you…and hit you, okay?”

He didn’t say a thing, nor did he look at her.

”What can I say, you bring out the worst in me,” she sighed and lowered her head.

”What do you know, the Gryffindor queen apologising,” he said with a wicked grin, which made Hermione extremely worried. There was also something new in his posture. He was turning his head from side to side, measuring her like she was his prey. And suddenly he was too close.

What happened next was something she wasn’t ready for. He locked her eyes into his, licked his lips and said a word she didn’t understand nor did she recognize the language.

He had hexed her, just like that.

”What did you do?” she screamed. Something was going to happen and she knew she wasn’t going to like it. Something was happening. She felt something weird on her head, her hair felt…alive. And then it stared at her, right in the eye. A snake, lots of them. Her hair was full of snakes, her hair was snakes.

”Oh, my god. Take them off. Take it off! TAKE IT OFF!”

He was laughing out loud.

”And what if I don’t?” he managed to say between bursts of laughter.

She jumped away from him and rammed hard against a table behind her. She was screaming incoherently, trying to push the snakes out of her face.

The scroll reminded them of its presence yet again with a stunning wail and for some reason, Hermione’s screams urged it to get higher notes into its repertoire.

Draco was still laughing even though his nose had started to bleed. Soon after that he found it extremely hard to stand upright, but still he wasn’t worried. This was his revenge, childish maybe, but revenge anyhow. She should consider herself lucky that he hadn’t done something nastier.

She didn’t notice him anymore, or anything else for that matter. There was not a single clear thought in her head; she was out of her mind with sheer panic. Her body lay in the corner, shivering, and her mind was wandering around repeating one thing over and over again: ”This can’t be happening, this can’t be happening.” She was seconds away from unconsciousness.

And then suddenly she felt hands on her hair, on her real hair. Somebody lifted her up and carried her to where the scroll was. And then the hellish noise was gone again. What a beautiful silence surrounded them.

”You really are stubborn,” that somebody said.

Her eyes weren’t working, her mind was numb, and she wasn’t sure if she was really there, wherever ‘there’ was.

”I leave you here for thirty minutes and you almost kill each other. How wonderfully cooperative.” Professor Snape was watching his two top students with what looked almost like despair. ”What should I do with you? I can’t break this spell. Nobody can but you. It’s ancient magic.” He sighed. ”I should have been more careful, but ... Maybe I should just glue your hands to the scroll.”

He might as well have been talking to himself; the boy and the girl were in another world.

”I’ll have to watch over you. Try to behave until I return.” He walked away leaving them, feeling quite lost.




”This is all your fault.”

It was the first thing they said to each other after what felt like hours of recovery. They were now sitting opposite one another, their hands on the scroll, his on top of hers.

”This is crazy. We’re never going to get out of here,” she said.

”Speak for yourself.” He said it as if there was a way for him to escape from the situation. Of course he was bluffing.

”Do you want to spend the rest of your miserable life sitting here with me?” she asked, hoping against hope for the millionth time that this was only a dream.

”What do you think? This is a nightmare come true. What the hell was that traitor thinking?” He was getting angry again and that she didn’t want. His last words also worried her; did he know that Professor Snape was actually one of Dumbledore’s agents? Did his father know about it?

”What?” he snapped. Her worries must have been clear on her face.

”Nothing,” she said haughtily.

He watched her carefully for a while as if trying to see what she was hiding. After a minute or two he must have decided that it wasn’t worth it, because he blinked and turned his gaze to their united hands.

She breathed out loudly, realizing that she had been holding her breath under his searching eyes. She was scared of him, more than before. She knew now that he could hurt her just with his words. He didn’t need a wand for that. It worried her that his magic was different from hers. But their current situation worried her even more.

”Could we talk about this situation? Call a truce just for a moment? We wouldn’t have to tell anybody about it.” Hermione was almost pleading. She didn’t like the idea of spending the night with him in this cold classroom. Sleeping was out of the question in that scenario.

”Talk,” he said coldly.

”Okay. Well I think we should do as Snape told us and try to come up with at least two ideas on uniting the Houses.”

”Don't you know anything? That’s not nearly enough. We have to reveal secrets, which we promise to keep forever,” his smile was full of mockery. "Are you willing to trust me?"

”What? This parchment needs an agreement, not secrets.” She was certain he was trying to lead her on.

”Are you sure? Well we can try that. Give me an idea and I will work with you.” He was having fun again. At her expense.

”Hmm … how about if we change the House colours into Hogwarts colours as we all are Hogwarts’ students. And then we could also rearrange the tables in the Great Hall, so that people would sit at mixed tables. And maybe we should consider opening up the common rooms so that students from the other houses can enter them if they want. What do you think?”

You are a childish idiot and a dreamer of the worst kind, he thought but said: ”We could try that. And maybe we could also have discussion rings where everybody could discuss how they feel about the upcoming war and the break between Mu…Muggle-borns and Purebloods. How about that?”

”You're mocking me.”

”Oh Miss Granger, what makes you say that? I have only good intentions in my heart. Promise.” He almost looked like a boy scout (if boy scouts would wear robes and had a long white hair).

”I hate you,” she said plainly.

”The feeling is mutual.”

And once again they were back at square one.


***



”Can’t we do something?” Professor Snape asked the Headmaster.

Dumbledore watched his old friend appreciatively. He had changed over the years, more than anyone he had had the pleasure of knowing. Today, he was a good man.

”I'm afraid it is their ordeal. And for that matter, it might be the best thing that has ever happened to Slytherin and Gryffindor.”

”Hmm, I’m not sure if I agree,” Snape said, but then added: ”It’s just that I’m afraid that they won’t or can’t see through their differences. As you know, they have been enemies from day one.”

”But they also represent what this whole war is about. Their truce might change the future. That’s what I’m hoping for.”

In Snape’s opinion, Dumbledore had too much faith in his pupils, but he had to admit that these two could make a difference. They were so popular and powerful.

And he wanted to see Draco Malfoy’s arms clean, no marks, no blood. So he backed up Dumbledore’s plan, if a little reluctantly.


***



”Are you happy now? We have to spend the night in here. You are impossible.” She had had enough; his attitude was getting on her nerves. She wanted to get out and for that she needed him. It was the worst kind of situation.

”Sleep well, Mudblood,” he responded.

”Why do you have to be such an arse?”

”Do you really want to know the answer? Maybe you need to know it?” He let the words come out of him with all the hatred and frustration he felt. ”I have to touch you, I have to be near you while you taint me with your blood. I have to tolerate your stupidity and utter ugliness. And worst of all, you won’t shut your fucking mouth.” The last part he said with a warning tone.

Her whole body stiffened and she leaned as far away from him as possible. Apparently his words could hurt her this way too. She didn’t like it at all, the power he had over her. She wanted to get rid of him, now.

”I’m unclean and ugly, am I? Well, you are the most insufferable loser I’ve ever met. Always picking on people smaller than you. Loser in Quidditch, loser in popularity, loser in love and loser in strength. You’re never going to be as good as Harry. Never! You are going to crawl into the ground when he finally gets to show you his true power. Actually, I think you would lose to Neville, if there ever were a duel between the two of you. You are the worst of the worst, because you are all threats and no power. You idiot, wannabe Death Eater.”

He was taken aback. Her outburst had surprised him, because he was quite sure she was afraid of him. She had some backbone after all.

”Loser in love, what’s that all about?” He smiled almost genuinely.

She confronted his gaze, but wasn’t sure how to answer. That had just come out of her mouth. Maybe because Harry was so happy with Ginny and it made her feel…well, it made her feel like a loser. She couldn’t find anybody to love her. She was too freakish for everybody.

”Forget it. Just anger talking,” she said.

”Yeah, right. And pigs fly.”

Hermione couldn’t understand the sudden change in Malfoy’s tone. He seemed almost civil. She walked on thin ice, she knew, but she wanted to get out, so she tried her luck.

”Malfoy, could we help each other out of here?” she asked quietly.

He didn’t say anything for a long while and she was starting to believe that he was giving her the silent treatment. It was making her agitated, but then finally, he spoke.

”Okay, let’s get out of here.” He watched her carefully. ”Here’s the thing, we both need to reveal two secrets and on top of that we have to write our names on the Peace Treaty under several points on which we agree. Can you do that?”

She nodded, unable to speak.

”Good. We can lift our hands from the scroll. It won’t scream now that we are willing to cooperate.”

He was right. It only hummed quietly.

”Now, tell me your secrets,” he commanded.

She hesitated. ”Um, maybe we could reveal them in turns?”

”Whatever, bitch.”

She was making him mad again and the scroll didn’t know how to react to their weird cooperation, which was full of distrust. It wailed a bit and then fell silent.

”What kind of secrets should they be?” she asked, not knowing what to say.

”The kind you haven’t told to anyone, those you hold dear to yourself, personal ones.”

”Okay, this is my first.” Her voice staggered a bit. ”I have a mad brother, who couldn’t deal with the fact that he had magic in his blood. I’m afraid of losing my mind like he did.” She rested her head to her hands, scared that he might say something cruel or degrading, but he only gave her his secret.

”I don’t want to tell you this, but…I have no memory of last summer. My father says I will remember, when the time comes. But I’m not sure if I want to.” Every word came out of his mouth reluctantly. He didn’t want her to know how fucked up his life really was.

She didn’t know what to say to him, so she continued her own revelations.

”I was almost raped by a Death Eater, but one of our teachers was able to save me.” She was always grateful to Snape, always. At the risk of blowing his cover, he had stunned her attacker and had taken her to safety. From that moment on, she had trusted him completely even though he was still truly annoying and mean spirited, and lacked any kind of decency towards Harry. But he was a good person and it meant the world to her. Of course, the boys had never understood the sudden change in her attitude towards Snape, but they didn’t know. Now, Malfoy was the only one to know. She really hoped that he would keep it to himself.

He didn’t like this subject at all. It made him feel like his skin wanted to crawl off of him.

”I can’t do this.” He said and grabbed her hands before the scroll started to shriek again. Hermione looked betrayed and hurt, and anger was clearly under everything else she was feeling. She was stunned by his lack of character.

”What do you mean, you can’t do this? Continue, you bastard. Tell me your secret. I want to get out of here. I told you, you have to tell me. Malfoy, you retard. I truly hate you. I hate you. I hate you! I HATE YOU!!” She tried to get her hands from under his, but he held her tight.

”Let go of me, stupidhead. I’m not going to stay here with you for another minute. Let go, damn it.”

He looked at her with a veiled expression on his face and said: ”Sit down. I’m not telling you anything. We’ll wait for Professor Snape. He will get us out of here.”

”You know quite well he can’t. Oh my god, you are the stupid one here. Can’t you see how close we are to being freed? I won’t tell anyone, I won’t even listen carefully if you don’t want me to. I won’t say anything. Please, Malfoy. Please, Draco. Please,” she begged, her eyes only inches away from his.

He pushed her away, but something was different, because the scroll didn’t start its brain deadening show. It made her hopeful and after a few moments, her efforts were rewarded.

”I don’t want to be here with you. It has to count something.” He crouched over the table and bowed his head to his hands. ”There is nothing in me but my father; I’m a copy of him. And he wants me to follow his footsteps, he expects me to… He didn’t even ask…” He then pulled his right sleeve up and showed her the mark his father had burned into his skin. It was similar to the Dark Mark, but it hadn’t been done magically. There had been only metal and a lot of heat.

She brushed her thumb over the troubled skin, sadness in her eyes. There was no years of torment, no ill-behaviour, no verbal abuse. There was only an act of human compassion.

The moment held no hatred between them. She gave him something nobody had ever given him. Her touch made his heart jump and only for a second, he let her stay in his world. Then he pulled his hand away and sat down on the table next to the scroll.

An awkward silence fell upon them.

”Let’s write down our ideas.” Hermione said finally. She didn’t want to break the silence, but it was really late and she wanted to go to bed. The day had been too eventful; she needed to be alone.

She sat down, took a quill and a small bottle of ink out of her pocket and started to write 'How to unite the Houses?' on the parchment.

Nothing happened.

”What now?” she asked, frustrated.

He sat down beside her and took her hand to his own.

”We have to write it together.” He didn’t know what to think anymore. His mind was as tired as his body. He didn’t have much resistance left in him. He just wanted to leave the whole incident behind him. This really wasn’t his usual world.

”Oh…” Hermione was too aware of him, sitting there so close to her, holding her hand. It felt wrong. She didn’t like him. At all.

They wrote down all the ideas they had come up with earlier. Then they thought of a few more, like the mixed House masquerade and the storyboard where people could write nice things about their inter-house relationships.

In the end, their list had ten items in it. Hermione was quite pleased with it, although it was too short and didn’t have any brilliant ideas in it, only good ones. Draco couldn’t have cared less, he just wanted to get out of the situation, which he couldn’t control, and was willing to agree on almost anything.

Now they had to write down only their names. It was the first time she wrote his name, Draco Bellator Malfoy. Hers was so much simpler, Hermione Jean Granger. And then it was over.

The scroll closed itself.

He let go of her hand, stood up and walked away without a word.

”Bellator…” she said. It was a funny name, his whole name was funny, Dragon Warrior. It made her smile.

It hadn’t been a bad day after all. She knew some of his secrets, so maybe hers were safe too. And Bellator, that she wouldn’t forget. He would hear about it later, if he continued to harass her.



Chapter 2: The Colour of Magick
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The Colour of Magick



”Do you know what he looks like?” Harry whispered to Hermione. They were standing tightly against a wall, waiting for their new teacher. All the seventh year students were gathered in front of their locked classroom door in one of the many towers of the castle. There really wasn’t enough room for all of them and they were getting agitated. Some people were already arguing.

Their teacher was late.

”No, I haven’t even heard of him. He’s not in any of my books,” Hermione answered. She had to lean closer to Harry, because the mass of students kept jostling around them. ”I have no idea what this course is about either. As you should know,” and this she said with a hint of preaching in her voice. ”There was no booklist and in the timetable, there was written only: ’Magick’ - with a k.”

”Maybe it's something to do with old magic,” Ron joined in their whispered conversation. ”Maybe he’s some kind of a shaman…” He didn’t have a chance to complete his sentence, because somebody pushed him hard against the other Gryffindor students and made him fall down to the ground, landing on top of a girl named Miriam. She screamed loudly and Ron, trying to get up, blushed from head to toe, feeling like all he had were arms and legs, tangled up all over her.

”Watch where you’re going,” was the only apology they got from the intruder. Malfoy and his goons passed them, grinning widely while pushing other people out of their way as politely as they had done to Ron.

Hermione was fuming when she gave Ron a helping hand and pulled him up. What right did that arrogant, spoiled little brat think he had, treating people like this. He was the Head Boy, for Merlin’s sake. Didn’t he know what it meant; how many people before him had cherished the honour. She absolutely hated the ferret.

”Malfoy,” she demanded. ”Come back here and apologise to them at once.” She sounded a lot like a teacher and looked even more so, hands on her waist and a grim look in her eyes.

He stopped in his tracks and turned around very slowly. His face was expressionless, but his hands clenched into fists, so tight his knuckles were getting white. She had broken their silent promise not to stir up anything between them ever again. She had managed to keep her mouth shut for two weeks, two freaking weeks. She was unbelievable.

”I think it should be you apologising to me for speaking to me in that tone of voice. Or actually, for speaking to me at all. Go freeze Hell, Granger.”

Malfoy turned and continued to walk away with his laughing friends.

”Arrogant, spoiled little ferret…” she muttered under her breath while cleaning Ron’s clothes in a ferocious manner. The poor boy was trying to apologise to the girl, Miriam, he had stumbled into and at the same time avoid Hermione’s violent expressions of affection.

Suddenly their teacher was there, standing in the furthest corner of the corridor, watching them, listening.

He was nothing that they had expected.

Where was that old man with a long beard, earthy clothes and wandering eyes? He was too young to be a teacher and his appearance lacked any kind of respectful propriety. He had long, smooth, black hair, he wore brick-red robes and his eyes and nails were painted black. He looked more like a trainee wizard with an over-developed sense of drama than a bona fide teacher.

But the weirdest thing about him was that he wasn’t completely there. It felt almost like you couldn’t see him, if you looked from a different angle, but still, he was there. Parts of him just seemed to be somewhere else as if he was too stretched, too thin for the eye to see. It made your eyes hurt, if you tried too hard to get a clear view of him.

He was leaning against the wall, arms crossed.

”Is that him?” Hermione mouthed to Harry and Ron, her hands still brushing off the non-existent dirt from Ron’s shirt. Both boys just shrugged and continued to stare at their teacher. There was something hypnotic about him.

The man pulled his hair back and tied it into a knot at the back of his neck. Then he walked past the staring eyes (people were more than willing to give him room) to the locked classroom door, which opened without any effort on his part, and stepped inside.

He left the door open, inviting them in with a gesture.

There was neither chairs nor desks in the classroom, only a huge chandelier in the middle of the ceiling and pillows and rugs to the sides of the room. Their teacher was waiting for them in front of a blackboard, on which he had written: Call me Amadeus.

Hermione felt immediately uncomfortable as she walked into the classroom. Her heart climbed up to her throat, her hands began to sweat and her legs felt like jelly. She was quite sure that there had been some kind of a barrier in front of the doorway - a magical barrier, which had read her aura or something. And it wasn’t just the room, their teacher was giving her the willies, too. How many bad apples had they had among their teachers over the past years, how many indeed.

She was going to watch him closely.

Finally, after all the Gryffindors, Slytherins, Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs had gathered into the large room, Amadeus spoke. He had a very deep, soulful voice, which carried all the way to the back of the room.

”I have no intention of making you like me or my teachings. My only duty is to teach you how to survive, nothing else.”

He started to walk among them.

”Being here isn’t easy for me, so I expect you not to waste my time. I want your full attention, and if you cannot give me that, I wish you to leave now.” Amadeus eyed them all carefully, intruding their minds like they were open books for him to read. His gaze seemed to bore into their very souls, making them feel small and exposed.

”You two,” he pointed at two Ravenclaw boys. ”It seems like you would prefer to be outside flying, like the second years. You are free to go.”

The boys looked shocked and tried to object, but Amadeus just waited for them to leave. They walked out, tails between their legs, closing the door behind them.

Amadeus continued to walk among them like nothing had happened.

His eyes made Hermione feel like she was just a pool of knowledge to him and not a person at all. He roamed through her mind almost violently and when he finally released her eyes and continued to study his other students, she was barely able to stand still with her trembling legs. She needed a friendly shoulder to lean on.

Ron turned his concerned eyes to her when she grabbed his arm for support. She gave him the thumbs-up and to her relief, he relaxed a bit. Ron seemed to believe that she wasn’t one to be worried about, because she was so level headed and strong. Sometimes, even her friends didn’t know her that well.

After a few moments of 'getting to know one another’, Amadeus returned to the blackboard and pulled his wand out of his robes. He tossed it from one hand to the other a few times, letting all of them notice it, and then, broke it into a half.

With that he got their undivided attention.

Then he threw the parts to the other end of the room and watched them follow the shattered movements of his damaged wand.

The room seemed to get smaller and darker.

”What happens, if you lose your wand? What happens to your magic then?” His words echoed in the otherwise silent space.

Confusion dominated the room. Their faces were pictures of disbelief and shock, but nobody said a thing. Amadeus let the silence do its work for him, making them more nervous and perhaps even scared. They needed the emotions, the more they felt the better they would accept the changes. He listened to their breathing getting heavier by the second and soon the tension in the room grew almost unbearable.

He smiled to himself when he finally commanded:

”Sit!”

The power of the word hit them all at the same time, making them fall down to the ground with a soft thud - it was nearly impossible to maintain control over oneself in his presence.

They all felt dumbstruck, Hermione, Ron and Harry among the rest. It wasn’t easy to accept that somebody could push you around seemingly without any magic involved. But before anybody could do or say anything, something happened.

After a short moment of complete stillness, the room temperature dropped heavily, and it felt almost as if they had moved into a different place.

Hermione felt the whole room change. It felt almost alive, like it was pulsating, breathing, feeding on their energy. The air turned a dark fiery red and the ground beneath her started to move like a ship in the sea; her senses didn’t work correctly anymore. She felt the need to create some kind of a movement, to tap the floor with her fingers or swing herself back and forth, back and forth. Her brain was overloaded with information, which she couldn’t understand, and the place she was in was too full of strong memories, feelings, colours and ideas. Hermione was getting lost in it all.

Everything around her slowed down, but her mind and heart kept racing faster than ever. She was the only thing that was moving too fast. She heard whispers, words she didn’t understand, and saw faceless monsters of every colour and shape, but the worst part was when she realised that it was all in her mind. The real world was as real as ever and there seemed to be nothing wrong with it. All the wrongness was in her.

She tried to see how the others were reacting - did they see the things she saw - but they seemed to be so far away. She was left alone with her ever growing fear of falling.

And there was nobody to catch her.

”This is the Colour of Magick, the very place…no, the very state Voldemort himself is trying to understand, to control. This is your power, this is your words, your wands, your potions. This is the very essence of magick.” He pulled them back to the reality of normal life and sent the pillows and rugs flying through the air, landing them at his students’ feet.

”You need to rest now. That was the last time you will go there alone. Sleep fifteen minutes and wake up with fresh minds.”

There was no will left in them, other than the need to rest, so without a word, they wrapped the rugs around themselves and fell asleep immediately. Amadeus guarded their sleeping figures with a tired expression on his face. It really was difficult for him to be there.

Hermione dreamed of being a small, furry, pink ball surrounded by millions of other furry balls. If, as a ball, she could have felt something, she would have been the happiest ball in the world. Her life was full of bouncing, pink happiness.

And then she woke up.

There were sounds of people turning, yawning, getting up, but she felt like returning to her dream; it had been so warm and fluffy. But as always, she felt the urge to act properly, and stood up with the rest of the group.

They eyed each other bashfully, as if not sure how the others would react to their vulnerable state of sudden awareness. People rarely slept with strangers, and there was a good reason for that. Something happens when you fall asleep: all the barriers you have created over the years disappear and the child inside you takes over. In those waking moments, you can truly see into the hearts of others.

”There is no need to prolong this,” Amadeus said after everyone had settled themselves. ”Please form four lines and close your eyes. This will take only a second.” Almost all of them wanted to protest, but none did. Curiosity might have been the strongest reason, but then again, Amadeus seemed to get everything the way he wanted.

Before she closed her eyes, Hermione threw a quick glance at Harry. He was standing on her right, whispering something to Ron and to get his attention, she poked him in the arm. He turned to her, smiling widely and touched her cheek with the back of his hand. It was an unexpected gesture of fondness, and to his amusement she blushed.

Just as she was about to pay him back with a hug, she felt eyes on her.

Hermione turned to see, who was watching her and almost swallowed her tongue, when she caught him off guard. His cold, grey eyes were full of mixed feelings: anger, hate and - something else that he had tried to hide from her. But she had seen it. She didn’t know what it was, but she had seen it. For the lack of a better word, she would have described it as jealousy. She shivered at the thought and pushed him to the far rims of her mind.

The men around her had truly gone crazy.

She decided to ignore them, closed her eyes and waited for the strange man to begin his teaching.

”First and third line, please turn 180 degrees. Good. Now, grab the right hand of the person standing opposite you and push yourself away from him or her. You will stumble on to people, but do not stop until you cannot move. Let your movement guide you.”

Hermione did as she was told. She tried to grab the right hand of the person, standing in front of her in the first line, but it was quite difficult. Finally they were able to take one another’s hands and push themselves to movement. She managed to avoid the collision between her and the person standing behind her and started to whirl around faster than she thought to be possible.

She lost all sense of direction and time.

There were only invisible powers that made her spin, made her fly, made her feel exhausted, like she had been running many miles, for many hours. And then it all stopped. For the longest time, she could hear only her own heartbeats and ragged breathing. Finally she noticed that Amadeus had been talking a quite awhile, but she heard only his last words, ”…is your partner. Now, take his or her hand and open your eyes.”

She groped for the person in front of her, but couldn’t reach anybody. For a fleeting second, she was afraid that she had failed, that she had done something terribly wrong and there wasn’t a person there, but then she felt fingers tangle around hers. The smile that lighted her face was full of utter triumph.

She opened her eyes, only to realise that her least favourite person was standing there, holding her hand. The only thing that made her feel even remotely good, was the expression on his face; he looked way beyond shocked.

At exactly the same time, they let go of each other’s hands.

The effect was immediate: both of them lost their footing and fell down to their knees. Hermione was the first one to try to get up, but she couldn’t move a muscle in her body. She felt like her whole body had been locked down.

”Did I say anything about letting go? I think not. Pay attention, the two of you,” Amadeus said, when he got to them. He took their hands to his and united them. Again the effect was immediate and they could move normally; they both stood up quickly.

”This is ancient magick.” He sighed heavily and then continued, ”My people have inherited the knowledge from their forefathers, so I wish you to take it seriously. I will tell you everything you need to do or know. Do not overstep the boundaries.”

Hermione and Draco stood there, eyeing each other accusingly, knowing quite well that they were helpless against the situation. They could do absolutely nothing about it. But they could make the other feel thoroughly miserable about it, and that they were determined to do.

Hermione winced with pain, when Draco squeezed her hand, almost crushing her fingers. She really tried to ignore him, but was unable to do so, due to his childishness. Her hand was getting numb and with her remaining strength she dug her nails deep into his palm. Draco took the hint and released his grip a bit, but continued to hold her hand like she was the vilest thing he had ever encountered. She rolled her eyes at him.

”Your partner will be able to guide you, while you practise wandless magic. She or he will keep you safe, when you concentrated on taming the magical energy, both inside and around you.” Amadeus then explained to them why it was so important to keep the connection between them at all times. In the beginning of their training, they were vulnerable to tricks played by their own mind. Later on, it would all change. After a few warnings, he let the walls between the different worlds fall down again and sent them back to the Colour of Magick.

This time Hermione felt almost normal at first. As much as she hated to admit it, he was able to keep her in a better balance, and she suspected that she did the same to him. It was weird to look at it all. It was as if she was out of her own mind, watching it all with somebody else’s eyes. ’Freaky’ was the word she was looking for.

To Draco the whole situation was laughable. He was quite sure that there was a god and it definitely hated him. It was probably playing chess with him right now - he was just a pawn in an endless game of humiliation. He felt miserable, and so the scenery in front of him was a picture of misery. Draco was walking in a desert, so vast and so dead that it ached to watch it, but he didn’t notice anything. He was too busy pitying himself.

Hermione glanced at the blond boy and instantly, she was walking in the same desert alongside him. It nearly scared the wits out of her, because she most definitely didn’t want to explore his mind; she didn’t want to know his demons. Malfoy was too far gone (a lost soul as she might have described him to a fellow Gryffindor) to be good for her to know. What creatures would lurk in the corners of his mind - she really didn’t want to find out.

But as much as she tried, she couldn’t shake herself out of his mind. She was stuck with him, forced to follow him wherever he might lead her. The only problem was that he didn’t seem to know where he was going. It was as if he was blindfolded - or lost.

And then suddenly Hermione was standing in a dark street, alone. Malfoy was gone and there was nobody else in sight either; for the second time that day, she was completely alone. The rain was tap-tap-tapping on cold, hard pavement and it brought to her mind an old song she had heard as a child. She couldn’t remember its origins nor a name for it, just the melody that chilled her more than anything she had seen or heard so far.

There was no reason for her to be so scared. Sure, it was dark and mysteriously quiet, but she felt normal and there was nothing in the darkness. Nothing at all. There was clearly no reason to panic.

Her heart skipped a beat, when she heard the voices, coming towards her. She swallowed hard as she realised who they were.

”There is one family that needs a visit too. Maybe we’ll go there later tonight, but let’s deal with these people first.” A group of masked Death Eaters came to Hermione’s sight, dragging three people behind them; the poor Muggles looked like they had been tortured already. She wanted to scream, she really did, but all she could do was slide down the wall behind her and hug herself. They were going to kill them.

One of the masked men, the one who had spoken earlier, grabbed the first Muggle by her hair and pushed her to the ground. She was begging for her life, sobbing wildly, but it made no difference to the man’s actions. The words seemed to kill all the remaining light in the street.

”Avada Kedavra!”

Hermione screamed. She jumped from her hiding place, trying to find her wand, but couldn’t reach it. She didn’t mind, all she wanted was his eyes, those cold eyes that had no mercy in them. But as she got to the Death Eaters, she ran through them; they were ghosts to her, not there for her to attack. She tried to touch them, tried to kick them, but nothing happened. She screamed as loud as she could, hurting her throat.

Frustrated, she walked back to her watching place. She could do nothing, they weren’t real and they weren’t there. But it didn’t make her feel any better. This had happened.

The killer of the group motioned one of the masked figures to come to him and finish off the last two frightened Muggles. He seemed to resist for a second, but then took his wand out of his pocket and pointed it at the men kneeling in front of him. The wizard said the words ending the Muggles’ lives like he would have ordered a meal in a restaurant. Nothing special.

Tears were running down Hermione’s cheeks, but she was unaware of them. The only thing she noticed were the dead people lying on the pavement, her kind, her race, her future. And the more she looked at them, the more they reminded of her parents, her loving mother and father. She was on her hands and knees, unable to control herself anymore. She collapsed to the ground, unconscious.



”What ever you do, do not let go of her hand,” Amadeus ordered in the nick of time. Draco was just about to let go of Hermione’s hand, as she fell down to the ground.

Amadeus had brought them all back at the same time Hermione had fallen down and after a few seconds of recovery; they had surrounded the couple in question.

”What did you do to her?” Ron and Harry said at the same time, both ready to jump at him.

He looked up at them, annoyed, while kneeling beside her unconscious body. ”Nothing, she just passed out. I was minding my own business and she just fell. Crazy bitch.”

”Watch your mouth, Malfoy,” Harry said, pulling out his wand.

”Stop that, immediately,” Amadeus interrupted them. ”She needs you now, you have to find her. Her mind is in your hands.” He spoke directly to Draco, looking at him appraisingly.

Draco could see that he was more than serious, but he just wanted to laugh. The mind of the precious Mudblood. What would happen if he just let go? Would she be forever lost in some kind of a dark place, would she be alone till the end of the world, would she?

”Don’t you dare to let go,” Harry said quietly. His eyes were steady and the wand in his hand was aimed at Malfoy. ”If you do, I will chop you to pieces and feed you to Aragog.”

The blond boy looked at him carefully, but the smirk on his face was as wide as ever. ”Nah, wasn’t going to. I want to see what makes this girl tick.” His expression changed into a careless one, as he continued, ”Now, would you please shut up, so I can go save this damned girl.”

He closed his eyes and concentrated on her mind; on their united hands and with Amadeus’ help he was on his way.

Draco felt less certain about himself than what he seemed to be. Where was she and how the hell could he find her? And what was he supposed to do, when he did find her? It was a whole new territory for him. He had never saved anybody before, except probably himself – and even that he wasn’t sure about.

Draco started to walk down the street, unaware of the song playing in the shadows. He got easily lost into his own thoughts, as his father had noted. ”You will never learn to control your mind, if you let your thoughts get the better of you,” his father had said to him time and again.

What did his father have to do with any of this? He didn’t want to think about the loser, the escaped convict, the one who couldn’t keep his honour. But Lucius was there to stay, whether he liked it or not. So, he let him be there, let him walk with him.

Draco tried to keep his mind cool, steady, strong, but something was lurking in the shadows, something was after him and it was breathing down his neck. He turned to see if somebody was behind him, but there was only black emptiness there; everything real was in front of him. He wanted to turn around, leave the bint behind, open his eyes and say that he couldn’t find her, but something kept him going. He wasn’t sure what it was and he was pretty sure that he didn’t want to find out either. He wasn’t noble or anything, he just didn’t wish to lose the game.

Suddenly, he slipped on to something and fell to the ground on his back. He cursed loudly, holding his aching wrist and tried to see what had made him slip. When the realisation hit him, he almost screamed – not a manly scream, but a girly-girl I’m-oh-so-frightened! scream.

He was swimming in a pool of blood and the longer he stayed there, the deeper the pool became. But the worst part was that there were people there with him, dead people. And somehow he knew that they were all his victims, future victims of his cruel nature and blood-bigotry. And then, he just screamed, not caring if he sounded weak or womanly.

Still screaming, he pulled himself out of the pool, back to the pavement. He ran as fast as he could, not giving a second thought to anything.

Draco came to a sudden halt, as he noticed Hermione, lying there on her stomach. He hadn’t expected to find her that easily and at first, he didn’t believe she was real at all. She was some kind of a trick, she had to be. But then she moved slightly and her muddy face turned towards the streetlight, giving him the confirmation he needed. He could see nobody else though; there was nothing that could have made her fall unconscious.

Draco watched her still figure awhile and then threw her over his shoulder and started to carry her back to the realness of the real world. He didn’t have a clue what to do to her if that didn’t work.

”Hell, Granger. You’re heavy,” he muttered to her. ”I can’t believe a tiny person like you could weight this much. You should lose some weight.”

The scenery had changed yet again. They were now in a forest with huge trees and ground cover so thick he had difficulties maintaining his steady pace. She was still unconscious, but her eyes were moving, as if she was dreaming. He really needed for her to wake up, there was not much strength left in him and this world seemed to be more of hers than his. He needed her to guide them out of there.

”Bugger,” he groaned. ”Open your eyes, you stupid bint. I can’t carry you any further.” He dropped her to the ground awkwardly and then, sat down next to her, cross-legged. He tried to remember anything that might help him now, but there was nothing that fit the picture. He had got lost into her mind and she wasn’t there to help him out. It was the single most irritating situation he had ever been in. He had to wait for her to wake up.

It wasn’t long before he, too, fell asleep.

Not a good idea.

”Do you know which part of me is you?”

He lay beside her, aware of her scent, which had a touch of spring and freshly cut grass in it.

”Are you sure you want to leave?”

The more he breathed her in, the more exposed he felt. She was crawling inside his skin.

”You want to touch me, don’t you?”

He woke up, jumping away from her, breathing heavily. His eyes were wide with shock, when he looked at her. Then his eyes narrowed and an evil look clouded his face.

”What are you doing to me, bitch?” he snarled at her.

Hermione opened her eyes. It took awhile for her eyes to get used to the light, but then finally, she could see Malfoy, standing in front of her, an ugly expression on his face.

”What?” she mumbled. Her head ached and there was no feeling in her legs. She didn’t have any clue where she was. And why was he looking at her like she was some kind of a vile monster? She had been asleep. What could she possibly have done to him? Annoying immature idiot.

She stood up and took a few wobbly steps in his direction.

”Stay there, don’t come near me.” His voice was cold and his eyes even colder. He backed away a few steps.

There was something wrong with him, had he gone mad? How long had they been there, how long had she been asleep? Why did it have to be him? Of all people, why him?

She put her hands up in peace and said, ”Okay, okay, I’ll leave you alone, just tell me what happened. I don’t remember anything. Where are we? Where is everybody? What happened?”

He relaxed a bit. It was only a dream, nothing else, just a dream.

”We’re in your mind, Mudblood. The Colour of Magick, remember? You passed out; I had to come find you. Here we are.”

She said nothing for a moment as if she was pondering something and then asked, ”I remember being in your mind, how come we’re in mine now?”

”How should I know? I just know that in my mind, there are no forests and cute, little birds like that.” He pointed at a small, red-black bird on a tree branch.

”That makes sense,” she said more to herself than him and then continued aloud, ”I think this is the Forbidden Forest. I dream a lot about it, so it would be natural for it to be one of the challenges my mind throws at me. We are close to home, so we could probably find our way back with a bit of meditation or something like that.”

”You mean holding hands and mumbling stupid words? I’m not up for that.” He was annoyed that she had come around so quickly, but even more so, because he didn’t want to hold her hands. She was…well, she was a filthy Mudblood.

”Yes, I figured that out already. You can just stand there, I will get us home.” She kneeled on the ground, sat on top of her legs, united her hands and started to concentrate on the room in one of the towers at Hogwarts. It didn’t take long for her to find it. She saw herself first and then also Malfoy, kneeling beside her and holding her hand. He looked better, now that he wasn’t talking or watching her with disgust in his eyes. He looked almost normal, and very young.

Everybody had concerned looks on their faces. Harry and Ron were standing side by side, watching her intensely. Warmth flowed through her when she looked at them. Her two best friends.

Amadeus watched Hermione too, but not the person lying there on the floor, but the person she was as she watched them all. He startled her, but Amadeus just smiled and motioned her to move where her body lay. She did that and sat up, making them all jump.

”Are you all right?” everybody asked at the same time, but Harry and Ron just stared at her. For an hour, they had been waiting for this moment and now, it was too much. Ron was the first one to hug her and soon Harry joined them.

”Get a room,” Malfoy remarked and then continued with a mocking tone, ”And I would greatly appreciate it if the fine lady could let go of my hand now. You are safe, as you can see.”

She released his hand and said in an equally mocking tone, ”Oh, I must have been so confused earlier, when I didn’t notice you saving me. I apologise and wish to extend my most sincere thanks.”

”Shut up, you know I saved your neck. You owe me.”

”I wasn’t conscious enough to know what it is you did.”

”I guess you weren’t,” he said with an evil grin, which made her blush.

”Oh, go to hell, Malfoy!”

”Not before you, little girl. Not before you.”

Amadeus watched their bickering from further away. He was quite pleased that they had managed to pull it off on their own. But he was feeling tired and it was time to go, so he said, ”Amazingly well done, all of you. You should be proud of yourselves, especially the two of you. That was a very difficult task you just managed to resolve.

”Next time, we will start to practise wandless magic. I wish you to practise with your partner, but be careful. Only practice for short periods at a time and stay in the Colour of Magick only as long as it feels comfortable. It will become easier every time you do it, but don’t get too cocky. Your mind is your worst enemy; there are things you do not want to confront. And keep each other safe. Now, go to lunch. You are very hungry.”

There was a moment of silence. Nobody seemed to know what to do or say, but then, the magic faded and they all began to exit the room. Everyone was talking about the things they had encountered in their own minds. There were similarities between their experiences, but each one had unique qualities in their Colour of Magick, in their power of magick. It was fun to notice that the world hadn’t changed at all and the people in it were still the same.

It made Hermione smile. Her friends had had scary images in their minds too, they had gotten lost, they had suffered from their own weaknesses and still they were there, laughing with her. There was something very comforting in that thought.

But some part of her was still looking for something.

Her eyes searched through the group of Slytherins and as she caught his eyes, he smirked at her. It wasn’t a smile, it wasn’t a mark of a civilized relationship between them, but it wasn’t pure hatred either. She smirked back at him and made him stumble a bit. He really should watch his step.


After the door closed behind his students, Amadeus watched it for a few seconds, breathing unsteadily. Then, he stumbled and fell to the floor on his hands and knees. His eyes had lost their focus and he seemed to be in a lot of pain. It was never a good thing to stay away too long. His heartbeat was getting slower and his mind was turning into a black dot in the vast nothingness.

It was dangerous to go back unaware of himself, but this time he had pushed himself too far. He needed to go home, now.

Amadeus couldn’t hold himself on all fours any longer and had to let go. It was humiliating and degrading, just to wait there, unable to even sit. He wished for the cooling darkness to come and finally, it did.

His body lay there for a short moment and then disappeared, leaving behind only a whisper of his presence and a pile of clothes.


**********

A/N: Thank you for reading this story. It means a lot to me. :) I had many problems with this second chapter, but finally it's done. I hope you liked it.

I would like to add that The Colour of Magic is a book by Terry Pratchett. I haven't read it yet, but the name of the book just gave me this great idea.

Chapter 3: The Daily Grind
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The Daily Grind



Draco Malfoy was sitting in one of the many cosy armchairs in the Slytherin common room. He almost lay there in a comfortable position, one arm thrown over the armrest. He was half listening to the conversation the seventh-year boys were having about the purity of blood, good-looking girls and reasons why girls were allowed to study magic too, and half remembering what Amadeus had shown them earlier that day.

Draco had actually begun to like Amadeus’ classes, even though he had used every opportunity to bash the Ancient Magick teacher’s character, teachings and style. But still, the things he had shown them so far had been amazing.

His ears focused on the conversation at hand.

”I mean, whose brilliant idea was it that girls could learn the same things we can. Our brains differ from theirs greatly: much bigger, much quicker, much stronger. Girls are so feebleminded,” Crane Brinton, one of the bigger boys said, and got many accepting nods from the skinnier listeners.

”Hear, hear,” Goyle said. ”And have you ever seen a great girl Quidditch player? No, because there are none. Girls are good for one thing and one thing only.”

The whole bunch burst into laughter and Draco, too, smiled with mild amusement. But then, he had to open his big mouth.

”As if you would know,” Draco said in a seemingly lazy manner, but his eyes followed every move the small group in front of him made. ”Your logic isn’t quite magic proof either,” he continued. ”If you look at the girls in our House - they are pretty clever and I’ll bet all of them have better grades than you two.”

The boys looked at him, a few of them blinking in dismay, others clearly outraged by his words, but none of them had the courage or the stupidity to challenge him - except Brinton. He shared the common belief of all big, bully-type people: nobody dares to step in my way.

The atmosphere became quite hostile.

”Say Malfoy, you’ve been holding hands with the Mudblood Granger a lot lately. Are you considering poking the witch-bitch?” Brinton asked with a wide grin on his face.

Draco reacted instinctively, jumping the short distance between them and hitting him directly in the middle of the face. He pulled away from the bigger boy and watched him, eyes gleaming with disgust and malice.

”Never suggest anything like that ever again. She’s beneath me.” Draco’s voice showed no evident emotion, but the muscles of his chin were tense.

Brinton held his bleeding mouth and nose with his other hand and tried to extend the other to Draco in an attempt of reconciliation. ”Hey, I dinna mead adydin, id wah juhd a htupid joke,” he tried to apologise, but failed miserably. It was never wise to insult a Malfoy and now, he had done it royally and whilst at it, made a powerful enemy for himself too - and with such small words.

Goyle stood up and tried to move between the two boys, but Malfoy pushed him back to his chair. Goyle looked at him, hurt lingering in his eyes momentarily.

”Don’t,” was the only thing Malfoy said. He didn’t even turn to look at Goyle. There was something different about the blond boy, as if he was on the brink of losing it. And for what? Goyle had heard much worse insults over the past years - even Potter had managed to shoot out some pretty nasty comments, which anyone could have been proud of. But this one, it was so transparent, nothing clever about it. Just a stupid connection between a few minor details.

Draco stood there awhile silently, trying to control the violent emotions threatening to erupt. He had never imagined that it would be possible to feel everything at once. He was sure something had just snapped; some clear line that was holding everything neatly together had been broken. What had his father said? ”Never show your weakness, never give away your emotions and better yet, never feel a thing.” How did he do that?

He stormed out of the common room and half ran to the boys’ lavatory in the dungeons. He didn’t care anymore what others would think, he just didn’t want them to see. Not this, not him being like this.

As he got to the lavatory, he walked directly to one of the sinks and opened the tap, letting the water run freely. He needed the sound of it, any sound was good, other than the constant chattering of his mind.

Draco leaned on the sink, watching his hands; one of them having bruises on it. He hadn’t noticed that he had hurt his hand when hitting the bastard, but now that he noticed it, it started to ache severely. Stupid, weak, human skin. He brushed the blooded hand through his hair, leaving a red trail into the whiteness.

You’ve been holding hands with the Mudblood Granger…

As he watched himself from the mirror, he started to doubt whether he still retained his sanity. His eyes held a mad gleam and his mouth turned into a wicked grin. He smeared the blood on his face, mimicking Indian war markings.

At that point, he lost all hope of being mentally sane.

He started kicking the doors of the stalls, almost breaking a few of them, and didn’t stop until somebody whimpered - very, very quietly as if trying extremely hard not to make a sound.

Draco stopped in the middle of another kick and stood there on one foot, listening carefully and then finally walked to the last stall in the row and opened the door.

”I didn’t hear anything,” a very scared looking Colin Creevey yelped. ”I was sleeping…”

If there ever was a hint of redness on Draco’s face, now was the time. He should have at least cleaned his face before opening the door. Bloody idiot.

”You. Disappear.” Draco let the younger boy get out of the toilet, but stopped him with an extended arm, before he could get past him. Colin managed to avoid touching his hand just barely.

”Do I even have to say it.” It was not a question, but a warning and to Colin it was quite clear. He wanted to leave school someday and become a photographer, very dearly.

”I was asleep, I didn’t see a thing,” he said and gathered all his willpower to look at the crazy Slytherin in the eyes. For a fleeting second, he was sure that the lunatic would slap him silly, but then Malfoy lowered his arm and let him go.

Colin ran as fast as he could to the Gryffindor common room and sat in front of the ever-burning fire as long as it took for the feeling to return to his arms and legs. He sat there, shivering, a quite a long while.

Blasted bint, Draco thought. Somehow the bitch had managed to tear down his guards and now he was paying the price. The infuriating question echoed in his mind: Are you considering poking the witch-bitch? The sheer mockery of the words made him bend double, as if he was having a stomach ache. But it wasn’t his stomach that was aching; some far deeper wound in him had been torn open. He growled. The voice came deep down his throat and after awhile it turned into a cry of anger and pain.

He had started to think of her as a person. …holding hands with the Mudblood Granger…

It was because of the endless practise. It was because of Amadeus and his impatient eyes, fixed upon them, pushing them further, insisting they practise every single day, every single moment, as if they were very slow learners. There had been no time to think about anything else. Amadeus had driven them into it - and the old bat of a Headmaster had made it so easy for them, as if planned.

Dumbledore had given all the seventh-years a permission to practise wandless magic in the dungeons even after dark. All of them had taken up the kind offer and as a result half of them had also taken the liberty of sleeping during History of Magic or Herbology or even Care of Magical Creatures. The last one was the most difficult one, because you had to sleep while standing, but most of the times Hagrid didn’t even notice if somebody fell over. Probably because he was so infatuated by his creatures and also because people were covering for each other.

Draco returned to the sinks and again, watched himself from the mirror. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen shame in his own eyes. Perhaps when he had heard that his father had been captured, but even then it had been more anger and fear than shame. Not in his wildest dreams could he ever have imagined that it would all come to this. That he would betray his own blood, become a blood traitor.

How had she done it? How had she managed to make him believe that she was worthy of his presence? Everything in him was now under her spell, every feeling, every thought, every intention, every part of his being. There was nothing familiar left, everything was shadowed by her cunning sorcery.

He hit the mirror, breaking it and a few bones in his hand with it. The kaleidoscopic image of himself felt more real than anything else in the surreal world – it mirrored his feelings perfectly. He hit the shattered mirror until his hand was nothing but a bloody mess. He couldn’t clench his hand into a fist anymore, but it didn’t stop him from trashing the place completely. He was too furious to feel pain or anything else anymore.

After he had taken his anger out on the lavatory, he walked out of there, panting and bleeding. His clothes were torn, his hair was tangled and sweaty and his heart, empty as the bottom of the sea. Draco Malfoy was lost no more.

And he had some unfinished business to do.


The key in her hand felt heavy. It was almost as old as the castle itself, but there was no mark of its age on its shining surface. The key had a strange colouring of a grey-black smoke that seemed to circle behind its metallic surface, and it was just the size of her hand. She held it close to her heart as she walked to the direction of the library.

It was almost empty as usual, her sanctuary. She smiled at Madam Pince, who answered to her smile absent-mindedly, and walked straight to the Restricted Section of the library. She had her own key.

The lock opened with a familiar click and she stepped into the room she privately called ’Hermione’s heaven’. She took a deep breath and smelled the secrets, the adventures lying behind each and every one of these magnificent masterpieces. She loved books, almost as much as she loved her friends.

She walked past the shelves, letting her hand slide along the backs of the books. She did it always, when alone, because the stories summoned her and this way she could hear them more clearly. She could tell, if something wanted to be read, if some story was waiting for her. And now she needed their help, her beloved books.

She stopped and took a small, black book out of the shelf and then continued to walk without even checking the name of the book. Her face was completely still, her eyes half closed and mouth partly open. She trusted her instincts around books, like Harry trusted his when playing Quidditch or duelling. She knew all there was to know about knowledge, she just didn’t have it all yet.

Another book found its way to her lap and soon she had a pile of them in her arms - skinny books, thick books, velvet-covered books, books with no name, red books, brown books, books that smelled foul. She had never told anybody why she was so good at research.

Hermione landed the books on the only table that didn’t have huge wooden boxes on it. She had been curious about the boxes and had asked Dumbledore about them. Apparently some old wizard had decided to send all his books to Hogwarts in a fear of losing them and the knowledge with them to Voldemort and his Death Eaters. The boxes had arrived two weeks ago, but Madam Pince had no intention of opening them until somebody had enough time to anti-hex them.

Hermione was anxious to get her hands on the new arrivals, but she wasn’t going to take a peek unless it was absolutely necessary. Even though she really wanted to, with her whole being. She wasn’t sleeping that well, because of the intriguingly secretive book boxes, and the girls in her dormitory were already complaining about her nightly activities – she was keeping her oil lamp on far too long, reading, flipping the pages, making them crazy with the noises. Maybe she should open one of the boxes.

She went to the door and noticed that Madam Pince was still sitting behind her desk, deep in concentration over some aged, interesting-looking book, which Hermione might want to borrow later. She walked back to the end of the room and started to study one of the book boxes.

It looked a lot like the smuggling cases she had seen in movies. She investigated further and noticed that somebody had burned a text on its side: Hogwarts, Headmaster. She still wasn’t sure, if she should just take all her belongings and leave without looking back. She had no right to open any of the cases.

There might be powerful hexes protecting them or snakes jumping at her or spiders or any other icky creatures. Or she could turn into an icky creature herself.

Hermione touched one of the nails that were holding the lid closed. It jerked upwards, making her jump and take a sharp breath in. She stood still, listening for a few seconds and then, very cautiously took the nail to her hand and studied it closely. It felt normal.

Then she touched the other nails and all of them jumped straight to her hand. She smiled, satisfied with herself and opened the lid. The dust made her cough, but otherwise nothing happened; she didn’t turn into a goblin or anything else for that matter.

The first book that caught her eye was handmade, leather-covered, small and stained. As she was about to take it to her hand, all hell broke loose.

Peeves came screaming through the wall and threw one of the bookshelves upside down.

”Hermione. Stealing. Hermione. Stealing. Hermione. Stealing,” he chanted and flew around her, making her dizzy – and very very red from the face. But she had managed to put the handmade book on the pile of books she had gathered earlier and for some weird reason the lid of the case was as nailed as ever.

Madam Pince came running to the scene, but as soon as she realised what was happening, she took a broom that was leaning against one of the shelves and drove Peeves out of the library with it.

”Shoo, shoo…you bird of ill omen,” she said, looking quite used to the poltergeist, messing up her library. ”Oh, look at what he did. All the lovely precious books lying on the floor. Someday. Someday I'll make Dumbledore vanquish that…that evil, evil…help me here, Hermione.” Madam Pince turned to her with expecting eyes.

”Evil magpie?” Hermione said helpfully.

”That’ll do,” she paused for a second and then asked out of sheer habit, ”Were you stealing?” and then realised who she was talking to and muttered something under her breath that sounded a lot like: ”Silly me.”

”Do you need any help with this mess?” Hermione asked politely, even though all she wanted was to leave. She had butterflies in her stomach.

”You are such a lovely girl, Hermione.” She smiled at her, making Hermione feel a very naughty and embarrassed girl. ”But I really can handle this, just help me lift the shelf and I’ll be all right.”

After several minutes of lifting, pushing and panting, she walked out of the library, a broad smile on her face. The book had wanted to be read. She couldn’t explain it in any other way. But she had to tell Harry and Ron about it soon, just a precaution. The book might be dangerous. But she couldn’t help smiling.

Her mind was far away - stroking the pages of the handmade book, gathering the ingredients she needed for the spell – when she began to slip and slide down the corridor. It was as if the floor had turned into ice, but soon she realised that it was only water.

Hermione was sure she looked funny, hands full, hair in her eyes, almost falling down. She felt truly mortified and hoped that nobody saw her little display. And then she really did it. All her things went flying through the air, her books, her wand and then, her book bag opened, sending her things rolling down the corridor. Now she felt mortified.

She looked around, making sure that nobody saw her and then she cursed. Not loudly, not in an ugly manner, but still she cursed.

”Bloody hell. Bugger. Bugger. Bugger. Ouch… Ouuuuuch.” She put her thumb in her mouth. She had fell on it and it was slowly swelling into a huge red blob. There were tears in her eyes and she felt thoroughly miserable. Was this her punishment? For borrowing. Such an unfair world.

She started to gather her things, her thumb still in her mouth. Her robe was wet, her hair was in the way and she had started to sweat. Sweet ending for a lovely day. She felt like smothering something - or someone.

Just as she was stretching towards her wand, somebody stepped on her hand, forcing her to use the hurt hand (still occupying her mouth) for balance. She looked up, very angry at the world and now, even angrier at Salazar Slytherin for ever existing and thus creating the Slytherin House and this certain member of it, who didn’t know what personal space meant or decent manners for that matter. Her hand was hurting and he just put more weight on it as if making a point.

Just then, she realised that he was bleeding and looked like he had been in a fight. And then she saw the look in his now almost dark grey eyes and tried to get away from him. He was going to kill her and she couldn’t move an inch. Oh, what a perfect day to panic.

He kneeled to her level, making the pressure on her hand even greater. She winced, but didn’t make a sound; something in his eyes told her not to open her mouth, not to incite him into…what? Killing her? Beating her? Insulting her? She wasn’t sure. She just knew that her wand was out of her reach. Oh, how she hated the stupid books and the empty corridors and people who were definitely walking somewhere else than here.

He used his left arm to pull a stranded lock back behind her ear and then he lifted her chin, so she would look directly into his eyes.

”If you come near me ever again, I will kill you.” His voice was sweet, even tender and it almost froze her blood. ”I will cut your throat,” he made a cutting gesture with his finger, touching her throat just barely and making her squeak. ”And then leave you to bleed to death, alone in some deserted old house.”

After these words he stood up and kicked her wand out of her reach and started walking away.

”Don’t come near me, Mudblood,” was the final warning she heard, before he was gone.

She held her throat, shocked beyond screaming. Her mouth was dry and her mind was blank, except for the one question that kept bothering her. But she convinced herself that she was quite happy not knowing the answer.

Now she was certain that she needed that spell. Crazy Slytherin. Crazy world. All her earlier excitement and happiness were gone. She was shivering and she felt like crying. Stupid, stupid, stupid. She put her fists into her eyes, trying to stop the tears and noticed again that she had hurt her thumb. It ached and so did her other hand. His boot had left ugly markings on her skin. And then she cried.

It took her awhile to get her things together, because she was so upset about stupid Malfoys and killings and - her wand was missing. She had searched the whole place and couldn’t find it. This was absolutely the worst day of her life…or probably not, but definitely this reached the top five of worst days of her life.

She took off her robe and put her belongings on it, threw it across her shoulder and started trundling to the direction of the Gryffindor Tower.

”Hermione, what…?” Harry was at her side immediately as she walked in to the common room. She looked awful (not that he would ever say that to her) and so small that he did the only natural thing and hugged her. She dropped her things and clung to him with all her strength.

”Can’t breathe. Can’t breathe,” Harry murmured and she released him from the death grip, but still, held him close. She let her hand slide down his shoulder and stepped back slightly, leaving just enough room for him to see her thumb. It was screaming red and so swollen it was twice the size of her other thumb.

”I think I might have hurt my finger,” Hermione said and then laughed, her voice high-pitched and thin. She was at home, now she could panic. But panicking wasn’t enough for her; she was also about to do the most girly-girl thing in the world and faint. She felt the darkness lure her, call her and it was just so easy to give in, so easy to close her eyes, to rest. Last thing she heard was Ron screaming his head off: ”HERMIO…!”


Harry and Ron exchanged worried looks, Ron carrying Hermione’s limp body with utmost care and Harry just steps ahead of them, leading the way. They kept quiet, but their minds were racing, circling the one obvious question: ’What had happened?’

Ron tried to keep her warm, tried to give her his warmth, tried to hurry his steps without upsetting her sleeping figure. Was there somebody to blame? Was there somebody he could pummel into the oblivion?

Madam Pomfrey was treating another patient, as they barged into the hospital wing. Frowning, she turned to look and was just about to scold them, when she noticed Hermione and the concerned looks on the boys’ faces. She met them halfway the great room and took them all under her wings. Her presence was comforting and reassuring, as always.

”What happened?” Madam Pomfrey asked as she guided them to the bed next to the patient she had been treating earlier. The person was lying there, back turned to their direction.

”We don’t know,” Ron said after he had lowered Hermione into the bed and tucked her up carefully. They were both very quiet, not knowing what to say, not wanting to say anything, because it would make the whole incident more real. She never acted this way; she was always the intellectual strong-willed freedom fighter. She had been so upset, scared even. It wasn’t like her.

”She just appeared on the doorstep of our common room, clearly in shock. She was so…I mean…and then she showed her thumb, laughed kind of funnily and fainted.” Harry spoke quickly, as though he wasn’t sure if his voice would betray him or not.

”Ah, the thumb.” She studied it for a while. ”It’s nothing to be worried about. She’ll be fine.” She looked at Ron, standing beside Hermione’s bed and after a short moment of hesitation, she took his hand to her own. ”Really. She’ll be all right.” She squeezed his hand for a second and then went to her cabinet to fetch all the things she needed to heal her patient.

”But, so that you know, it was quite painful,” she said over her shoulder. ”Poor girl. Her thumb is broken and dislocated.”

To Harry and Ron Madam Pomfrey’s actions brought both relief and anxiety; they just couldn’t watch as she yanked Hermione’s finger back to its rightful position. With her permission they stayed further away, waiting for Hermione to wake up.

After half an hour Madam Pomfrey came to them, smiling her sweet smile.

”The Healing Potion is only going to make her sleep more soundly, so I suggest that you boys come back in the morning,” she said with an air of kindness. Then, with great determination and to their deep dismay, she started to push them out of the hospital.

”But, but…” Harry tried to object, but she wouldn’t listen.

”She is just fine, better than fine actually. She is smiling in her dreams, so she is not mortally wounded or mentally shattered. If I know her at all, she’ll be attending the classes on Monday morning as usual. Now, go to sleep. It’s already ten past nine.”

She stood by the door, watching as they walked away, whispering to one another.

”And no sneaking around,” she called after them.

Madam Pomfrey walked back to her patients. She hadn’t been lying (as if she ever would) about Hermione smiling; her face was peaceful and a small smile flickered in the corners of her mouth. She was such a sweet little girl. Madam Pomfrey stroked her hair lightly and then, went to sit beside her table in her office.

She was in the middle of reading a book called: Witch is a broad. It was so funny that she had actually laughed out loud in many, embarrassing occasions. Just this morning at breakfast table she had made Professor Snape snort at her, because of her too loud laughter. She couldn’t help it; she wasn’t as sour as some people.

In the silent and dim hospital room the two patients lay still.

Hermione’s breathing revealed that she was asleep. Her chest rose with each slow deep breath and her eyes moved fast under her closed eyelids as she walked in the REM stage of dreaming. She was lying on her back, slightly turned to the direction of the other patient.

The person next to her turned around and looked at her, his eyes shining in the darkness. Draco was now sure that he was cursed. Perfect, just perfect. She was here. With him. Annoyingly unscaly, unmonstrous, un…whatever. She was here. And he couldn’t stop looking at her. So, he stayed awake half the night, watching her. And in the morning, she was gone.


A/N: Thank you for taking the time to read this. I can't wait to get my hands on the next chapter. See you soon. :)





Chapter 4: Poetic Justice, Part One
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Poetic Justice, Part One



The Human Abstract

Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody poor;
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.

And mutual fear brings peace,
Till the selfish loves increase;
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

By William Blake (first two verses)




”What the fu…” Draco Malfoy was pretty sure his eyes were deceiving him. A very mercurial girl had just emerged into his room out of nowhere and was now standing beside his bed, putting away some kind of a cloak and straightening her hair and clothes in a flustered manner. She didn’t look at him; she didn’t seem to notice him at all. Instead she had kneeled on the floor, opened her back bag and was now rummaging through it feverishly.

No, she was real.

”What the hell are you doing here.” His voice was all aristocracy and poise as he looked at her down his nose. He had to do something; he was wearing practically nothing, covered by a sheet, and he had been sleeping before she fairygodmothered herself into his room (his private Slytherin Head Boy room, goddammit).

Hermione Granger turned her head up towards him very slowly, as though forced to look upon an ugly, infectious, alien maggot, took a deep breath and then, poured her thoughts on him:

”Oh, believe me I’d rather be in hell than here with you, but you’ve made it impossible. You didn’t let the owls in? No-o, of course not, that would’ve been decent. And why did you have to throw a book at Dobby? He got a black eye.” She took another deep breath. ”Not even Pansy got in and I really had to persuade her. This is entirely your fault.” She stood up, holding a ball she had finally found from her bag. It looked a bit like the crystal balls used in Divination; it was transparent and fitted to her palm perfectly. She turned the ball four times clockwise on her palm and then let it fall, but near the floor it started to hover and came to rest on the level of her eyes.

Draco was gritting his teeth. She had no idea, she had no right to come to his room and…

”Nothing of this is my fault. Get the hell out of here or I’ll throw you out. What part of me killing you didn’t you understand? Get out! GET OUT NOW!"

She held her ground and shot out an arm.

”Give me your hand,” she ordered, but when nothing happened she sat down on the bed and grabbed his hand before he could pull away.

”Hey, wha…Wait. What?” He stumbled with the words long enough for her to make a small cut to his thumb (with a knife he hadn’t noticed before) and draw a few drops of his blood in a small glass bottle. She let go of his hand and then cut herself too. She mixed the blood drops in the bottle as she got up from the bed.

He stared at her eyes wide and mouth open, which he soon noticed and closed abruptly.

”Do you have an owl here?” Hermione asked, her eyes searching the room, containing only a four-poster bed, a desk and a very cosy looking leather armchair. She had expected it to be decorated in Slytherin colours, but instead the only colours - besides the dark wooden panels and furniture - were white and black. There was a white thick carpet with a black Chinese letter covering the floor and the black sheets on the bed made it look masculine and a bit cold. There were no pictures on the walls and somehow it looked as though nobody was living there.

He just shook his head.

”Well then, let’s see how this works…” She drew something in the air in front of the floating ball and it started to shimmer and then a picture emerged on its surface - or inside it. Draco couldn’t tell exactly.

”Hello Professor, I have it here.” She wiggled the bottle containing their mixed blood drops. ”Please send an owl to pick this up.”

Draco was getting more and more confused by the second. What the hell was happening? In his room. His thumb was still bleeding, his mind was boggled, his clothes were where he had left them…how many nights ago? Four? Six? Eight? He didn’t have a clue. He didn’t want to have a clue. He wanted her out of there.

He had made it quite clear he didn’t want anybody to come to his room, not to ask questions, not to give their well wishes and definitely not to cut his finger and act like he was indifferent. He didn’t need her there. No, no, no. Want. He didn’t want her there.

Draco got out of the bed and tied the sheet around his waist. Hermione was too occupied with the floating ball to notice him until he was behind her, pushing her out of the room.

”I. Said. Get. Out.” His voice was brimming with displeasure and his manners were rigid as though he had difficulties in restraining his anger.

She didn’t try to stop him until they were at the door. She wanted him to throw her out; she wanted him to close the door behind her. Her heart ached when she finally resisted.

”I can’t,” she said, putting her hands against the door and thus preventing him from pushing her out. He lowered his arms and she turned around hesitantly, facing him. She was forced to look up, because he was standing too close. ”I can’t. As much as I would like to, I can’t. Haven’t you noticed anything? Haven’t you lost anything?” Her eyes were sad and her voice a mere whisper.

If she had screamed, if she had acted like she usually did around him, he would have pushed her out then and there, but now…now she had his attention. Had he lost anything? How about everything? Didn’t she know?

”Lost what?”

”Any abilities, any memories?” she answered bewildered by him actually listening.

He took a few steps back, giving her space between the door and himself.

”I don’t think I’ve lost anyth…” He paused. ”Wait, I can’t seem to remember trivial things, like what’s my favourite subject or who’s teaching–”

There was an owl, pecking the window and they both turned to look at it. Draco hesitated a moment and then went to let it in. The owl flew straight to Hermione and tried to land on her shoulder, but it was too big so instead, it went to sit on the desk in front of the window.

Hermione took the glass bottle and tied it into the bird’s leg.

”Care to explain?” Draco said after the owl had flown away. He was looking for something to wear from a cupboard hidden inside a wall.

”Um…” She had expected this, but still she didn’t know where to begin or how much she actually wanted to tell him. ”To make a long story short: there is a magical connection between us, because of the pairing in Ancient Magick, which you wanted to break without any preparations. Which means we’re in deep trouble and are losing parts of ourselves gradually. Which means we end up in catatonic state eventually unless we-e…hey, what are you doing?” She turned around quickly, blushing heavily.

”Putting some clothes on unless you want me to run around stark naked,” he said sardonically as he let the sheet fall off. He had found boxers (black), socks (also black) and wrinkle free robes (again black).

”Unless what?” he asked while buttoning his robes.

She peaked over her shoulder before turning around. He was halfway through with the buttoning. His skin was very pale against the black cloth and she could still get glimpses of his bare chest. She hadn’t noticed before, but he wasn’t actually the ugliest wizard in the world.

”Unless what?” she said, puzzled.

”That’s what I asked. We end up in catatonic state unless we, what?”

”Oh, yes. I…sorry. Unless we do what Amadeus tells us to do. There has been only two other pairs in two hundred years who couldn’t stand each other for so long that they could learn wandless magic the quick way.”

At this point Draco looked up abruptly and asked: ”What do you mean the quick way?”

”Amadeus is teaching us the quickest way to learn wandless magic. Usually it takes years and years and many wizards and witches never learn it. His people have studied wandless magic for centuries and the pairs have a significant role in each other’s training. Without one another they’d go crazy. The Colour of Magick is too powerful for one person to enter. Together we have enough balance and power to tame it.”

While talking she had walked to the leather armchair and was now wondering if it was okay for her to sit in it. It would make things more final, as though she couldn’t leave anymore if she sat down. This was his room, she had no right to be there. Finally she let herself sit on the edge of the chair.

She was tapping the armrest nervously, fully aware that he was watching her closely, measuring her words, noticing her insecurity.

”Why the blood?” Draco asked as he walked back to the bed and sat down opposite her.

”Amadeus is going to separate us and to do that he needed our blood. He is at Headmaster’s office with Dumbledore and Snape. But…” Her voice broke. She turned her gaze to her hands, as if trying to hide some inner turmoil, burning in her.

”But what,” he said and when she didn’t answer immediately, he asked in a more demanding way: ”But what, you stupid bint?”

She looked at him straight in the eyes and almost made him wince. The dark hatred flashing in her brown eyes startled him; she looked like she wanted to strangle him.

”But we might not survive it. The other two pairs never returned to normal,” Hermione said finally.

Her voice betrayed her. It told him exactly how afraid of dying she was, how afraid of losing herself. Maybe she wasn’t the all-knowing, all-winning Gryffindor queen after all. Maybe she was weak, just like everyone else. But then again, why was she just sitting there, when she had every right to jinx him to the next world? He had been the one to threaten her life; he was the reason they were in trouble.

”Why didn’t they return to normal?”

”Because they couldn’t do the things they were supposed to.”

”What things?” He sounded a bit timid, even to his own ears.

”The blood. And the potion. We have to take the potion and keep contact as long as it takes for the potion to separate us.”

”How…” He cleared his throat. ”How long is that?”

”Well, Amadeus said that it shouldn’t take more than two days, but- ”

”After two days I would get rid of you forever?”

”Yes.”

”No more Head duties together, no pairings, no nothing.”

”No more nothing.”

Hermione watched him lean his forehead against one of the bed pillars, his blond hair covering his face. He was clearly pondering his options. After a short while he brushed a hand through his tangled hair, revealing questioning, sharp grey eyes.

”Could I still learn wandless magic?”

”Yes, but not as quickly as everyone else in our year. If you don’t have a pair, you can’t enter the Colour of Magick.” Hermione spoke in a dull voice; she was very tired. She had been working day in and day out for over a week now and it was starting to take its toll.

”What does it mean: ’keep contact’?” Draco tried to act as though this meant nothing to him, but his heart had started to resemble a huge stone in his chest and parts of him felt like drowning.

”Holding hands.”

He stood up abruptly and started walking back and fort the small room. Which one was worse? Two days and nights with her constantly or the rest of the year regularly? How would his father choose? The whole question was stupid; he wouldn’t be in this kind of mess.

Could he handle her for two days? Could he stand her for two days? Could he stand himself in another person’s company for two days? In her company? Honestly, he didn’t know.

”What do you want?”

Hermione couldn’t believe he had asked her that and managed to stutter in disbelief: ”A-are you seriously asking me? Me?”

He nodded.

She looked at him, head tilted to the left and said, clearly trying to avoid a highly accusing tone: ”If you really want to know - I want you out of my life. I don’t like people threatening to kill me. I’d rather learn wandless magic the hard way than stand your bigotry and violent nature one moment longer than I have to.”

He thanked Merlin he was facing the wall; for some weird reason her words had stung him. Was it the way she had said it? Had she made him feel guilty? Was that it? This really wasn’t going the way he wanted.

He had just enough time to pull a mask on his face, before he turned to face her. ”Then it’s settled. Two days, starting when?”

”Starting when Amadeus is ready, which should be now. With Snape and Dumbledore’s help he should have been able to finish the potion. We’ve been preparing it for awhile now.” She paused for a moment and then added: ”Sometimes I can’t understand why they’re so interested in us - maybe they had high hopes for us.”

Draco looked at her, frowning. ”High hopes?”

”Me, a Mudblood. You, a Pureblood. We, a pair.” She shook her head and muttered under her breath: ”Tarzan.”

So far she had managed to hide her extreme state of exhaustion, but now, she was beginning to feel the funny effects of sleep deprivation: she was feeling very light-headed and battered.

Unable to relax in his presence, she stood and started moving around nervously.

Draco looked at Hermione for a second, puzzled by her words. Was she right; had the professors really thought there could be peace between them? He remembered the Peace Treaty; why had Snape used that one for their assignement? Was there something going on behind their backs?

His thoughts were rudely interrupted, when a very morbid looking brown-headed force of nature stepped in front of him and started poking him in the chest, asking weird questions in an accusing tone.

”Are you going to stand there the whole night? Are you planning something? Are you going to try and kill me?” She circled around him, carrying herself with difficulty. ”Don’t try anything funny.” She sounded a bit hysterical.

He felt like smiling, but didn’t. She was serious even though she looked like she was about to collapse. What had she been doing, before she emerged into his room?

”I’m not going to hurt you.” He couldn’t believe the words coming out of his mouth. What the hell was happening to him? She was making him…nervous.

”You’d better not. I didn’t come unprepared. See this?” She showed him a stone, hanging down her neck. ”This will keep me safe. It’s charmed to do so. You can’t hurt me. See, I don’t trust you.”

”I don’t blame you. And I want out of this as pain-free as possible. I’m not going to hurt you,” still the same soft voice. What kind of sappy idiot was he?

”I don’t trust you,” she said for the final time and managed to poke him quite painfully in the ribs. Then she turned around hands on her waist and looked at the room with measuring eyes.

”Where do I sleep?”

He had difficulties swallowing. ”Excuse me?”

”Simpleton. Where do I sleep? I’m tired.”

”A-aren’t we going somewhere else?” he asked and added to himself: Where there’s other people.

”No. Didn’t I tell you, we have to be alone. Dumbledore didn’t like that part at all and we tried to get you somewhere else less…well, less private, but you wouldn’t come out and now it’s too late. Your fault actually. Everything’s your fault, come to think of it. I don’t like you.” She was very tired.

He looked shocked. She definitely hadn’t told him that.

”I…what? Fuck. No. I…you can’t stay here.”

”Too late, you can’t take it back. You said yes and that sealed this place.” Her eyes became mischievous when she continued: ”In five minutes we have to decide how we’re going to spend the next two days.”

”In five minutes? I have to go to the shower, bathro-”

She watched him for a second, smiling wickedly and then, laughed at him and the expression on his face.

”I was just kidding. I haven’t talk to the professors yet and we haven’t drank the potion. Do what you need to do.” She then went to play with the floating ball and left him there panting furiously.

He buried his face to his hands for a moment, trying to suppress the sharp anger flaring through him. She was something else; she would make him crazy. He would not take this.

He took the few steps separating them, grabbed her arm and turned her to face him.

”Stop playing games. Tell me everything now or I’ll smack your pretty little face to the wall.” His grip was bruising her arm and she winced. Somehow that didn’t make him feel good. Instead he felt like letting go and apologising on his knees. He did neither.

”I’ve told you everything.” The pain was evident on her face and her voice was strained.

”Really?” He turned her around and pulled her hand behind her back in an uncomfortable position. ”Are you sure?” Hurting her was supposed to be easy. Only thing he felt now was remorse more powerful than any of his earlier anger. He tried to fight the feeling.

”Let go of me.” She tried to kick him, but he pulled her closer to him, so she couldn’t move. She was captured now, his other arm around her waist and the other still holding her hand up, sending waves of pain down her elbow to her shoulders.

”Not until I’m convinced you’re not hiding anything.” His warm breath tickled her neck. She tried to wiggle herself free, but he wouldn’t let go. Oh gods, why wasn’t the necklace working?

This was not a good idea. She was in his lap, moving way too much. And the more he tried to hurt her the more he felt like…what did he feel like? This was exactly what he didn’t want to happen. This was the reason; he wanted her out of his life. He felt like…

In one quick motion he turned her around, grabbed her throat and pushed her to the wall.

”Speak. Everything you know.”

Was he actually able to resist the power of the necklace? If so, she was in trouble. He didn’t squeeze hard enough for her to choke, but enough for her to feel extremely uncomfortable.

”If you let me go, I’ll tell you what I know,” she said without a trace of fear in her voice. She was tired with the games, too. She wanted it all to be over.

He watched her carefully for a moment and then finally released her, his eyes never leaving her.

She held her throat for a moment, looking at him accusingly and then she started talking.

”This is not going to be easy. The potion will make us…different. Whatever you feel, it will make it ten times stronger. Our minds are connected, yours to mine, mine to yours. We’re not going to like it. It’ll hurt, it’ll burn, it’ll try to object. The magic in us. It doesn’t like us breaking it. But it’s possible. We just have to want it enough.” Her mind was racing. Would he back out now? Would he deny her freedom? Would he make them fall just because he was a coward? Oh, how she hated him.

”What have you lost?”

The question startled her, why on earth did he want to know that now?

”What made you come here, even though you hate me so much? What did you lose?”

She could see he was serious. But she didn’t want to tell him. Why should she?

”I don’t see why you should know. It’ll change nothing.”

Again he pushed her to the wall, this time by her shoulders. She hit her head hard against the wooden panels and for a moment she saw stars.

”Tell me, what makes the high and mighty Gryffindor queen so weak in the knees that you just had to come here. Tell me!” he had started to resemble the person he had been in the corridor the night he had threatened to kill her.

”All right! I’ll tell you, you freaking idiot.” She was spitting the words out of her mouth. ”I forgot Arithmancy, I forgot what my mother looks like, I forgot my favourite food…” She paused and then whispered: ”I forgot that I love Ron. And the cruelty of it all is that I can still remember the things I’ve lost. I know they should be in my mind.” She paused. ”And it’s all your fault!” The last words gave her enough strength to push him off her. He struggled to keep his balance.

”Happy now? Happy now?” There were tears in Hermione’s eyes and she turned away from him, covering her face to her hands.

Draco stood there awhile, dumbstruck. He really didn’t like honesty. It was hard to argue with honesty. It was hard to argue with her, when all he seemed to want was to touch her. That was not logical. That was not how things should be. She was something he could never have or want. She was a Muggle witch, she was… None of the arguments gave him tools to work with. She was under his skin already. She really was. And how could he fight it, if the fucking potion would make it ten times more powerful. He needed her help. How embarrassing.

”I don’t like you,” he begun and regretted it instantly. She shot him an evil glare and made him take a few steps back. He put his hands up to show her that he didn’t want to fight and then continued: ”But I want out of this as much as you do. I want us both out of this mess and back to where we belong. But there is one problem,” he stepped closer to her, pushing her to the wall with his body. He whispered to her ear: ”I want you.”

She was so shocked her heart skipped a beat. This was too much, even from him. He wanted her? What a joke. Why did he have to be such a prick?

He could feel how her body went absolutely still, how she tried to avoid any kind of contact between them. She didn’t believe him and why should she? He had given her no reason to do so. Quite the opposite. But now that she was in his arms, now that he was going to show her what the problem was, he could feel his skin burn with want. He wanted her so much it turned into physical pain. It was scary to let go after he had tried so hard not to even admit it to himself.

”You don’t believe me, do you?” he whispered to her ear again, letting his lips almost touch her skin.

”Whatever games you like to play, Malfoy, keep me out of them.” She tried to move so she could push him away, but her hands were locked between them. The only thing she managed to do was to turn her palms against his stomach.

”This is not a game, this is the reason I want you out of my life. Among other things,” he said, pulling away from her slightly and taking her hands to his. He pushed them to the wall above her head, put a knee between her legs and then bit her neck just enough for her to feel a bit of pain. He moved against her, rubbed himself against her, almost as if dancing with her body.

She was starting to feel dizzy. This was not good, not good at all. Crazy Slytherin between her legs. Crazy Slytherin biting her neck, kissing her jaw. How could she allow it? How could she stop it? Her mind was dangerously blank and the only thing she could feel was him, dancing against her, hardening against her. Oh my god, he did want her. Not good, not good, not good.

”Stop it,” she pleaded. She was afraid of the next breath in her throat; it threatened to come out with a soft whimper.

”You believe me?” he breathed and stopped moving, but didn’t let her go.

She couldn’t answer, so she nodded and finally he moved away from her.

”Imagine that ten times more powerful and even I can’t resist it,” he finally said leaning his hands against his thighs, breathing unsteadily.

”What’s your point?” she asked, rubbing her wrists. This was even worse than she had imagined. He was much worse. He was unpredictable.

”My point is, we have to set boundaries, magical boundaries. You can touch only my arms; I can touch only your arms. That way we can’t hurt each other too much.”

He actually had a point. He just didn’t have to make his point that clear. And why had she allowed it? He was messing with her mind.

She felt trapped. This was not going according to her plans nothing ever did with him. Was there any other way to get rid of him? And why wasn’t the necklace working?

”Tell me one thing. Why did you threaten to kill me?” She sat on the bed, took his pillow and held it against her stomach. She didn’t feel safe.

His eyes followed her movements and when she grabbed his pillow, he frowned, but didn’t say a thing.

”Let’s just say that I didn’t like the way you worked your way into my life.”

”That’s a load of bull.” Her eyes were like flames, burning holes into him. ”I haven’t done anything. I never wanted anything to do with you. You disgust me.”

”Oh really?” he said with a wicked grin. ”I can almost smell you, dear girl.”

She held his gaze, knowing quite well that she couldn’t lose this one, not if she wanted him off her back.

”You really think that was something special. You really think I haven’t tasted anything better. You give me nothing. I need nothing from you. I want nothing from you. Keep your thoughts to yourself and maybe we can get out of this unwelcome situation.”

There seemed to be nothing hostile in his posture. He just looked at her steadily and said: ”Fine. Be that way.”

Hermione couldn’t believe what she saw next; the smile forming on his face reached his eyes and made him look humane and even cute; he looked just as he was, a seventeen-year-old boy. Not a Slytherin scum, not a killer, not a cunning, evil little rat. He looked like a real person, just like her.

He winked at her and then, left her standing there mouth open, and went to a small bathroom connected to the Slytherin Head Boy room. He had many things to do, teeth to brush, body to wash, tension to release. And something had happened to his face; he just couldn’t stop smiling.

Hermione watched the bathroom door far too long for her own good. He was definitely messing with her mind, he was toying with her. Urgh, the clever bastard.

She reached for her back bag, found the leather covered black book, the one she had borrowed from the library and flipped through the pages frantically. There was the Guardian Angel Charm, and nothing in the text indicated that it shouldn’t be working. She had done everything correctly. Except - maybe he just didn’t have a conscience. She should have thought of that before using that particular charm. It clearly stated that the charm affected the person’s conscience. How could she have been so stupid? She really was too kind at heart, thinking that everyone had a conscience.

But he didn’t seem to want to kill her or even hurt her at the moment, although he was definitely unpredictable and lost his temper far too easily. She had her wand though and Dumbledore, Snape and Amadeus were at reach, if anything untoward happened. And if they created a magical barrier between them…maybe they would be okay.

This realisation made Hermione relax just enough for the insidious exhaustion to overcome her. The pillow in her lap started to feel quite inviting, soft and warm. She let herself lie down on the bed. Just for a second, just to rest her eyes, just to…



***

A/N: Soundtrack for this chapter was NIN's Closer. I listened to that song practically the whole time. :) Thank you for reading, please tell me what you think about the chapter. Again I had some difficulties, but managed to overcome them. I'm actually a bit nervous about this, because it's different from the rest of the story.

I know I promised to finish the second part quickly, but my muse decided to take a vacation and now, I just can't write. Don't worry, I'm working on it, but it will take some time. Sorry about that.

Chapter 5: Poetic Justice, Part Two
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Poetic Justice, Part Two



The Human Abstract

Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody poor;
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.

And mutual fear brings peace,
Till the selfish loves increase;
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

By William Blake (first two verses)




She woke up, but did not open her eyes.

Something was wrong.

She lay heavily on the bed, her hands locked above her head in smooth steel cuffs. It felt like some large black ominous creature had crawled on top of her to sleep, pinning her beneath its weight.

The lump in her throat, which she usually called her heart, made it almost impossible to breathe. Her feet were cold, her wrists ached from the metal encircling her skin, and she could sense nothing familiar around her.

Everything felt strange and damp, smelling of gutter and spices.

As her senses awakened with her, her ears picked up a scratching sound coming from somewhere to her left. It chilled her to the bone.

What was it? Where did it come from? Was it close?

Was it some kind of an animal?

Her scared mind answered those questions with images of monsters, and fates far worse than death.

Where on earth was she?

The scratching never stopped, but her attention turned to something else; two men talking quietly, both sounding menacing, yet charming. A dangerous combination. She wished she hadn’t heard them; with those voices came the overwhelming fear of death.

“The boy can handle it,” the first man said with a seemingly respectful tone.

The scratching grew louder and she strained to follow their conversation.

“We shall see, won’t we…?” the second person answered with a tinge of laughter in his voice, “…we shall see.” His voice was crystal clear, so sharp that she was sure it could penetrate anything. Even minds…

A cold sweat crept up Hermione’s spine.

That voice. It belonged to someone very dangerous, she knew.

Someone Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Someone who would not hesitate to kill her in an instant.

She had to get out of there; she had to escape. She had to run. NOW!

She felt a scream in her throat; panic took control of her actions. She struggled against the chains.

She had to get out!

The scratching sound was clearer now, and after a while it was the only thing she could hear. Something about it felt familiar, like she had lived all her life with that sound…a quill, moving on a parchment. She concentrated on that, nothing else.

It calmed her; just enough for the weight on top of her to give in… Just enough for her hands to seem only tangled in sheets…

Just enough for her to come back to where she was supposed to be.

She opened her eyes.

The room was dim, lighted by a single candle resting on the desk in front of the window.

Draco Malfoy was sitting beside the desk, writing on a parchment. The scratching sound of a quill… It was him? How unexpected. Had he known that she’d been having a nightmare?

She watched him silently, trying to figure out why she suddenly felt safe with him. Hermione Granger should have been worried about the small but disturbing fact that she was still in his room, alone with the exact same boy who had hated her with a passion for the last six years.

But she wasn’t.

“So, you’re awake?” He didn’t turn to look at her, just dipped his quill into an inkbottle and kept writing.

Figures he has eyes in his back. She moved so she could see him better and asked, “What are you doing?” She wanted everyone in the room to concentrate on something else other than the fact that she’d been sleeping in her enemy’s bed.

“Writing.” He obviously wasn’t in a talkative mood.

“I can see that,” she answered, feeling rather frustrated. He was truly annoying.

And why had he let her sleep? It had been dusk when she stole into his room, and now the window revealed darkness so thick she could have touched it with her fingertips. She had probably slept for over two hours or even more.

In his bed.

She wanted to scream, but didn’t. Why had he done such an uncharacteristic deed and let her sleep?

She got off the bed with difficulty; the sheets had tangled around her and her robe was almost trying to choke her to death. A small groan of vexation escaped her lips as she tried in vain to tame her wild hair.

As she finished making herself presentable, she felt his eyes on her and turned to look at him, realising that he had been watching her the whole time. Ashamed, she let her eyes travel around the room, trying to find something else to think about than him.

Anything was better than his expressionless eyes. Why was he so serious? Before she’d fallen asleep, he had been smiling. Now he looked like he hadn’t smiled in years.

Suddenly it dawned on her. The room had changed. It was cosier and warmer, as though somebody actually lived there. A bookshelf full of ancient magic books had emerged next to the bed, and there were a few pictures on the bedside tables – in one of them, his mother and father were holding each other lovingly while a younger version of Draco Malfoy stood in the middle, smiling widely. Hermione looked at it in surprise; she’d thought that his parents were cold and cunning people, definitely not the caring parent types.

She was so transfixed on the picture that she didn’t notice him standing up and walking over to her.

“This came while you were asleep.” His words made her jump and she was about to snap at him when she noticed the small bottle he held.

It contained the separating potion.

Again, her feet felt cold and the huge lump returned to her throat. She sat on the bed, pulling her knees against her chest, her eyes turning to him and then back to the gloomy substance shimmering inside the bottle. The candle cast shadows on her face, making her look just as scared as she felt.

“I don’t like this,” she confessed. “Can’t you stop being a git just for a little while? I’m sure we could get along if we try…” She paused. “I know I could.” There was hope in her big brown eyes. Hope, and even the promise of forgiveness, if he would spare her this.

His face revealed nothing but his eyes were cold and humourless. “You saw me in the corridor, you know me. Don’t expect anything to be different just because of our current predicament.” He spoke clearly, emphasizing every word as though talking to a child. “Trust me, you don’t want me near you and definitely not inside your mind. I could hurt you, twist you - make you as crazy as your dear brother.”

She looked shocked, almost as though he had hit her. The hope died in her eyes and the forgiveness turned to hatred. She regretted ever telling him about her brother.

“I despise you,” she exclaimed, standing up. She looked at him, puffing with anger, but before she could say anything else he interrupted her.

“Good. Let’s get started then.” He put the potion on the bedside table and lit two candles on the opposite walls with a wave of his wand. Hermione watched wordlessly as twisting snakes moved endlessly on their black metal brackets.

He took a book from his pocket, missing the flash in her eyes as he flipped through the pages, looking for a marked spot.

“Here is the boundary spell. We'll need our wands and some ink for drawing the boundary lines.”

Hermione just stared at him, mistrust and anger glowing all around her. He began to feel a little uncomfortable, especially since she had a disturbing talent at being intimidating.

Someday she would be quite an adversary. He had to remember that.

“Look, I’m sorry. I-”

“What did you just say?” Hermione gaped at him.

“I’m… What do you mean?”

“Did you just apologise?”

“No I didn’t,” he said defiantly.

“Yes you did… I can’t believe this.” She grinned. “Draco Malfoy, apologising to a Mudblood. The sky is falling. The sky is fall-”

“Shut up, you idiot. We have more important things to concentrate on.” He peered at the book again as Hermione smothered her smile. ”I think up to our elbows is enough…” he said finally. “…yes.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, wondering if stomping her foot would give her some peace of mind. The boy wasn’t just annoying… he was downright infuriating. “Up to our elbows…” she muttered, trying to figure out what he was on about.

“Why up to our elbows?” she asked, her eyes widening. He must be crazy if he thought she would ever let him touch her arms.

Malfoy lifted his eyes to hers, grinning sinfully. This was his chance for pay back.

“Believe me, there’ll be a point when you wish I’d never suggested a boundary spell. If the potion makes your feelings ten times more powerful, you’ll ache whatever the feeling is…” His eyes moved lingeringly down her robed body. “You’ll want to be able to relieve the pain.”

Her mind fell into the gutter and it took all her willpower not to blush. She shivered at the thought of him actually trying to relieve the ache inside her. Oh, he truly was an incarnation of the devil.

“Y-you…” she sputtered, in anger and disgust.

“I know.” He laughed at her, clearly appreciating the effect his words had on her. Her temper, the red hot anger boiling under the cool surface, made her irresistible.

And she was so easily pushed off balance.

Hermione wanted to thump him. She wasn’t a violent person, but somehow he always managed to bring out the worst in her. Oh, how she wanted to wipe that smug smile from his face. Draco Malfoy was officially top of her list of the world’s biggest idiots.

“Could you drop the innuendos and concentrate on the spell?”

“But you asked,” he insisted, looking quite innocent.

“Give me that.” She grabbed the book before he could stop her and started memorizing the spell. It was time to get rid of the amazing bouncing ferret.

Draco eyed her for a second, wondering if he should push her a bit more, but decided against it. Her face was already quite flushed, and she held the book like she was going to shred it to pieces.

Better not awaken the sleeping lion… yet.

As she continued to read, he went to get the inkbottle from his desk.

He didn’t particularly want to get his hands dirty, but the lines had to be drawn with their forefingers. Why was everything about magic so primitive? The quill was a perfectly fine invention.

Soon everything was in order. They were sitting cross-legged opposite one another, their wands at their sides, the book in Hermione’s left hand and the inkbottle in her right. Her face was sombre as she concentrated on the task at hand.

She handed the bottle to Malfoy. He took it with his left hand and dipped his right forefinger in. Both of them had rolled up their sleeves. He took her right arm and drew a circle around the crook of her arm.

At the same time she read aloud: “Bind this skin, bind this skin, bind this skin. Two can touch. Five fingers each. Bind this skin with lines of black.”

She then passed the book to him, took the bottle and dipped her finger in. As she touched his skin, he repeated the words she had said.

His voice lured her into a trance like state and for some reason her eyes sought out the burned mark on his right arm.

The snake and the skull. The Dark Mark, almost real.

The snake seemed to hiss at her.

Suddenly all she could see and feel was him; his scent filled her nostrils, his breathing filled her ears. He was everything in her world as the spell began to work.

The last two lines were drawn in a bizarre atmosphere, as neither of them seemed to know where they were or what exactly was going on.

The spell was difficult, much more so than they had originally anticipated. All their senses were overly heightened, and it was extremely hard to keep their concentration.

Oh, he has over two hundred eyelashes, Hermione found herself marvelling.

How come I haven’t noticed that she has a hair fracture on her right shoulder, Draco wondered, seemingly thinking that it was quite natural for him to see through her skin and muscles.

And they still needed to finish the spell with their wands.

“Can you find your wand?” She had to fight the words out of her mouth since nothing seemed to work correctly, not in her body and not in her mind. She couldn’t even find her own arms.

“I’m trying, but…” he paused, then added reluctantly, “…all I can see is you.”

A wind started to howl around them, making it almost impossible to hear each other. Hermione felt like laughing; everything always went haywire with him.

She leaned forward, shouting in his ear, “Can you see my wand?”

“On your right, near your knee!”

“What about my hands?”

“Are you kidding me?” There was laughter in his voice.

“No! Just tell me!” She truly had no idea where any of her body was.

They only had a few more minutes to finish the spell before it was too late. For the millionth time Hermione wished that she could have had someone else as her partner, someone reasonable. The current one was such a difficult person to work with.

Draco leaned forward, grabbed Hermione’s wand with a shaking hand and reached for her hands. She squeaked when he brushed her thigh, though whether he did it deliberately she wasn’t sure. Finally, her fingers closed around the wand. He leaned back, shouting: “Tell me where mine is!”

After she had guided him to his wand, they stood up and pointed their wands at the crooks of each other’s arms.

“Finis!” they shouted at the same time.

The effect was immediate: an unseen force threw them both across the room, Draco in one direction, Hermione in the other. They slammed painfully against the opposite walls and fell heavily to the ground.

Hermione was the first one to try to get up. Her head was throbbing violently, and there was a foul taste of an over-boiled egg in her mouth. She felt sick.

“I never want to do that again,” Draco groaned, struggling up. He swallowed, a disgusted look on his face. “Do you have egg-breath, too?”

Hermione smiled and nodded, and to her great surprise he smiled too, just before he let himself fall back on the bed. He hid his eyes with his left arm.

“Can we throw the candles out of the window? My eyes hurt,” he pouted, making Hermione’s smile wider - he had some adorable qualities after all.

She blew out two of the candles, leaving only the one on the desk burning.

“Better?” she asked, sitting next to him on the bed.

He peeked between his fingers, before letting his hand slide down. He turned to look at her. Their eyes locked and for a few passing seconds, she was certain that he could read her mind.

He sat up tentatively and took her hand in his, letting his fingers brush her soft skin as far as the crook of her arm. When he tried to cross the smudged ink line, his fingers were firmly lifted from her skin by powers he could not resist.

“It’s working,” he grinned, turning his eyes back to hers.

“Of course it’s working.” She yanked her hand free, feeling rather exposed. She felt like standing up, but all she seemed to do was bounce around like a rabbit, so she stayed put, trying to ignore the boyish glee in his eyes.

“But it’s dark magic. I’ve never performed dark magic this powerful before.” He was clearly excited, but to Hermione, his words were like a cold shower.

“WHAT?” she screamed, standing up abruptly. The smile slid from his face. “What do you mean, dark magic? I’m not… I did not… I… You! You evil, scheming, good-for-nothing… How dare you do that to me?”

“I thought you knew…”

She didn’t let him finish the sentence. She leapt at him, trying to grab the front of his robe, but was unable to do so because of the spell. She sat partly on top of him, although her knee was resting above his stomach, not quite touching him.

The spell stopped her from harming him, but she still managed to spit the words out of her mouth, “Explain now or I’ll turn you into a book and throw you into the fire.” She had somehow managed to get her wand into her hand and it was now aimed at his left temple.

He did the worst possible thing he could have and smiled at her cute threat. She poked him with her wand, barely missing his eye.

She was serious then? He really had thought that she knew it was a dark spell.

“Explain what? It’s a book called One Hundred Ways To Bind Magical People. Don’t say you didn’t check the author or the title before casting such a powerful spell?” He leaned on his elbows, looking up at her with a smug grin on his face. “This spell could’ve been used in loads of different ways. We’ve used it to create boundaries between us but, for example, I could have bound you to me and only me, so no one else would have been able to touch you. Ever.”

She had trusted him to choose a spell. How could she have been so stupid? Now she was furious with herself. Of course he would choose a stupid spell like that; it was his bloody nature. She should have known that.

Absentmindedly, she pushed away from him and put her wand back into her pocket, wondering what effect, if any, it would have on her. What did dark spells do? Did they make the caster go crazy or evil? Gradually or immediately? Was she a bad witch now? Oh, she should be burned for being so stupid.

Draco watched her for a while, admiring the inner struggle she was experiencing in front of his eyes. “You’re not crazy,” he said finally, feeling sorry for the fairly innocent and ignorant (at least when it came to Dark Arts) girl. “Or evil. It takes a lot more for a witch to turn evil. You are as cute and cuddly as ever.”

She threw an angry glare at him. “I’m not cuddly.”

“Yes you are. You’re too cuddly to be evil,” he scoffed, eyeing her from his comfortable position on the bed.

“Are you sure it didn’t harm me in any way?”

“Yes. It didn’t harm you in any way. You didn’t use it to do anything nasty. Happy?”

“You could’ve told me,” she complained, but only half-heartedly. She had relaxed visibly after his soothing words, and now she was wondering if maybe he wasn’t a lost soul after all. Maybe there was some good in him.

Somewhere.

“I thought you could read.” His voice was full of laughter as he sat up. He reached for the bottle on the bedside table, wiggling it at her. “Are you ready for another ride?”

She most certainly was not, but she had no choice now. “Ready when you are,” she declared, trying to look strong and composed, although her real feelings were quite the opposite. There seemed to be all sorts of confused and weird thoughts in her mind, making her feel like a stranger to herself.

He distracted her. A lot.

He watched her for a few seconds, trying to figure her out. She was a strange creature, truly difficult to follow. She had a way of seeing things in black and white, with no grey areas.

He stood up, still watching her intently. Why did she see everything as good and evil? Why didn’t she see all the possibilities? Why couldn’t she understand power?

“Should we… Do you… If we start…” She didn’t know what to say. She was so close to him now that she could feel the warmth radiating from him.

He didn’t answer, just handed the potion to her.

She was about to push it back, to blurt out that she didn’t want it, but then she realised that she was the only one who knew what to do with it. She took the bottle and sighed, submitting to her fate.

“The potion must settle in us before we can take each other’s hands. But we can’t wait too long or it will tear us apart - and I mean literally. We won’t be able to withstand the force this time.” She paused and looked around. ”Do you have glasses? We have to drink the potion at the same time.”

He went to the cupboard, which was hidden inside the wall, and took out a wooden box. He opened it, revealing two copper cups.

“Perfect. Put them on the desk. We have to drink the exact same amount.”

As she poured the potion into the cups, he leaned on the table, looking in every direction but hers. This whole thing felt wrong. He couldn’t tell why. He wasn’t sure if it felt wrong because of her or because of him.

Or because he didn’t want to be parted from her.

Or because he needed to be parted from her.

He couldn’t tell anymore. He wanted to shake her, make her tell him that…

“Take this.” She gave him one of the cups and lifted the other one to her lips.

The connection between them became tangible as the liquid began to burn their throats. For one frail moment brown and grey eyes melted into each other, seeing inside each other’s minds, touching the quiet parts of their undefined selves. And then, it was over.

“Is that it?” Hermione asked, almost disappointed.

Draco didn’t answer though. He just stared at his hands as if seeing something interesting, something distracting. His pupils were dilated and he breathed very quietly, very slowly, not reacting to anything.

She waved her hand before his face, but he just continued to stare ahead.

She made a face at him. She said his name twice in a loud voice, and finally she insulted him in various creative ways, but nothing worked. He was not there.

Hermione was examining him, trying to find clues as to why he was acting this way when he suddenly jerked upright and fell on the floor screaming in agony. He rolled around, ripping out tufts of his hair, scratching his skin with sharp fingernails. His body was rigid with pain, his eyes bloodshot and his skin a pale shade of grey.

She watched him in shock, not knowing what to do to help. He didn’t seem to hear her at all. He didn’t seem to be there with her. Was he fighting against something? Why was he in so much pain? What was going on?

“No… she can’t… she couldn’t… she is… it’s not happening…” His voice was weak, a mere whisper, a mere choked cry. He curled into a ball, covering his ears with his hands.

Memories? Could it be? What was this all about, if not their minds, their dreams, their feelings? It could be a memory.

“Let go of it!” she kneeled beside him, regretting that she could not touch him. They could have done the spell after drinking the potion. She needed to be able to touch him.

“Malfoy! You’re clinging to a feeling or a memory.” She lay next to him on her side and touched his right hand with her fingers. “Give me your hand, please. Let me help you.”

He shuffled away from her, never uncurling from the fetal position he had adopted, not stopping until he was in a corner. He continued to mumble strange things, speaking to people who weren’t there, but mostly just speaking to himself. He sat in the corner, facing the wall, looking like an escaped patient from St Mungo’s.

Hermione felt that familiar sting of fear she always felt when visiting her brother. She was not good with crazy people and definitely not with one she didn’t even like. But her own welfare was connected to this mental mess of a person and she had to do something. Surprisingly enough, she did feel something for him. Pity? But he didn’t need that. He needed to feel strong, in control. So, she had to give him that. But how?

She grabbed a pillow from the bed and sat on it next to him.

“You can’t stay there.” Again, she touched his hand with her fingertips. “Maybe it’s something recent, maybe it’s something that happened a long time ago, but it has already happened. It’s in the past, you can do nothing to change it.” She paused. ”But you can choose how you deal with it.”

She got no reaction from him.

“I don’t know what to say. Please, just wake up. Insult me if you want to. Be mean if you have to. Just wake up.” She took his hand in hers.

“You remind me of my brother. He locked himself up, didn’t let anybody in. Look what happened to him. Let me help you,” she pleaded, feeling the potion beginning to bubble inside her. Time was running out.

What could she say? What would help? How could she connect with him? The next question scared her more than anything in her life: what if she failed? She looked at him, wishing she could read his mind - and then the realisation hit her: The Colour of Magick. She could read his mind; she just had to find him.

She prepared herself. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. And then, she concentrated on finding the connection between them. It was frail, hidden well, but finally she found the string that would lead her to his mind. She took hold of it and let the pairing magic do the rest. The pull was so powerful it darkened her vision, making her lose a few precious minutes when she fell unconscious.

She woke up in a hall.

There was a huge staircase on the left, leading to the upstairs and two closed doors on her right, hiding places in his mind that she was too afraid to even think about. In front of her was a painting, which made her inhale sharply. A wizard struck down another with a magical blade as the setting sun blooded the sky with the powerful shades of red, orange and yellow. Hermione wanted to cover the painting. It made her feel vicious, angry, even murderous; it made her want to strike down anyone who stepped in her way.

Shuddering, she tore her eyes from the painting and immediately her thoughts returned to normal. She had read about paintings having power over the human mind, but she had never encountered one herself. Not until now.

Where on earth was she? Who would put a painting like that in the entrance hall?

Without noticing, she had started to climb up the stairs, following a familiar old song that seemed to echo inside the walls. Her feet felt heavy and she struggled with each step. Soon it felt like she was walking in liquid cement or a pool of glue. She had to lean against the wall to be able to keep going.

It felt like someone or something was trying to stop her.

“I’m coming Malfoy. No matter what. You can’t hide from me,” she called down the empty corridor.

She opened all the doors, one at the time, searching for him, certain of his presence now. He was here somewhere, hiding, trying to stay unnoticed.

She opened one of the doors on her left and let out a scream. The open window revealed flames, licking the stone walls of the great house. She staggered to another room and opened the curtains. The same sight greeted her in every room; the house was on fire. She was inside a burning house, and the potion was ticking in her stomach like a time bomb.

“Malfoy? Where are you? I need you!”

Finally, she encountered a door she couldn’t open; it was locked with various spells.

“Malfoy, let me in! I know you’re there. Open the door. We’ll die if we don’t go back. Please…” She was beyond scared. She could barely move her arms, and her feet had stopped responding seconds ago. Hermione Granger was crawling on the ground on all fours.

If she had thought about it, she wouldn’t have been able to move at all anymore, but her only thought was to find him. And she had. She could feel him now, just behind the door. Smelling of fear and anger. He was terrified of something. Or someone.

“Draco, the house is on fire. We have to get out of here.” She was begging now, her back propped against the door, head tilted to the side. Too tired to move. “Are you trying to kill me? Do you want to kill me?”

Suddenly the door gave way and she toppled backwards, into a dark room. Her arms had just enough strength to pull her dead-like body near to the window where a blond haired boy was standing. He was no older than five or six, and he was holding a doll with black clothes and similar blonde hair, only longer.

“Do you think I should rip off his arms and legs?” the boy asked, showing her the plastic doll. “I don’t like him.”

Hermione looked up, trying to figure out to whom she was talking. Was it a younger version of Draco Malfoy? His self image? A ghost? And why did the doll seem like it was reaching out for her with its tiny plastic hands?

“I… don’t…” Her voice stuck in her throat and she had to cough a few times to clear it. “You don’t need to hurt it. It can’t hurt you.”

The boy kneeled beside her and tapped her head. “I like you.” He looked at her with big grey eyes, smiling slightly. “Would you take him? He’s too heavy for me… and… and… would you?”

It was a genuine plea of help, even though the boy held his head high, never showing a sign of weakness. But the words were there. He was very tired; he was ready to give in. And that he was afraid of. Nothing else. Just that.

“I’d be glad to hold it… him.” She stood up, harnessing every last power she had in her body - magical and human. She reached out for the doll, but let him make the final decision.

He handed it to her without hesitation.

As the doll touched her hands, she could understand why the boy was so eager to get rid of it. It was heavier than anything she had held before. Her feet buckled as she tried to keep her balance and a sharp pain shot through her body, making her scream out loud.

The boy tried to take the doll back from her, but she wouldn’t let him. The burden was too much for him to endure. She would never let him take it back, never.

“I’ll carry him. Just tell me how can we get out of here.”

The boy watched her for a while with the expression of a child who had grown up too fast, knowing too many things.

“Only way out is the front door. I can take you there, but I can’t leave with you.” He looked sad, almost in tears.

“I’m not leaving without you,” she muttered under her breath as they slowly trudged along the corridor. She was leaning on him, wishing that every step she took had been the last. She had never been in so much pain.

“You have to,” he whispered quietly, trying to swallow the words so she wouldn’t hear them. He didn’t mean to speak aloud; he would never say anything like that to her.

As they reached the front door, she fell to her knees, unable to move an inch. But her mind was not in the same condition; her mind was working just fine. She was holding Malfoy in her arms, wasn’t she? This was who he was and he had handed himself to her. Why? What had broken him? What was going on in his mind? What made everything feel this painful?

She looked at the boy standing a few steps away from her, panic rising in his eyes. What part of Malfoy was this little boy? He didn’t seem like a child. Maybe he had thought that she would respond better to a child.

“You have to go now. This is not a safe place for you. Take that with you; he will wake up.” The boy opened the front door and began to push her out.

“Wait. Who are you? Why can’t you leave?”

“Because I don’t want to. Now go!” He gave her a last push.



A/N: I want to thank Jenova and FaymosAmos for helping me so much. Without FaymosAmos I couldn't have finished this chapter; she gave me courage to continue. Without Jenova this chapter would be full of mistakes. :) She is the perfect beta.

And the fourth chapter continues...there will be a third part. Sorry about that, but it was too long for a one single chapter and I had to divide it. Yeah, three parts is a bit too much, but I can't help it.



Chapter 6: Poetic Justice, Part Three
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Poetic Justice, Part Three




The Human Abstract

Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody poor;
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.

And mutual fear brings peace,
Till the selfish loves increase;
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

By William Blake (first two verses)




Hermione hit her head hard against the wall inside Malfoy’s room at Hogwarts. The strong tugging sensation in her stomach subsided. She was back, and there was a blond boy beside her, scratching his head.

Her right hand was clutching his left tightly.

“Are you all right?” she asked, trying to get a glimpse of his face.

“Never been better.” He smirked, turning to face her. His lips were chapped and white and there were quite a few bloody scratches across his face, but otherwise he seemed to be just fine.

Hermione couldn’t believe how well he could hide his feelings. If she hadn’t known any better, she would have thought that he had been fighting with Crookshanks, definitely nothing serious. She wouldn’t let him get away with it though, not this time. Someone had to confront him.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you have two ways of hiding.” She looked at him intently. “You either turn violent, or start joking around. Why is that?”

Her words shattered his tenuous hold on his crushed self-image, making him fall apart, piece by piece. He didn’t have the means to fight this kind of a battle, so he just pulled his knees against his chest in an attempt to protect the last fragments of his mind, still attached. Now she was being cruel, crueller than he had ever been to her.

“Draco, please tell me. What’s happened? Why haven’t you been attending any classes?” She spoke softly, kindness weaved within her voice.

But he wasn’t listening to her; he was chanting inside his mind over and over again: Laalaalaalaa… can’t hear a word of a mocking bird.

She leaned closer and whispered in his ear, “I don’t hate you. I won’t laugh at you. I’m only going to listen. I’m never going to tell anyone. Please, talk to me.” She almost added that the potion would probably kill them if he couldn’t come to terms with his inner demons, but she didn’t want him to feel like she only wanted to save herself. It wasn’t true anymore; she wanted to save him, too.

Draco opened his eyes and glanced at her quickly, not sure what to say. He felt everything inside him melt, transform into liquid fear. He was a mess - but maybe she could fix him.

And then something strange happened: the thought of using her made him feel guilty.

He didn’t want to use her; he didn’t want to burden her… not even her, not even the creature of dirt that she was. Even she didn’t deserve his thoughts.

“I can’t,” he said finally, admitting defeat.

“You already have; I just need your words. I don’t understand your mind. You need my help, you asked for it. I can help you. Please. Tell me.” She was still very close, still whispering. She looked strong, even fierce. She was determined to break through his barrier.

He lifted their united hands so they could both see them.

“Do you know what this means? Do you understand? Let me make it perfectly clear. I hate you. You hate me. We’re never going to see each other after this. I’m not one of your stupid friends. I’m no Harry bloody Potter. I don’t share.” He lowered their hands and then brushed his right hand through his hair. He almost believed in those words himself, almost.

“I know I’m not your friend, but I’m the only one here. You need to talk or the potion will break you.”

“Ah, that’s what this is all about. You’re afraid that I can’t handle this and I’ll drag you down with me. How shallow of you, pretty little Gryffindor – and very brave, too.” His mouth turned into a grin, but his stormy eyes accused her of betrayal. The hopelessness in him became almost tangible.

“I already said that I don’t hate you anymore. In my world that means I don’t actually want anything bad to happen to you. Is that so difficult to understand? I want to help you,” she insisted. She wanted him to understand; she needed him to understand.

She moved even closer to him, not noticing how uncomfortable she made him feel. “I can feel the potion inside me, trying to take over. But at the moment it’s still under my control and I know how I feel. I can and I want to help you. Please let me, before it’s out of our reach completely.” She squeezed his hand, waiting for him to answer.

“You should…” he said quietly, leaning his forehead against his knees. “…you should hate me.”

She didn’t say a thing.

“You should, you know. I’m not a decent person. I’m not anything anymore.” He shifted uncomfortably. “My mother left for France…eight days ago, I think. Didn’t you read the Daily Prophet?” He glanced at her and she shook her head; she hadn’t had the time for reading newspapers. He turned his gaze back to the floor. “Well, they were wrong anyway…I… you know, this isn’t working. You can’t change anything.”

He tried to stand up, noticing too late that he didn’t have the strength for it, nor did he have his freedom; she was part of him now. He stumbled down next to her, too embarrassed to even look at her. This was something he couldn’t take; nobody had seen him like this, nobody. He would rather die than let her see him like this.

She poked him in the arm, just below the ink line to get his attention, and as he looked at her she grabbed his other hand and blew lightly on his palm, looking to his eyes the whole time.

“Stop it. You’re going the wrong way. Concentrate on the facts; you’ll get to the feelings later. Not now when you’re under the influence of the potion.”

He was shocked by her actions; so shocked that he was opening and closing his mouth, unable to speak. She was good; she should have been in Slytherin.

“The facts, huh? Short version or the long version?”

“Anything’s fine, as long as you can give it to me for safe keeping. I’ll be your Pensieve.”

He smiled at her, feeling grateful and not quite knowing why.

“My mother lost her marbles and burned the Malfoy Manor. She’s in France…in an institution where they treat the witch and the famous.” He spoke fast, now that the words were finally coming out. “I’ve also started to remember what happened last summer…I’m remembering things… there are holes in my mind. And you…you’re the worst. Making me a blood traitor. Don’t look at me like that. I don’t want your pity. I don’t-”

“I’m not pitying you…well, of course I’m pitying you, but I… What did your mother do?”

“Burned down my home. I don’t have a home. I don’t think I have any money either. My father is gone, my mother is in some weird institution and I think I have to be over twenty-two to get the family money.” He looked at her through his lashes, feeling ashamed of his current situation, his lack of status.

“How can you think about money? How-” She stopped in mid sentence, because of the look on his face. It was easier to think about the money than his mother, so she asked, “Do you have any relatives who could take you in?”

He grinned wickedly. ”I think I’m old enough to live on my own…but I can come visit the Granger Manor if you insist.”

“We don’t hav-“ She made a face at him. “How dare you make fun of the dear girl, who's trying to help you? Me helping you here. You ungrateful scoundrel.” She laughed, finding it extremely difficult not to like him.

He lifted her hand near his mouth and blew on her palm, making shivers run down her spine. “Thank you,” he said, his voice low and serious.

Her thoughts were running so fast that she couldn’t keep up with them. This person in front of her wasn’t the same one she had known all these years. He wasn’t arrogant, he wasn’t evil, he wasn’t even ill mannered. She didn’t know who he was anymore or how to respond to him.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to thank me,” she said eventually, letting him hold her hand as though they were lovers. She didn’t know why, but she liked that particular touch.

Hermione looked at him for a while, debating whether she should ask the next question circling her mind. She didn’t know if it was appropriate, but decided to try anyway. “I have a few questions I would like to ask you, if it’s okay?”

To her disappointment he let go of her hand and turned his gaze back to the floor. She felt him draw away from her.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

He waved his hand at her and said: “Just ask.”

She hesitated for a moment, knowing that she was walking on a dangerous ground. “Did your father… Well, did he ever hit you?”

“What kind of a question is that?” He turned to face her, anger flaring in his eyes. “Of course he didn’t. Who do you think we are? He never laid a finger on me.”

“Then what is this?” She touched the fake Dark Mark on his right arm. “You said he did it.”

“That’s different,” he murmured against his knees.

“How is that different?” She was actually getting angry. She hated Lucius Malfoy. He was ruthless. He couldn’t have been a good father. The picture on his bedside table was lying.

“Because it’s his job.”

“To burn holes into his son?”

He looked at her again, his eyes shifting in colour as the mixed emotions flashed in them. “No. To make me stronger, to make me survive.”

“By burning holes into you?” she repeated.

“You don’t understand…”

“Of course I don’t understand. You said he did it without your permission.” She tried to control her voice, but she had started to sound very indignant.

“I’m not a very good son, you know.” He said it matter-of-factly as though there was no other truth in the world.

“I’m not a good daughter either. I’m never at home and when I am, I do nothing but read. I don’t have any friends outside the Wizarding world and I don’t even like it there. I hardly ever even write to them. But my father would never brand me like a cow.” She knew she had gone too far as soon as she had said it, but she couldn’t take it back.

He breathed in sharply, edging away from her. “How dare you speak to me like that? You have no right. You filthy little Mudblood. Fuck you!”

“I’m… I didn’t mean it that way. I’m sorry. Really I am. You know me and my S.P.E.W.; always trying to save the oppressed.” She tried to smile, but failed miserably. She didn’t want to lose the frail connection they’d had just moments ago.

“Don’t try to save me,” he snapped.

“I won’t. I promise. I’m so sorry.” She paused, trying to get him to look at her again. “What did you mean then? Why did your father do it?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Because I don’t understand you. I don’t understand how you can defend him. How can you do and say the things you do? Why do you act so sweetly and then in the next minute you want to bite my head off and throw me to the snakes? Why?” She had said too much again. Her heart began to pound so fast she thought it would try to break its way through her chest. “I don’t understand you.”

“Neither do I. Why do I do anything…? I don’t know. This,” he showed the mark on his arm, “is actually a gift. Or so my father thought. To me it’s more like a question; where am I going? I don’t have a lot of choices like you do. I’ve never had any choices; everything is laid ready for me… or was… I really don’t know anymore…”

At that precise moment she wanted to kiss him… anything but hold his hand. The urge to touch grew stronger with each breath she took, and she felt a knot in her heart as she tried to fight the feeling. What was happening to her? This was not who she really was. These were not the true feelings of Hermione Jean Granger. She was certain of it.

“If you want to understand me, listen to this,” he said. “I learned it when I was about seven. My mother bought me the book.”

Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody poor;
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.

And mutual fear brings peace,
Till the selfish loves increase;
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.


You quote William Blake?” Hermione couldn’t believe she had just witnessed that. “You can’t be serious… I didn’t just hear that. You? How?”

He looked offended. “Would you shut up,” he snapped. “It’s about life, about us. If there weren’t people like me, there wouldn’t be people like you. It’s about balance. I have to be who I am and you have to be who you are. That’s the way it goes.”

“And you based all your beliefs on a poem, written by a Muggle?” Hermione was so shocked she didn’t know if she was supposed to laugh or cry.

“No! Of course not.” He paused. “You know, you’re not a very good listener. You’re so bloody opinionated.”

“I know… I’m sorry. Ron keeps telling me that. But seriously, did you have any friends when you were growing up?”

“The man is revealing his inner most secrets and the woman just keeps taunting him. What did I do to deserve you?” he grumbled.

“You were born.” She smiled wickedly.

“I can’t believe we’re actually having this conversation. Did I hit my head while I was screaming and scratching and ripping my hair out - all of this with style of course?”

Kiss him. The thought came out of nowhere, driving her off balance.

“You of all people should’ve appreciated the perfectly fine explanation for why I’m so evil and want to eat Muggle babies,” he said, smiling widely.

Kiss him.

“But now that I think of it, maybe it was more like a prophecy than an explanation. I’m poor and unhappy, there is a mutual fear connecting us all… maybe I remember it so well, because it’s… er, now I’m rambling.”

He looked at her apologetically, and then stopped breathing for a second or two. Her eyes were dark brown, very intense and full of what seemed like desire. She was trying to control her feelings, but was clearly on the losing side; she was shaking slightly and he could feel her squeeze his hand harder.

Kiss him.

Her voice was husky when she spoke. “I think the potion is doing something to me. I’m… I have to get out of here.”

He had to search for his voice, too. “You can’t. Why don’t you sit by the window for a while.”

“I have a better idea.” She pulled him up and ran to the bathroom, Draco tailing behind her, still feeling a bit weak. She put the shower on and stepped inside, not caring about her clothes. The cold water made her squeal, but she was feeling much better. There was no more burning sensation on her skin, her mind didn’t scream for her to touch him, and she definitely didn’t feel like a pure silvery lust had filled her entire being.

He, on the other hand, was feeling rather flustered. Wet girls, even in robes, were quite attractive.

He stepped into the shower, too.

“Hey, what are you doing?” She really didn’t want him too near herself.

“You’re not the only one.”

“Oh…”

They stood under the cold shower opposite one another, trying to ignore each other fiercely. Their connected hands made it quite difficult.

She noticed how he kept licking his lips every time a drop rolled down his cheek to his mouth; the tip of his tongue gave her ideas she didn’t even know existed. He was driving her crazy. Why was he just standing there?

She let her fingertips touch his right hand tentatively. She played with his long well kept fingers, touching his nails, brushing the back of his hand. He didn’t stop her, but didn’t respond either. He just let her touch him, an unreadable expression on his face.

She let her forefinger follow the lines of the mark, burned to his skin. Water made everything so slippery, so easy to caress and she just couldn’t resist the temptation. She felt mesmerised by her boldness, her need to explore him. It was like uncontrollable magic.

Each touch made her sink deeper into the feeling, into the drowning desperate desire. Her eyes turned into a dreamy shade of dark chocolate and her body shivered with anticipation. She wanted him to touch her, more than anything.

She turned her eyes to his, watching him intently as she pulled his hand close to her heart. She took the final step between them and stood so close to him she could actually feel his heart beat. She leaned further, almost touching his neck.

“I need you to touch me,” she whispered, her breath caressing the sensitive skin of his neck and ear.

He looked past her, his lips almost touching her wet hair, praying that she would disappear. She just rose on tiptoe, demanding his attention.

If there hadn’t been the stupid spell, he could have kissed her there and then. He could have made her scream his name. He could have pushed her against the wall. He could have touched her bare skin with his lips, could have licked her, tasted her. This teasing. He wanted to hit his head against the wall for being so stupid. He could have had her now - if it weren’t for the freaking spell.

He was so aroused he couldn’t think straight anymore.

“Don’t tease me, Granger,” he breathed into her ear.

“I’m not teasing you. It hurts. Do something, please,” she pleaded, shivering in his arms. “It hurts.”

Oh god, there was a wild-eyed Gryffindor sex goddess at his reach and he could do nothing about it. He couldn’t believe this was happening that she was actually begging for him to… what? Make her come?

“As much as I would like to carry you into the dimly lit bedroom of mine and have hot steamy sex with you, I don’t think it’s an option at the moment.” He smiled ruefully against her neck and then pulled both of their hands between them. “But if you need anything within the limits of the spell, I’ll be happy to oblige.”

She watched him for a second, a fierce look on her face. Then she pushed him out of the shower, ramming him against the sink, pulled their hands out of the way and kissed him.

As their lips met, he was too shocked to do anything but open his mouth and invite her in. It was amazing, kissing her. She was wet, she was cold and hot at the same time and she moved like a feline.

The kiss was all teeth and tongue, both of them battling for control. He deepened the kiss by cupping his hand behind her head and pulling her even closer, tilting her face to his. He grabbed a handful of her hair, claiming her as his property. She was divine; she was all that he could have ever imagined.

Her hands snaked under his robes, touching his bare chest, following the lines of his muscles and bones. She felt the need to be even closer to him, to touch him with her whole being. She wanted to get rid of the clothes separating them. The ache inside her would never give in until she felt him close, closer, inside her. She needed him.

Draco fought for breath. Her touch was like a million feathers, tickling his skin. He had never felt anything like that, not with Pansy, not with anyone. Hermione, the bookworm turned out to be a very interesting and demanding partner after all.

He smiled against her mouth and she withdrew from him just to see what was so funny.

He pulled her closer, whispering to her ear: “I want to make you scream.”

She trembled against him, her knees weak with lust.

“I want to taste you.” He bit her neck, letting his tongue soothe the marks of his teeth. “I want to feel you from the inside.” He turned her against the sink and pulled one of her legs around his waist, giving him access between her legs.

One thrust against her and she dug her nails into his back. A second and she threw her head back, moaning incoherently. She really made him crazy and he just couldn’t stop moving, couldn’t stop wanting for more.

Their clothes were suffocating, wet and sticky and both of them were eager to get rid off them. She pulled the front of his robes, tearing off some buttons, making him groan. But he soon forgot it when she kissed him, biting his lower lip gently, licking his jaw line, his neck. She was a teaser.

Her hands sunk lower, touching his bare stomach, making him inhale in short shallow breaths. Her fingers traced the rim of his boxers from the inside, caressing his hipbones in doing so.

“Hermione,” he breathed, taking her hands to his and pushing them behind her. He leaned so close every inch of his body was touching her. “I’m going to ravish you, if you don’t stop.” He smiled against her neck as he felt a jolt run through her.

“I don’t mind,” she whispered to his ear. She was lost, completely surrendered to her feelings, to the feelings he was creating inside her. She was on fire, every little nerve cell of her skin in tune with him.

The blinding pleasure overwhelmed him; she felt perfect against him. And he was just about to lift her on the sink and let his hands explore her beautiful body when the spell began to work again. The invisible force pushed him a few inches away from her, stopping his hands near her waist. He tried to fight it, but couldn’t. She was out of his reach again.

“What… what now?” she asked, her voice raspy and unsteady.

“It’s working again, the stupid spell is working,” he replied, grabbing her hand; he wasn’t sure how the separating potion would react if they didn’t keep the connection between them at all times.

He felt a familiar urge to bang his head on the wall.

The truth of the situation started to sink in and she was beginning to feel very, very embarrassed; her face was red and she couldn’t make herself look at him in the eyes. She just kept staring at the buttons of his robes - which was definitely not a good idea since his pale chest was still visible. Her mind played tricks on her, making her see her own hands, touching the muscles, the bones, that beautiful skin…

Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god… she had just snogged Draco sodding Malfoy, Death Eater to be, hater of all Muggles, her oldest enemy, the boy she had slapped in their third year. Oh god, oh god… she was so embarrassed. Why had she done it? Why hadn’t the spell stopped her from making such a huge mistake? She was supposed to be smart. This was supposed to end a perfectly hideous relationship between them, the potion and that bloody spell. It was supposed to work, but now… she couldn’t even look at him.

“If you keep breathing like that, you’ll faint,” he pointed out coldly. The situation wasn’t easy for him either. He knew, deep down he had always known, that he felt something for her but he really hadn’t known that the feeling was so terribly strong.

He could still remember the first time he had thought of her as a person, the first time he had felt something for her. The night of the Quidditch World Cup. He had warned her about the Death Eaters. He didn’t want her to get hurt, he just didn’t. He hadn’t thought about it since, but now it all came back to him. He had been under his dad’s… his father’s wing then, but he still had wanted her to be safe.

D’you want to be showing off your knickers in the mid air?

Keep that big bushy head down, Granger.

He had warned her.

He turned to look at her, busying herself with drying her clothes and hair. She looked perfectly calm now, just a hint of redness on her cheeks. Did she hate herself for what she had done? Did she hate him more?

“Can we go now?” She looked at him, but didn’t seem to see him. “I want to go to be… I’m tired. Sleep. Now.” She yawned widely.

Draco took out his wand and dried his clothes and hair, fixed his robes, and then healed the wounds on his face. He had forgotten about the scratches and was now afraid that they might leave scars. He watched himself from the mirror, trying to see if any marks stayed. He didn’t want to have any bloody resemblance to Harry Potter in anyway.

“Could you be more vain?” she asked, sounding quite bored.

“Men have to care for their complexions too,” he retorted, leading the way out of the bathroom.

They acted coolly, but underneath they both knew that it was only a matter of time before it would happen again. They could dry their clothes, heal their wounds and fix their clothes but there was no way fixing their heated emotions. Something irreversible had happened between them.

The house-elves had left them a small brown-papered package, and luckily it gave them enough to do, other than think about what had just happened.

The package contained food and drinks, and Hermione’s spare bed. It was a hammock, made of cloud material. It hovered on the level with his bed and it was softer than any fabric or any mattress could ever be. She was excited to sleep in such a wonderful bed.

They didn’t try to change into pyjamas; they didn’t even brush their teeth. And the only thing they said to each other was “Goodnight” when they lay down to sleep.

It was difficult to fall asleep, though. Their united hands made it practically impossible and so did the fact that neither of them had ever slept with someone so close by.

I don’t like him, I don’t like him, I don’t like him. She tried to drive him away from her mind, but his mouth and hands and… She tried harder.

He lay stiff in his bed, feeling quite annoyed. The bint had made his blood rise and now she was acting like nothing had happened. He wanted to pull her out of the funny hammock and strangle her, make her admit that it had been…wonderful… He wanted to…

He let his thumb caress the back of her hand and just before they fell asleep, she squeezed his hand and pulled it a bit closer.

The girl would be the end of him.




A/N: I always thank my reviewers, but I want to thank my silent readers too. :) You all mean so much to me.

Jenova did a wonderful job with betaing this chapter, yet again. I'm very happy to have such a great beta. :)

Those two familiar lines were borrowed from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, pages 110 and 111 (D’you want to be showing off your knickers in the mid air? and Keep that big bushy head down, Granger).


Chapter 7: Tied Up
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Tied Up



The small room bathed in the rays of the setting sun; it was the last hot days of autumn. The slightly open window of the Slytherin Head Boy room let in a breeze of fresh air, and even though its cooling effect was non-existent, it gave an illusion to the two people sitting on the floor, holding each other’s hands, that they could actually do something about the wet hot stickiness of their situation.

Hermione held her quill lightly, tickling her cheek with its feathery end. She was deep in thought.

Why had he said it? It couldn’t be true, could it?

She glanced at him.

Gasping for breath, she watched as Draco brushed his white-blond hair back behind his ear, letting his long fingers linger on the back of his neck a moment too long. It was as though he was unconsciously trying to seduce her.

What had he meant with it?

There was something transfixing about the way he bit his lower lip from the inside as he concentrated on the highly difficult Transfiguration essay McGonagall had sent them earlier that day.

He was sitting on her left, their united hands resting between them. Parchments, books, ink bottles and quills were lying messily in front of them, giving out the fact that they had been studying for quite a while now.

She was so close to him she could actually smell him. The mystical scent of a Slytherin Head Boy. It was something between clean sheets dried in the wind and needles of fir on a sunny day. He smelt clean and summery. She wanted to lean on him and take a deep breath.

Blood traitor was so much more than two words put together. It meant that she was a real person to him. Didn’t it? Why did it even matter?

She sighed heavily and in vain, turned back to her own essay. He was just too damn distracting.

He moved his right hand almost unnoticeably. His arm was now touching hers from elbow to fingertips, and the warmth of his skin made her feel light-headed and weak. It was unbelievable how sensitive her own skin had become; she could feel his skin even through his shirt. She wished she hadn’t rolled up her own sleeves - or abandoned her robes. She felt naked in her white shirt and short Scott-print skirt.

Most of all, she wasn’t quite sure if his actions were entirely unintentional.

She tried to breathe steadily, keep her calm; she tried very hard to ignore the butterflies flapping frantically inside her stomach. She didn’t want him to know the effect he had on her.

As he leaned further down on his parchment, she let her eyes roam over him freely, marvelling, questioning, wanting. He wasn’t wearing his robes either, so she got the rare opportunity to see him as he was at home.

The white shirt with frilly sleeve ends made him look a bit like a pirate, and the black trousers complemented his lean figure. He looked nothing like the Draco Malfoy she had known for so long. He was at ease. He was relaxed. He was calm.

How dare he be so calm while she was almost shaking just because he had … kidnapped her arm? The brute.

‘You’re the worst … making me a blood traitor.’

She leaned closer to him and blew lightly in his ear; blindly following the need to distract him, puzzle him. “Stop teasing me, Drrraco.” She whispered the other words, but his name she purred, very deliberately.

The movement of his quill on the parchment never stopped, but he shifted his arm ever so slightly so it wasn’t touching hers anymore. There was no other hint that he had even heard her words.

She felt like a fool.

What if it hadn’t been intentional? Was he laughing at her now, thinking that she was an arrogant little girl who had no idea what was actually going on.

She pretended to check something from her textbook, hoping that she looked as casual as he did. She started writing again, trusting her ability to do homework under any circumstance. Nothing could stop Hermione Granger from studying.

Except his voice.

“Do you have the copy of Advanced Transfiguration?” He sounded so indifferent, and it made her feel … unimportant. She sighed and was just about to answer when he reached for the said book on her right.

He was mere inches away from her.

He froze, looking into her eyes, swallowing hard. That had been a mistake. The potion was still inside them, working desperately against the pairing magic and making it fight back with every means necessary. Now, one of those means had activated.

He tried to move, tried to push his body away from her but couldn’t.

She held her breath, eyes widening in realisation.

“I’m … don’t do anything. It will go away.” He tried to sound rational, but all he could think of were her lips, slightly parted, wet, inviting. He leaned closer, feeling her warmth, tasting her fear.

Her thoughts were scrambling; she was losing herself. She closed her eyes, hoping that he would vanish. If she just willed him to go away, maybe … it was a childish thought.

When he spoke again, she could feel his breath on her cheek. “Move. Get away from me.”

Her voice betrayed her, and she just shook her head, thinking desperately, I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

They were losing the battle.

Then suddenly, the whole castle shook as a loud BOOM echoed through the halls and grounds of Hogwarts. It startled them both, turning their attention to the open window - their eye to the outside world.

Despite the commotion, Draco felt a ridiculous urge to ask her, “Did you feel the Earth move?” but managed to swallow the words just in time. What a stupid thing to ask.

They stood up hastily and darted towards the window. Draco climbed on the desk and motioned her to follow him as he opened the window further and leaned out of it, trying to see what was going on.

At first he could see nothing, but then, behind the clouds emerged the all too familiar green Dark Mark. Morsmordre. He tasted the word on his tongue, and it was more sour than he remembered. It was impossible; they couldn’t be…

“What is it?” She sounded frightened. She must have guessed.

“Death Eaters.”

He jumped off the desk, pulling her with him, and took the first two steps towards the door when he felt her hesitation. She had stopped him, their connected hands stretched between them.

“What?” he lashed at her, eyes narrowing dangerously.

She shook her head, trying to collect herself enough to speak again. Finally, she managed to blurt out, “The separation process. It’s not over yet.”

If possible, he looked more frightening than a second ago and said venomously, “I have to go. I don’t trust your precious Headmaster; he doesn’t care about Slytherins.”

Hermione just stared at him for a moment, blinking in dismay. “Of course he cares.” She felt like she was stating the obvious, but to Draco it seemed to be far from the truth. Why did he think that way? “We have to find out if we can go out safely. It won’t help anyone if we rush to our deaths.”

“You know what that sign means. They are here and they’re going to kill whoever gets in their way.” He was standing defiantly in front of her, head tilted to the left, clearly thinking if he could just knock her out and carry her with him.

“Why are you so eager to get to the rescue? You’re practically family to those … bastards. You’ve nothing to worry about and neither have any of the other Slytherins.” She was shaking with fury. He was being a hypocrite.

Draco didn’t answer immediately.

There was something very disturbing in the way he looked at her; it felt as though she was a mere animal to him. How did that happen? Just moments ago he had looked at her like she was the most exciting thing he’d ever seen. How could it all change so fast?

“What do you suggest we do then?” Draco snarled. “Stand here and do nothing? Shrivel up and die? Are you that scared, little Gryffindor?”

His words stabbed her sharply. She was as eager to get out of the room as he was. She wanted to run to her friends, help the others to get the first and second years to safety. She wanted to ready herself for the upcoming fight.

But the potion was a threat she wasn’t going to take lightly. Too many times she had rushed in when she should have questioned. She wouldn’t let an overgrown child cloud her judgement.

“First, take that big ugly foot out of your mouth and stop acting like a spoiled brat,” she shot back, a pleasurable feeling swelling inside her as she watched his face turn paler and his mouth thinner. “And then we can contact Dumbledore. Where did I put that ball?” She went to find her book bag, Draco following her reluctantly.

He was counting to one hundred. He was so close to letting go of her. He didn’t want to hold her hand. He didn’t want to be near her.

While she was kneeling on the ground, rummaging through her bag, he imagined dropping a heavy object on her head. He could do that, couldn’t he? That stupid spell wouldn’t stop him? He didn’t know, but he could try.

He put his left hand’s forefinger into his mouth and pulled a ring off the finger and spat it out on his palm. He dropped it on Hermione’s head, and it really did hit her, making her look up and shoot an angry glare at him. “What the bloody hell was that?” she demanded, face reddening in frustration.

He grinned but said nothing, waving his free hand, urging her to continue. A suspicious look on her face, she returned back to her bag and continued to search for the Connector.

So, he could hurt her. His eyes scanned the room, looking for a suitable object to drop on her. He couldn’t find anything – except his copy of Hogwarts, A History. Oh, the irony of it, heavy literature really was life threatening. He smirked maniacally, reaching for the book on the shelf, when Hermione suddenly stood up, almost colliding with his hand, and gleefully turned to face him, holding the transparent ball.

She was just about to say, “Found it,” when she noticed the expression on his face. She gaped at him, opening and closing her mouth like a fish out of water, and then she frowned at him, quiet questions flashing in her eyes. Why did he look so … evil?

“What?” they both said at the same time, Draco sounding menacing and Hermione dubious. He was definitely up to something. She felt mortified; he was being so horrible to her even after all they’d been through. Had nothing changed between them? Hadn’t they shared life-changing thoughts, dreams and beliefs?

She looked at her feet for a moment, gathering her strength before turning to face him, looking straight to his eyes, feeling extremely betrayed. “I don’t know what you’re planning, but could you wait for a little while longer? I want to do whatever I can to save this school and all the innocent children, who have done nothing to deserve this. I can’t do that if I have to constantly watch my back because of you.” She tossed the Connector on his bed and took his left hand in hers. “Could you?”

He closed his eyes, unable to hold her penetrating gaze. She was too good to be true. He let out a breath and then confessed, “I want to see my father. That’s why…” The words got caught in his throat.

She squeezed his hands. “I know.” She paused for a second and then added quietly, “Please don’t let it hurt us.”

All the things she said were too much. How did she always know what to say? He tried to keep his face expressionless, tried to suffocate the tears behind his eyelids. He would not let himself be weak in front of her. She had already seen too much.

“I won’t. I’ll be a good boy.” Draco smiled slightly, and when the tears finally promised to stay away, he opened his eyes. “Let’s get started then. We’ve wasted too much time already.”

Hermione nodded, released his left hand and took the Connector from the bed. “You have to help me,” she told him. “Turn it four times clockwise on my palm, anti-clockwise from your perspective, of course.”

He did that.

She dropped the ball, and near the floor it started to hover like the first time she had used it. It rose up until it was level with her eyes and then, she drew the same weird letter or a picture in front it as Draco had seen earlier. He had been too tired and too shocked to be curious then but now, he had to admit it, he was interested to know how the thing worked and further more, what it was.

“What did you just do? What’s that thing? Why haven’t I seen those before?”

“It’s one of Dumbledore’s inventions. These work only in the school area… oh, look it’s him.” She pulled Draco in front of the floating ball so they could both see and hear everything clearly.

“Professor Dumbledore…” she greeted. He was walking quickly through a corridor - to Hermione it looked like the second floor.

Dumbledore smiled at her but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. “I’ve been waiting for you to call. Amadeus is coming to get you. Wait for him. He will give you instructions. Everyone is safe at the moment, but the castle is under siege.” He stumbled, and for a short moment he was too distracted to talk. Hermione held her breath, afraid that someone might have attacked him, but there was no one in sight. Soon he continued, his voice urgent, “And one other thing, do not use any of Amadeus’ teachings. It’s very important. They mustn’t know. Only – ”

There was a knock at the door.

Dumbledore waved at them. “Go. Let him in. Be safe.” With these words he disappeared.

They looked at each other in confusion, and then went to let Amadeus in. Just as Draco was about to open the door, Hermione grabbed his arm. “How do we know it’s him?”

“We don’t.” He took his wand from his belt and Hermione followed his lead. “Do you trust me?” he asked, questioning if she would let him be the one to stand wand at the ready as she opened the door. She nodded and reached for the doorknob. Hesitantly she opened the heavy wooden door.

The very stretchy and slightly transparent Amadeus walked into the room without a word. He was wearing dark-green robes and his long black hair hung loosely on his shoulders.

Draco lowered his wand.

Hermione wasn’t sure how to address Amadeus outside a classroom; and even then it was a problem. She had sometimes wondered with Ron and Harry why he went by his first name and had no ‘professor’ attached to his name. It was a bit strange.

“Sir, what should we do?” she asked finally, deciding to be at least polite.

Amadeus eyed her from head to toe, making her feel like a lowly bug under a magnifying glass. He didn’t seem to be at all pleased to see her.

It made her realise that he probably disliked them both for being too weak to handle the pairing magic. That would also explain the two essays they had received that morning, both of which were due tomorrow. The war probably wasn’t a good enough reason to be late.

Finally he nodded to them in acknowledgement, and then went straight to the point.

“This has never been done before,” he said, taking something out of his pocket and putting it behind his ear. “I was not willing to take the risk earlier, but now we have very little choice.”

Amadeus sniffed the air, as though scenting something, and then suddenly moved so fast, neither of them had a chance to react. He struck his hands through them, grabbing something inside of them, struggling to keep hold of whatever it was he had leashed. He pulled something out, something shining, colourful, beautiful. Both Draco and Hermione were gasping for breath; it hurt, it ate them alive. It was nearly impossible to hold in a scream.

“I have only the knowledge, and there is always a possibility that even parts of it have faded from the memories of our ancestors.” With a mischievous grin he added, “Hopefully none of the important parts.”

He grabbed the ends of both souls with his left hand, took the oblong object from behind his ear, and tied their souls around it. “This should hold you together even if you walk among other people.” He let go of them and took a step back, admiring his handiwork.

Recovering from the shock, Draco reacted first, pushing Amadeus with his left hand, yelling, “What the bloody hell was that? Who the hell are you? I gave you no permission… Who are you?” He swallowed hard as he realised that he had just attacked a teacher. But he wasn’t going to take back his words; they had the right to know.

Amadeus lowered his head, letting his hair fall on his face.

All light fled to the far ends of the room, leaving them standing in the red hot darkness. Shadows encircled around them like living creatures, and hungry whispers could be heard everywhere. With each breath Amadeus took, the room kept shrinking and widening, breathing as one with its master.

Hermione tried to calm herself. He was their teacher. He wouldn’t hurt them. But no amount of reasoning could hide the uneasiness, the fear she felt in her heart. The man in front of them seemed as crazy as Voldemort’s followers. She wanted to flee, and was about to signal Draco to follow her, when the light returned, and Amadeus collapsed on his knees.

Hermione wanted to go to him but Draco held her tight.

Amadeus’ voice was raspy when he spoke - raspy and very tired. “Please go now. Help Dumbledore and the others. Don’t use anything I’ve taught you, and if you start feeling dizzy or if either of you feel like melting to the other, leave everyone and find a place where you can gather your own thoughts and separate yourselves from one another.”

“But, Sir…” Hermione tried to object.

“Ffwl,” he muttered. “Just a moment ago you were ready to flee. Do that. They need you.” He lowered his fists to the ground and rested his weight on his hands. “Run!”

She still hesitated but Draco didn’t. He ran to the door, forcing her to follow him. She watched in despair as Amadeus shook uncontrollably. What was happening to him?

“We can’t leave him,” she pleaded just as they walked out of the door.

“You heard him.” He paused for a moment, pondering. “Besides, he’s crazy. The man has power, but he clearly can’t control it. I don’t want to be near him if he decides to lose his grip.”

“How can you be so cruel and selfish…” It wasn’t a question, just a statement. She had a hard time understanding the boy walking ahead of her. “You know nothing about him.”

“And you do?”

They were running down the stairs. Draco was leading her to the dungeons.

“Well, Dumbledore told me some things,” she said vaguely.

Draco tried to bite his tongue, but couldn’t help asking, “What things?” He was interested to know who Amadeus was. He was far too powerful to be so young. He wanted to know how that was possible.

She let the silence grow between them. He was so eager to know, so willing to listen. It intrigued her that he was so interested in something, and needed her to get the knowledge. She smiled evilly. “He’s a Celt, even though his name is of German origin. He can’t leave his homelands entirely, and that’s why he’s a mere shadow of himself when he travels in other places. Amadeus is some kind of an heir … that part Dumbledore didn’t explain too well and neither the reason why he’s here…” She let her voice fade off.

Soon the only sounds were their rhythmic footsteps on the stone floor, and their ragged breathing, echoing off the walls. It was strange how quiet the castle could be while under an attack. Did ‘quiet before storm’ mean this?

“What did he do to us?” Draco finally asked, breathless.

Breathing rapidly, Hermione answered, “Tied us together, I think.”

She was starting to feel scared. Now she could hear people screaming. It was terrible to know that the War was raging close to home. It wasn’t somewhere far; it wasn’t about nameless, faceless people. It was about everyone she knew. People were going to die. Harry could die. Ron could die.

Draco could die.

Please don’t let them die.

She squeezed his hand, begging silently for him to stop, asking him to acknowledge her distress.

Why did she even care what happened to him? He was very unpredictable. He was still unreliable, still walking the dark path. Why did she care?

He slowed down and started walking stealthily along the corridor. They could hear small explosions everywhere. How many Death Eaters were there? Was Lord Voldemort himself with them? Hermione just wished that all the smaller children were safe. It was their duty as Head Boy and Girl to confirm that all the first and second years were guided to the shelters in the dungeons.

Suddenly Draco stopped on his tracks and pulled her against the wall. There were footsteps, lots of them, hurrying in their direction.

Hermione felt her heart in her throat. It was impossible to think about anything except the closing people, the sounds of their feet, the eagerness of their movements… she closed her eyes tight, praying for it all to be a dream. But was it ever?

“No, you can’t stay with us. No, this is not a drill. And no, Harry is not going to hold your hands just because you’re scared.” It was an annoyed voice, but to Hermione it was sweet music. She jumped behind the corner and ran to Ron, hugging him fiercely, repeating, “Thank god you’re safe. Thank god you’re safe.”

There were two very confused boys at both ends of her hands.

She released Ron and turned to Harry next, grabbed him by the front of his robes, pulled him close and kissed his cheek, making him blush heavily. “Nice to see you too,” he managed to stutter.

Finally she noticed that there were quite a few small heads, staring at them curiously; one of them had wide green-blue eyes and blond pigtails. She stared at Hermione for a second and then said with a high, carrying voice, “Are they your boyfriends? How come you have so many?”

All the small heads were now turned to her.

She ignored the question the best she could and let her eyes search through the group of children. There were all the colours of the Houses.

“We’ve got everyone. Even Slytherins, although Pansy wasn’t that keen on letting them in our care. She bit me.” Ron shoved his hand in Hermione’s direction and she noticed that it really had fresh, nasty-looking bite marks. “I hate that bi-”

“Ron,” she said in a warning tone and nodded to the direction of the children. He fell silent, but muttered something about evil Slytherins.

“That’s probably the closest you’ll ever get to a living girl.”

All heads turned to the blond boy, standing beside Hermione, holding her hand. There were whispers in the crowd, “Is he her boyfriend?”

Ron seemed to notice him for the first time, and turned furiously red when he noticed their interlocked hands. “What the bloody hell are you doing here?” He still had enough common sense to keep his voice down, but there was no question about the state of his mind. He was barking mad. “And what is that?” He pointed at their hands.

Hermione didn’t have time to answer, before Draco lifted their hands and said, “Oh this? It’s magic.”

Harry took hold of Ron, and Hermione punched Draco in the arm. “Shut up, you idiot.” She turned to look at her two best friends, one of whom was taking dangerously short breaths and slowly turning a bright shade of maroon and the other, looking at her accusingly. “This isn’t what it looks like,” she started, sounding stupid even to her own ears.

“No, this is definitely way beyond,” Draco commented yet again, before she had the chance to continue.

She shot him an evil glare that promised torture and eternal hell if he wouldn’t keep quiet. He shrugged and motioned her to continue her explanation.

All the while, the small heads were following their conversation like a highly interesting Quidditch match.

She breathed in and murmured desperately, “We’re trying to …well, it’s … I mean, Amadeus suggested this.” The horrified looks on the boys’ faces made her realise what she had just said. She tried to repair the damage by adding, “It’s for our own good.”

Draco grinned but said nothing. She would have to deal with it herself.

“I mean, we’re being separated. No more magic together.” She just couldn’t understand how all the wrong words kept coming out of her mouth. What was happening to her? “Stop looking at me like that. Nothing’s going on. This’ll be over soon. And besides we have to go. We’ve stayed here far too long already.”

Harry eyed Draco for a second and then asked, “Which side are you on?”

It took him by surprise. He really hadn’t expected for them to question his loyalties. It wasn’t a thing you did among enemies. “Honestly?”

Harry nodded, and the whole room went quiet. At least two hundred pairs of eyes were focused on him, even Hermione’s.

“I don’t know.”

There was a long moment in the corridor in which no one blinked or let out a sound. It seemed to go on forever.

Draco stayed completely calm the whole time he was watched.

“I can live with that,” Harry said finally, releasing Ron and then grabbing his elbow when he tried to launch at Draco again. “We have to go. Are you coming with us or d’you have other plans?”

“You have my plans with you.” Draco waved his hand above the group of Slytherins, slightly separated from the others.

“Good. Then let’s go.” Harry started to lead the group to the specially made magic proof shelters.





A/N: I'm terribly sorry it took me so long to update!!

By the way, Ffwl is Welsh and means Fool!

I want to thank FaymosAmos for editing this with me and for making me laugh and enjoy my own work.

And Jembo, you I want to thank so very much. You saved me from my evil Writer's Block. It really did some nasty hunting and destroyed half of my plotbunnies ... thanks to you, this story is on the safe side now.

And now finally, this chapter has been betaed by the lovely, adorable and kind Arithmancy Wiz! Thank you, dear. ^_^


Chapter 8: Guardians of the Blue Room
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Guardians of the Blue Room




Hermione's heart was pounding faster than she thought possible. It wasn't just because she was walking fast along one of the dimly lit corridors or because she was scared of the vicious Death Eaters who had attacked her precious school. Her heart was racing because the potion inside her was bubbling again, making her notice every little movement the blond boy walking beside her made.

She was aware of his sweaty palm (Malfoys don't sweat), his fingers tangled with hers, his accidental sidesteps causing his hip to brush hers and most of all, she was aware that they were not alone.

They walked side by side with Harry and Ron; the latter still resembling a ripe tomato and questioning constantly Malfoy's very unwelcome presence there.

"For the millionth time, Ron, I. Can't. Get. Rid. Of. Him. Just leave it, please." Hermione's voice held a pleading tone, almost begging.

Ron leaned forward a bit, watching her past Harry - who was keeping a close eye on Ron - and frowned, saying: "Could we just knock him out. We could levitate him-"

Hermione sent a murderous look in his direction and he fell silent, embarrassed. He was trying to understand the situation. Hermione had explained everything about the pairing magic and the separation potion after they'd left the first and second years to the care of Professors Sprout and Vector at the shelter, but he still had a hard time understanding it all.

Malfoy hadn't said anything for a long while which annoyed Ron a lot more than an open fight. The other boy was so infuriating, strutting along like he owned the damn place. He had seen him smirk a couple of times and one time he had noticed that the slick git had walked way too close to Hermione.

And she didn't seem to mind at all.

Harry had been awfully quiet, too. It felt as though everyone else belonged to a secret society and only he was left out. What was going on in the world?

"Maybe we should separate," Hermione said quietly, looking everywhere but her two best friends.

"WHAT?" Ron screamed, unable to keep his voice down. "Leave you with that... that... monkey brain?"

"Hey, I resent that." Although he sounded offended, there was an amused undertone in Draco's voice, too. He was having the time of his life; seeing the Weasel squirm was like an early Christmas present.

"Shut up," said Ron and Hermione together.

"Er... shutting up would be best for all of us," Harry whispered urgently, looking for any sings of danger. He was having a hard time being the only adult of the group.

"They started it." Draco pointed nonchalantly at the two blushing troublemakers.

There was something in Ron's eyes that warned Harry and he grabbed the other boy by the waist before he could reach the grinning Slytherin. "You! I'm going to hurt you. Mutilate. I'm... Pain! Loads of pain," Ron bellowed, struggling against Harry's grip.

Draco leaned closer to Hermione and whispered in her ear, "Your friend seems a bit incoherent," all the while looking at Ron over her shoulder.

In that instant their world froze. Seconds passed as they stood in front of four very grown-up and capable Death Eaters, one of them being Malfoy Senior. The tall man looked at his son then Hermione, and finally his eyes settled to their united hands. It seemed as though madness enveloped him. His nostrils flared as he took sharp breaths through his nose and there was no mercy in his cold, deadly eyes.

Draco knew instantly and instinctively that his father would not only kill Hermione; he would take her soul, too.

His eyes turned to Potter's briefly, just long enough for him to tell the other boy that they were going to run, and he'd better make something extraordinary happen - right about now.

Potter nodded ever so slightly.

Draco squeezed Hermione's hand, letting her know that they were leaving. They were going to run for their lives.

Harry released Ron very slowly, keeping his eyes on the enemy. Lucius Malfoy was the biggest threat; the others were just minions, nameless and faceless. He stepped between the Death Eaters and his friends, blocking the perfect view Malfoy Senior had of his son and the Mudblood and making him notice for the first time who he was up against.

He looked at Harry from head to toe, finally acknowledging him. "Mr. Potter." It was almost a question.

Harry took that moment to distract them all. A bright red light shot out of his wand and filled the corridor, blinding the four men in front of them. "Run!" he yelled as loud as he could.

Draco pulled Hermione with him, not looking back. He didn't care what would happen to the others; he just knew that they had to get out of there. He could hear people shouting spells and curses, but Potter must have created a protective shield. Nothing hit them, nothing at all.

After a few seconds of running, he noticed that Granger was shouting at him. "...can't leave them! Stop! Stop, you idiot." She was leaning backwards, trying to stop him from dragging her behind him.

He couldn't stop. It was the eyes that made him run. He could never go back. There was no place for him. No home. No mother. No father.

"Shut the hell up!" That made her fall silent, the harsh words. They always worked. He turned to look at her briefly and saw tears in her eyes. She was fighting them, but he could still see them. "You heard him. We could do nothing."

"We could've fought with him."

"Not this time," he said quietly.

He slowed down a bit, trying to collect his scattered thoughts. He had seen his father, the person he'd admired all his life. Now, the same person wanted his head on a silver platter. Draco had seen it in his eyes. He wasn't going to ask questions. He wouldn't listen, he would just tear his son apart. He would and could.

He would.

The thoughts were too much. He wanted to hide, disappear. The pain was coming back, all the miserable thoughts. He was a loser, a disgrace. He belonged nowhere... nobody needed him... he... should... just... die... no one... there was no one...

"Draco, what is it?" Hermione had taken his other hand into hers, and was now looking straight into his eyes. "Where did you go?" Her voice sounded tender and worried.

It was a stupid question. He was there. "It's nothing. Let's go." He pushed her away, picking up pace again.

Hermione was at a loss with the boy. She didn't know what to say to him. Something had happened back there, something had been said without words. Lucius Malfoy had shaken his son to the very core. And Harry, he was fighting them all. It was hard for her to admit it, but he was doing it almost without effort, like he really was becoming the man he was supposed to be. Was it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Or was Harry really born a hero? Her best friend, silly, dense, skinny Harry? She hoped they would be all right, all of them.

"What was the purpose of us leaving the safety of your room if we're not going to fight?" She had to ask, she just had to.

The pure agony on his face made her regret every taunting word she'd ever shot at his direction. It was unbelievable how clearly she could read him at times and then other times he would just pull the rug from under her feet with his complexity. "I'm sor-"

"No, you're right. It's just... I can't fight him." He didn't add that he couldn't have protected her either.

"I know. I shouldn't have said that. It's just... Harry."

The words hung in the air, making her feel uncomfortable and almost guilty, as though she had said something wrong. "What is it now?" Her voice was strained.

"Nothing. Just keep going."

"You're acting weird."

"More than usual?"

"Don't try to joke. I'm serious."

Draco stopped and turned to look at her. "Do you love him?"

"We're in a middle of an attack and you stop to ask me something like that?" Hermione was completely amazed; the boy was so unpredictable.

He didn't even flinch. "Well, do you?"

"Of course I do. He's my best friend."

Draco let out a disapproving sound - a sharp exhale through his nose - and then started walking again, making it impossible for Hermione to study his expressions.

"Wait!" She was getting frustrated again. It had been a meta-conversation and she wasn't quite sure if she understood it correctly. If she did... her view of life was about to change drastically. "I'm... wait! Bloody hell! Stop now!" She did everything she could to make him stop. She leaned backwards. She tried to take hold of a random pillar. She even stopped walking and let him pull her along the corridor.

"What is it with you? What happened with your father? Draco. Dammit. Talk to me."

He turned around so fast she didn't have a chance to react. He pushed her against the stone wall, holding her both wrists. "You have no idea how close to death you were. He saw you with me. He saw you. He thinks... Didn't you see his eyes?" His breath was harsh against her cheek.

Hermione didn't know why she did it; why she freed herself from his grip and carefully and very slowly pulled him closer to her. Her fingers curled around the back of his neck, finding his long soft hair and capturing him into a warm embrace. At first she felt him tense, but then after a short while he started to relax in her arms, letting her be the one in control of the situation.

"We're not going to die and he's not going to get me," she whispered in his ear. If she had thought about everything rationally - whom she was with, the binding spell, the attack - she would have questioned her actions. But at that moment, she followed her intuition. He needed her. It was as simple as that.

That was the first time in years anyone had held him without any after thoughts. He could feel Hermione's steady breathing, her heartbeat, her stroking hands in his hair. He felt safe. Nobody was demanding anything from him.

His own hands left his sides and found her waist, and very lightly, he embraced her back.

I need you. The thought escaped all the barricades he had ever created in front and around himself. It made him ache. It was an even deeper ache than the one he had felt when he realised for the first time that she was a real person to him. It was an ache full of fear. Fear of loss. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown.

He lifted his head from her shoulder, pulling back a bit. "I guess the binding spell is dying." He didn't want to say something so indifferent, but he just couldn't bear the thought that she would laugh at him. He was pretty sure that she would do just that if he ever told her that he needed her. It was just ridiculous.

The ever rational and knowledgeable Hermione Granger said, "I don't think so. I think there was some kind of a catch in that spell. There has to be a reason why it works so irregularly. I think it's because... um..."

"Please, do continue." There was a tinge of humour in his voice. He was hiding again, he could admit that even to himself, but he also found it rather funny that the girl could sound so professional when an almost stranger was holding her in such a loving manner.

"Er... shouldn't we let go now?" She sounded a bit timid.

"Why?"

"Why? Because we must go. It's war. People are dying. We are not even friends."

"Then why did you hug me like that?" He was smirking again. Life was easier that way.

Hermione tried to put some air between them, but Draco wouldn't let her. She felt trapped. The boy was almost like two different people and right now, she wasn't sure which one was talking. "Because you needed it."

He leaned closer and whispered in her ear, "And why should you care?" She smelled of strawberries. Did she wear a perfume? It felt like it was her real scent. He breathed her in, loving the feel of her inside his system.

Draco felt her fingers curl tighter around his hair, pulling him closer. She was so easy; all he had to do was lift a finger and she would come running. How disappointing. He released her and waited her to do the same, but she didn't move. She kept leaning into him.

"You think I'm always like this?" Hermione's voice was sharp but very quiet. "You think you can make me feel like this because you're so damn irresistible. Well, you do remember the potion, don't you? This is because of it. You have no power over me." She pushed him away from her and suddenly they were separated.

He was shocked. He definitely hadn't expected it all to end like this. It had been such a warm moment. How did he manage to ruin it, too? What a bastard he was. "I'm sorry." He tried to reach for her, but she dodged his attempts easily.

What was she up to, the silly girl? They would probably die without the contact.

"Give me your hand, Hermione. Don't be stupid."

"Go to Hell." She spat the words out of her mouth. "You use me. You take what ever you want and give nothing in return. I hate you. Get out of my life."

"Hermione, listen to me. We need each other to get out of this situation." He swallowed his pride. "I need you."

"You need no one. You've made that perfectly clear. Now leave before I make you feel sorry for ever calling me a Mudblood. Go!" She had started to pace back and forth, back and forth, looking at him like he was the worst scum on earth.

Draco had no idea how to handle a furious girl. He had a bit of knowledge how to make girls upset, but how to undo that? He really didn't know. He tried the only method he could think of. He charged at her and as they collided, the wall behind them gave way and they stumbled inside a pitch black space.

What happened? was the question in both their minds. They couldn't see anything and there were no sounds or smells; the whole place felt empty.

"Where are we?" Draco finally asked, more out of curiousity than anything.

Suddenly, there was light. It was blueish and revealed a very large angular room. The opening, which had let them in, was located in the middle and they could see both ends of the room clearly. But it was the two giant people crouching on the opposite walls that caught their attention. Blue paint covered their naked skin, making them look wild and threatening. They weren't regular moving paintings; they seemed to live in the walls.

Hermione had never been more afraid. The instant terror that rose in her after seeing those monstrous figures made her almost choke on her tongue. They were the Guardians. Their situation had just gone from bad to worse.

"Shush... and don't let your eyes leave the one you're looking at now, not even for a split second," she whispered, moving slightly, so her back was against Malfoy's. "Did you read Hogwarts, A History?"

"Of course I did, why?"

"You remember how Hogwarts gets all its rooms?" Slowly, she started leading them into the middle of the room. Their only chance of survival was - ironically - constant vigilance.

"That book is big enough for mice to raise a family in it. How could anyone remember everything."

Hermione snorted. "At least you've read it." She paused for a moment and then continued, "Hogwarts is mostly pure magic and almost all of its rooms have been made magically. This is one of those rooms that are in the making. The castle is making them on it's own.

"Like all babies, these rooms need guardians and the ones looking at us are them. If you don't keep your eye on them, they'll lash at you until they kill you."

"You're kidding me, right?" He turned just for a second to try and see her expression, but it was enough. He felt something very sharp cut his chest, swiftly and professionally, drawing blood, just enough for him to suffer but not die. He couldn't keep the pain inside and let out a scream, returning his eyes to his attacker just in time to see the giant lick the long nail of his forefinger. It tasted his blood. The bastard.

It smiled wickedly, ready to cut him again when given the chance.

"Are you all right? What happened?" Hermione sounded worried. How very kind of her.

"I need to sit down." A little shakily he started to lower himself down and she followed his actions. "I think it ruined my shirt. I don't have the money to buy new shirts." He didn't dare to look down in fear of another attack, but he was pretty sure that the whole front of him was covered in blood.

"I told... ah, forget it. Can you stay awake? Did it hurt you too badly?"

There were two things Draco Malfoy hated the most: people who said, "I told you so" and pain. He had never been good with pain. He could remember quite a few incidents in his years at Hogwarts that had been too painful for him. The bloody horse-bird was one of the worst. Now the pain was definitely making it hard for him to concentrate on the terrifying giant grinning at him.

"I'm surviving, but I should probably tell you that I don't particularly like painful experiences and at the moment I'm barely hanging there. The blue person is really not liking me and it's a bit difficult to look into its predatory eyes now that I'm definitely on its menu.

"So could you please tell me how we'll get out of here? I'm quite eager to leave. Yesterday would have been the correct time, don't you think?" He groaned and almost doubled over, but Hermione grabbed both of his arms and held him against her back.

"Keep your eyes on him!" she yelled, fear lurking in every corner of her mind.

"Look. I'm trying, you silly bint. I'm trying. It cut me pretty deep."He breathed in with difficulty and added, "Do they like to torture their victims, eat them alive or just play with them? Or what's the lucky coincidence that I'm still alive? Blue looks like a bloody cat that ate the pixie."

To Hermione, Draco's words were a clear warning sign. He was joking again; he was in serious trouble. She had to think of something soon. How would they get out of there alive?

In all the long years that Hogwarts had stood on the misty fields of Scotland, nobody had escaped from the Blue Room unharmed. Some had lost their limbs, some their eyesight or their voice. Some had gone in with a friend and come out alone, mindless with fear.

All had lost something very dear to them.

They needed to speak alone without the listening ears on the walls. "Can you get into the Colour of Magick?"

Draco was silent for far too long and Hermione was beginning to think that he had passed out. Finally, the words came. "Maybe... Could you try to heal me first? Just a bit?"

Hermione shook her head although she was aware that he couldn't see her. "I can't. Wands don't work here and I really don't know how I could do that even if they did work. I can't see you and I can't concentrate either. The Guardians feed us fear on purpose; it makes us an easier target. We need to get out of here, somewhere where we can think properly."

She could feel Draco's mind linking with hers. They were getting so good with this. Why did it all have to end with the potion? It would have been so wonderful to explore the magical world beyond words and tools. Why did it have to be him?

She invited him in to her world; the world she had created for them. It was a comfortable room with two armchairs and a fireplace. It was simple yet very detailed. The wooden frames of the chairs had beautiful carvings in them and the green velvety fabric looked like it was made of thousands of leaves. The open fireplace was made of natural stones and the burning fire was eating away large logs of birch.

Draco noticed that there were neither windows nor doors in their hideout. Hermione had really thought of everything. There was even tea waiting on the small table between the two chairs. He sat on the nearest one and waited for her to do the same.

"Are you holding its gaze?" Hermione asked warily as she sat down.

"I can control myself in the outside world if you're asking me that." He poured some tea for himself and then turned his eyes to hers, asking if she wanted some. She nodded slightly and he filled her cup, too. They were fine china, the cups, blue roses and green leaves painted on their surface. He felt like pointing out to her how she could always think about the little things while under such horrifying predicaments. She was bloody marvelous when it came to stressful situations.

There was even milk and honey. How did she know that he liked his tea like that? Maybe she liked it that way, too. And to his amusement, she really did add a spoonful of honey and a dash of milk into her tea. He smiled and received a questioning look from her. How could he not like a girl who used honey in her tea?

"What?" She sounded dubious.

"Nothing. Talk. Obviously you have something to say."

She watched him suspiciously for a moment and then asked, "What do you value the most in life? What is the most important thing you have?"

Draco looked at her, surprised. What did that have to do with anything? "I don't... what? Why d'you need to know?"

"The Guardians want it. They won't let us leave until we give them what we value the most."

His life was in absolute depression. The whole beginning of their seventh year had been one big downfall. And now this. It was as though Fate really didn't want him to be happy.

"What do I value? I don't have anything anymore. They can take whatever they want."

"Draco, you can't think like that. Do you want to be a professional Qudditch player? As a Seeker you'll need your eyes the most. Or if you want to be a teacher, your memory is the most important thing you have." She looked rather embarrassed when she added, "And there is always the possibility that you like me."

He spit his tea all over his trousers. "Not that much," he managed to blurt.

She looked hurt, but quickly hid it. "Well, we can't take the risk that neither of us have any hidden emotions towards the other. We have to know now where we stand."

"Isn't it obvious? You want to get rid of me - you said it just minutes ago. And I'm more than happy to oblige as soon as the frigging potion has done its part of the agreement. That's where we stand."

"I don't think so," Hermione said quietly.

Draco eyed her under his brows. "What is it with you girls? What if there is a bit of lust between us? It doesn't mean that I love you. Stop acting like it matters." He leaned away from her, resting his head against the top of the chair and looking at the ceiling. It could never be you, he thought.

"Fine. So we don't talk about this and go back there. What happens? The Guardians will choose the one who is more loved by the other and kill that person. That's what you want?"

He turned his gaze back to her, wondering just how stubborn she could be. She really did want to dig up this smelly uncomfortable subject. Well, fine by him. "You want to know what I think of you? Bloody well ask then."

She wasn't at all sure if she wanted to know. Was it really essential for their survival? "What do I mean to you? And please be honest." Suddenly, she was very afraid of the answer. What if he liked her? What if he didn't? What if there was something else behind his actions?

He stood and walked behind her chair, resting his hands on her shoulders. His long elegant fingers caressed the back of her neck, massaging the stiff muscles there and helping her to relax. A sigh escaped her lips.

Draco leaned over to her and whispered in her ear, "You're an occasional pleasure element but mostly just a thorn in my flesh. I don't love you; I hardly even like you. But sometimes you make me feel good and I don't want you dead. That's as honest as I can get." He kissed the sensitive skin behind her ear and then returned to his seat.

"Did that answer to your question?" he asked innocently.

Hermione didn't say anything for a long while nor did she look at him. She kept staring at the flames in the fireplace. She was hurt by his words. She didn't want to be, but she was. Somehow she had been certain that there was something more going on underneath everything. Now she was pretty sure that she had imagined everything - or maybe it was all one-sided.

Finally she spoke, her voice professional and uncharacteristically cold. "Yes it did. It also told me that you'll be the one they'll take."

He hadn't expected that, not after his own words. He regretted being so cruel. "Hermione, I-"

"Just don't. I don't want to listen to you anymore. I've done my listening. You listen now." She took her cup and threw it into the fireplace. "You have to hit me." It was a command.

"What? Hermione, I'm not going to hit you." He stared at her, bewildered. What was going on? The mind of a woman really was a complete mystery.

"Hit me. Hurt me. Show them you don't care about me. Dig up all the anger you have towards me." Suddenly the room disappeared and they were standing on a field full of flowers of all colours and shapes. Birds were singing and crickets were chirping; there was even a warm summer breeze. "They can see us now. Hit me."

"Why?" He took a few steps back, trying to get some distance between himself and the crazy girl.

"It'll save your life. For heaven's sake, hit me!" Hermione was getting really angry. She hated the Slytherin bastard standing a few feet away from her; his stupid wide eyes and the confusion on his face. The selfish brat.

She took a few quick steps in his direction and then threw a wild card. "No wonder your mother went crazy. Nobody deserves a son like you. You're a disgrace. I've never met anyone as cowardly as you are. A bit of pain and you'll pass out. A bit of obstacles and you'll start to stumble. You're pathetic! Pathetic!"

Her words hit their target. The anger in him was very lightly guarded and now it roamed freely. How dare she? Who did she think she was? His fists clenched and unclenched themselves without him noticing.

"Hit me, you bastard. Show me how you handle a woman. Hit me!" She poked him in the chest to emphasize her words. "Not even Voldemort wants you. Nobody cares what becomes of you. Nobody. You're completely useless, utterly indifferent. Just get the hell out of my life and-"

He hit her with an open palm, making her stumble backwards. He walked menacingly to her and grabbed the front of her shirt. "What's wrong with you? Who are you?" The words were accusing, but hurt lingered underneath them.

She had managed to break him. Good.

"I've had enough of you. I should have done this the first day you called me a Mudblood." She took hold of his arms and kneed him where it hurt the most. He doubled over and fell to the ground, groaning in agony. She let out a laugh of pure mirth, which made his pain-filled brain white with rage. Everything became so clear. She was the enemy. Always had been. She had a rotten heart; she was a betrayer.

Draco didn't hesitate to hurt her. He kicked her legs from under her and when she lay on the floor, bewildered, he crawled to her and pinned her to the ground. He started strangling her with the very same hands that had caressed her gently just moments ago.

He could hear laughter and soon realised that he was the source. His own throat was forming that horrible sound and the Guardians were laughing with him. He wasn't in control anymore. He had lost it. All sense of right and wrong; everything that made him human.

Hermione lay under him motionless, her eyes closed. She looked like there was no life left in her.

Draco rolled away from her, panting heavily. Had he killed her? His eyes found her neck and under the black and blue marks was a very faint pulse. He exhaled in relief. What had made him do that? Was he really that kind of a person?

He pulled his knees close to his chest, holding himself for a moment. This was bad. Very bad. Had he gone berserk? Shouldn't it be a battle thing? Was she his battle? His eyes returned to her. Would she be all right? Had he hurt her badly?

His mind was too full of fear to notice that they were out of the Blue Room and in the same corridor where they had been earlier. He didn't notice anything else except her. She was breathing, wasn't she?

Hermione coughed. "You did it. You saved us."

He hadn't expected that, anything but that. "Saved us? I almost... killed you."

She leaned on her elbows, smiling. "But you didn't." Her voice was very faint. "You did the right thing. We didn't lose anything too valuable."

He was very confused, scared and confused, not a combination to his liking. She wasn't making any sense and right now, he needed sense, lots of it. "What did we lose? I'm... Please?"

Hermione's smile grew wider. "Only the separation process. We can't have it again. Can you live with that?"

She could almost hear his mind working on her words and soon, the confusion on his face turned into realization. It made him look quite gloomy. He moved to her side on all fours and then spoke, staring at her intensely. "You said all those things to get me to hate you, and now you say that I'm stuck with you?"

"Yes. Lucky you." She said it lightly, but her insides were turning to ashes. She was very scared of him. He had been a weird companion for all these months and now, she just didn't know what to think of him. He had tried to kill her. He had held her. He had told her private things. But still, she had no clue who he really was. Maybe he didn't know that either.

"This means we will lose our minds if we don't practice wandless magic together, doesn't it?" He already knew the answer but needed to be sure.

"Yes. We have to end the training together."

"I think you won."

"What? How can you say that? You're the one who's been a 'thorn in my flesh' the whole time. You're constantly hurting me." She was very upset by his words. He was being an arrogant and idiotic Slytherin, as always.

Draco leaned closer to her, almost touching her lips with his. "You said they would take me. I think it means that you don't want me out of your life. You won." He let his mouth linger near hers, breathing the same air with her. It was difficult to resist the urge to kiss her. It was ridiculous after everything they had said and done. She had hurt him. He had hurt her. They should be furious. He should be furious, but all he could think of was her slightly parted lips.

He felt extremely stupid.

"What happens next?" Hermione asked, breathless.

"I really don't know." He sat up, took her hand and stood, pulling her up with him. "Let's find out."





A/N: It's finally here. I'm so sorry it took me forever to update. I lost my IT, but one of my dear readers (Crystal Allan) made me fall in love with this story again. I really do hope to finish this before the year ends. That's the optimistic view. :)

This chapter was betaed by my dear friend Vickie. Without her constant support this chapter would never have seen the light of day (well, it's night time here, but you know what I mean).

I hope it was worth the wait. :)

Some of my reviewers have wished to see more action between the two. That will happen in the next chapter. I tried to squeeze in some scenes in this chapter, too, but the characters weren't willing. All things have their own time.

UPDATE: Oh, and Ron's angry burst is of course very similar to that one in A Knight's Tale. I can't believe I forgot to put this here. Gah!




Chapter 9: Trust Issues
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Trust issues




It was funny how life could toss you around like a toe rag.

He was standing in a group of seven, feeling very out of place. There was a girl standing next to him, a girl he didn't particularly like, and the six others he liked even less. He was pretty sure the feeling was mutual.

It wasn't quite clear to him why he was there. The others were trying to figure out what the Death Eaters had wanted and why they had left so suddenly without claiming any casualties.

They were currently in a round tower room. It had a distinct smell to it, almost like all the blood that had once been wiped off the sharp blades of the swords - which were now leaning uselessly against the walls - had stained the air with fear and death. The twelve arched windows let in the heavy darkness outside and the six burning torches sent light and shadow dancing around the wide open space. The only furniture dominating the Spartan-like room was a round oak table with its thirteen high-backed chairs. Everything about the room was intimidating, almost depressing, but it was supposed to look like that. It was a room for studying the art of war.

Were they going to win? He didn't care. Right now the only thing he cared about was his growling stomach and the fact that he hadn't eaten properly since yesterday.

He wasn't listening to their conversation, not until someone mentioned a captured Death Eater. In his mind's eye he saw his father sitting in an uncomfortable chair, his broken wand lying on a table nearby. He knew they wouldn't put a sack over his head, but in that image, the man had been defeated completely - a rope painfully tight around him and even the aforementioned sack on his head. The goody-two-shoes would never make him suffer until he was thrown back into Azkaban.

"Mr. Malfoy, do you know him?" It was the bearded old fool, but Draco had no idea about what he was speaking.

"Sorry, Sir?" Damn, old habits die slowly.

"The Death Eater, Maximillian Metzger?"

Had he ever met the man? Probably at one of the dinner parties his mother so loved to arrange. Metzger, Metzger... didn't it mean a butcher? "I've met him once. The man is an idiot after drinking too much firewhiskey." The bastard had tried to take a feel of his mother like she was some kind of a harlot. It had infuriated him so much that he had been able to pull the pig off his mother with all the strength of a thirteen-year-old. He hadn't been brave; it had nothing to do with bravery. They had just looked so utterly disgusting together that his mind had gone red with fury.

The memory still made him almost shake.

But the worst part was his mother's words: "We're not going to tell your father, dear. He wouldn't understand." It was the way she had said it - like she had been ashamed of herself.

"What can you tell us about him or his relations with the other Death Eaters?" It was almost a civil conversation between him and the old goat. What had changed in those few short days? The last time he had been face to face with the Headmaster, he had screamed his lungs dry. Never kill the messenger, they say... but he hadn't been ready for the knowledge of his mother going crazy and burning the Malfoy Manor. He hadn't known how to handle the cold truth. For some reason, it was easier to carry it now, though.

Was it because of her?

"Not much. He thinks he's the ladies' man. He has a loud mouth and he brags about the things he's seen - not done, but seen." His voice seemed somehow hollow like he was shouting from a distance. "He knows everyone, but everyone doesn't know him. He's a leech, a hang-around."

Dumbledore gave him a short smile. "You seem to know quite a lot after just one meeting."

Draco shrugged. "I keep my eyes open. A Slytherin trait."

"Yes, indeed."

The carrot-headed Weasel snorted.

"Something funny?" Draco turned his eyes to the other boy, urging him to pick a fight. He needed to ventilate his stale emotions.

"You. You are funny. What the hell are you doing here?" Ron took a few threatening steps towards the blond boy. "You'll sell us out!"

Harry grabbed him by the elbow. "Ron, let him be." He sounded exhausted. Draco noticed that he was leaning on one of the chairs and there seemed to be something wrong with his left leg; he didn't put any weight on it.

"Let us sit down. We have a long night ahead of us." Dumbledore pulled a chair from under the table and sat down. The others followed his lead.

Draco sat next to Hermione, but nobody sat on his other side. He felt like the outsider he really was. It didn't matter if Dumbledore thought he might be able to offer something to their cause. They would all still hate him.

Ron kept glaring at him over the table and he winked at the other boy, smirking, taunting him. At least he knew how to handle the Weasel. Potter was a different story. It had been the third time the boy had shown decency towards him that day. It puzzled him. Why did he do it?

He didn't have to ask. The Flamed Wonder did it for him.

"Why are you defending him? He's evil. He's not on our side - he said it himself." Ron tried to hide the hurt in his voice, but didn't quite manage. He was really upset about his two best friends being kind to the cunning Slytherin. He knew exactly what type of a person the cold bumptious idiot sitting opposite him was. He would never care about anyone if he didn't gain a thing from it.

Harry lifted his tired eyes from the table, looking straight into the eyes of the Slytherin in question. "He's not going to betray us and," he paused for a moment, as though emphasizing his point, "we really need everyone we can get."

Why was Potter so sure? Had he ever given them any reason to believe in him? Did he even want to? Maybe he didn't have a place to go to anymore, but he certainly didn't want to end up on the losing side either. Would Potter lose?

"If you promise me a victory," he mumbled, and suddenly it mattered a whole lot more if they were going to win or lose.

"Now that we are all settled," Dumbledore began. "I would like to thank Professor Snape for his quick thinking. Without him we would have a very dead Death Eater on our hands. Voldemort has given an order to his underlings; all captured Death Eaters must end their lives before any information can forcefully be taken from them. Mr. Metzger tried to oblige."

Dumbledore's eyes travelled around the table, searching the hearts of his allies, the young, the old and the ageless. There was Minerva, his closest friend and confidant. There was Severus, the man he once saved. There was Amadeus, the hope they so gravely needed. And there were the children, their future. Harry Potter, living up to the prophecy; Ronald Weasley, true friend to the very end; Hermione Granger, a kind-hearted and strong scholar; Draco Malfoy, a bit of a mystery but hopefully proven worthy.

"Since Veritaserum is useless against the followers of Voldemort, we had to use a different method. Amadeus," Dumbledore gave the longhaired wizard a small nod, "managed to extract an image from Metzger's mind, an image of a book. As of yet, we do not know what this book is about nor do we know why it is so significant to the Dark Lord. We hope to solve that now."

Draco glanced at Hermione and noticed that she was looking at him intently. Her eyes were questioning if he knew anything about the book or Voldemort's intentions. Actually, he could feel all their eyes on him, shooting similar questions in his direction. Did they really think he was a Death Eater? That his oh-so-proud father would ever tell him anything, especially after he was sentenced to Azkaban?

Dumbledore coughed and then continued, "They didn't take any lives, but it doesn't mean they didn't cause us losses. The Restricted Section of the library has been destroyed almost completely. All the precious knowledge for defeating the Dark Lord that was planted in those books has been taken away from us."

Hermione gasped and Draco could instantly feel her pain. He knew she loved books, he knew she yearned for knowledge; losing her precious books was like a stab to her heart.

Without thinking he took her hand under the table and squeezed it gently.

Her sharp breaths slowed a bit as she felt his touch and she turned her eyes to him, bewildered. He kept his eyes directed to the Headmaster, acting like nothing was happening under the table, like he wasn't comforting her. She squeezed him back and after a few moments of holding each other, he let go.

It was hard for her to control her expressions. She almost felt like blushing, but mostly she just wanted to... what? Smile? She felt idiotic. Had he really changed? Would he be worth her trust? She wished that more than ever.

"I would like all of you to try and remember if you have encountered any such books that might interest Voldemort, any new or old editions? We need to find out if he already has it or if we still can hide, destroy or use it ourselves. It is most-"

A knock on the door interrupted his monologue. Without waiting for an answer the person behind the door pushed it open and came in with a huffing and puffing air around her. Madam Pince looked like she had cried a river, drowned in it and then been woken from the dead. Her dress was torn and her hair was sticking in all directions.

She was mumbling to herself, "Six thousand and thirty-five. Six thousand and thirty-five," as she limped to the Headmaster's side.

"Dear Ms. Pince," Dumbledore said in an affectionate way.

"Six thousand and thirty-five," she screamed, sounding rather crazy. "We lost them all. Burned. Stolen. Lost. Lost forever. My books." She fell to her knees, weeping into the Headmaster's robes.

Everyone around the table was looking at the disheveled woman, some feeling sorry for her, some watching her in disgust, some feeling totally indifferent.

"Now, now. We'll find new ones. Good ones. Those treasures you haven't been able to find anywhere. Amadeus here has promised to send his collection to us. It's over four thousand copies. Isn't that wonderful?" Even though Dumbledore was good at handling upset people, this was a bit out of his league. She was hardly listening, her screams of despair filling the room with echos. Madam Pince had just lost her true love.

Argus Filch peeked from the open doorway and then walked in quietly, stopping only for a second to pull up the mess of a woman. "My apologies, Sir." He quickly escorted her from the room.

"What was that all about?" Hermione mouthed to Draco and the boy shrugged, not caring enough to think anything of it.

"Ahem," Dumbledore cleared his throat. "I want you to talk openly about any books you've found interesting lately, preferably new books that you haven't seen before. Talk. Take your time. In the mean time, I will talk to Mr. Graveriver and find out what kind of books he sent us months ago. We should have anti-hexed those book boxes ages ago."

The Headmaster walked out of the room, leaving the others in quiet uncertainty. There had been hundreds of books in each of their hands since the beginning of the school year. Where to begin? What to look?

"It's probably this." Draco pulled a black leather-covered book from the back pocket of his trousers.

Hermione looked shocked. "You stole that, you creep. How dare you?" She tried to snatch the book back but he wouldn't let her. He just lifted the book above his head, hid it behind his back, threw it to his other hand and dodged every move she made.

"Give me that, you idiot."

"What is it?" Harry interrupted their quarrel.

They turned to watch him, Draco smirking and Hermione blushing with anger. "It's nothing," she said quickly, but Draco threw the book to Harry, saying, "Look for yourself."

Hermione hit him in the arm, but he didn't care. Seeing the girl furious made him feel good; she was so charming when angered.

As he watched Harry flip the pages, he also noticed that the professors had left the table and were now standing in front of one of the arched windows. They were whispering frantically, a few words here and there getting a bit louder than others. They were clearly disagreeing on some issues and it was rather easy to detect that Amadeus and Professor Snape didn't particularly like one another. Their argument intrigued Draco slightly, but not enough to keep his attention.

Potter had a curious expression on his face, almost as though he was reading something forbidden. He very well was. How could Hermione get her hands on a book full of Dark Arts? No wonder she hadn't wanted him to hand it over to her best friend.

"What? How?" Harry asked both of them, sounding very confused. "Where did you get it? Whose is it?"

Draco watched Hermione for a second and as she didn't seem to want to give an answer, he decided to share his thoughts. "It's hers." He pointed at Hermione with his thumb. "She brought it with her to my bedroom."

Ron and Harry both stood abruptly, sending their chairs clattering to the stone floor. "WHAT?" they screamed as one. It was the first time Draco saw Potter lose his facade that day.

"No you don't," Hermione said determinedly. "You shut your mouth now or I will dig your eyes out with your wand." She turned to look at the two boys who were shaking with fury. "Listen. He's an idiot. He's mixing things to make everything sound weird and... and... just forget about him."

"Forget?" Ron continued to scream. "He... you... in his bedroom. You? Hermione, what's going on?"

Draco looked at them, an amused expression on his face. How he loved to raise a havoc. "Didn't she tell you we've been sleeping together?"

Okay, now he might have gone a bit too far.

Ron jumped on the table and with amazing speed rammed him down, landing on top of him. Two huge fists were now pummeling him with a greater strength than he could have ever guessed. That had never happened to him before. No matter how big his mouth was, people were always afraid of him because of his family. The Weasel was way beyond caring. Did he love Hermione? The thought seemed somehow depressing and made him finally realize that he could actually do something about his current predicament.

His nose was broken. He could hear Hermione screaming for Ron to stop. And Potter, he was standing a bit further away, arms folded and eyes burning. Draco had never seen such disgust in his eyes.

"Ron!" Hermione yelled. "Get off him. He's good with wandless magic; he can hurt you."

Bloody hell, the bint was only interested in the welfare of the Weasel while he was the one being pummeled to death. And it was frigging painful too. With great effort he kicked the other boy off him.

"What part of sleeping didn't you understand?" he asked as though the whole misunderstanding hadn't been his fault. "Sleeping as in 'My eyes are so closed and my mind is so full of moving pictures that I haven't even noticed that there is a girl beside me.' Sleeping. Do I make myself clear?"

"Why?" It was Potter, the hero. Had he ever done anything wrong? Was he always this bloody perfect?

"Because we hate each other, because I wanted to get rid of her, because the knitting class was so tiring. Bloody hell, the girl just barged in to my room with a knife in her hand. She's a vile creature, you know. Didn't even ask if I wanted to give her any of my precious pure blood." He swallowed with difficulty and then spit out some of that precious blood. Hah, he was getting used to the pain.

"What is he talking about?" Potter asked Granger as though he wasn't clear enough.

"The separation process. I needed his blood for the potion. He wouldn't come out of his room, so I had to go there - we needed to be connected while the process was still active." Hermione sighed. "It's over now, though. We lost the process and now we have to work together again. You can probably see why I'm not particularly happy about it."

"You didn't... you know... sleep with him then?" Ron looked up at Hermione, blushing heavily.

"No, Ron, I didn't. I can't believe you are asking me that."

Oh, aren't we chaste now. He could remember with absolute clarity how chaste the girl had been last night. How she had pushed him against the sink and kissed him with those perfect lips, how she had purred in his arms. She couldn't believe, eh? Maybe he would have to remind her.

"Don't worry, boys. I wouldn't touch the Mudblood with a ten foot pole." Draco pushed himself up, almost falling over because of all the spinning that was occurring inside his head. "Now, where were we?"

Hermione looked at him with utter disbelief. Her eyes were dark brown, almost like velvety chocolate, and the hurt was evident on her face. Like she hadn't hurt him first.

At that moment Dumbledore returned, looking sombre and somehow older than just mere minutes ago.

"Quiet," he said wearily, getting all the attention in the room. The professors gathered around him, too, forgetting their earlier argument. The sudden feel of doom filled the room, making all of their hearts heavy with fear. Even Draco felt the weight on his shoulders.

"Oscar Graveriver was once the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts - just before Professor Quirrell. He had more knowledge on Dark Wizards than any of us did. He fought with the first Order, but has now retired completely. As his farewell gift, he sent his book collection to us, thinking wisely that those copies might be useful in this war. The Restricted Section was full of book cases sent by him.

"In one of those cases was a book, which I believe is the very same the Dark Lord is looking for. And if he has it... if he got it..." He didn't have to continue, everyone in the room knew what it meant.

"But sir, how will we know if he did get it?" Hermione asked. It was agitating for her to see all the powerful people she knew quivering.

Dumbledore was about to answer when Harry suddenly fell to the ground, screaming in agony. He was clutching his head, turning from side to side in frantic motion. For a few seconds everything else froze except the boy in pain.

Hermione ran to Harry, trying to hold him, keep him safe, but he was convulsing uncontrollably and she could do nothing to help him. Ron took hold of her, letting her bury her head to his chest.

Draco watched everything move in slow motion. Harry falling to the ground, the light crack of his elbow as it hit the stone floor, his glasses askew. Hermione running to him, getting a well-directed kick to her chin, Ron's arms around her. Amadeus pushing past everyone, kneeling beside the black haired boy and pushing Harry's hands aside, revealing the lightning bolt scar, screaming red, bleeding badly, sending red streams running down the boy's face.

Amadeus placed his left hand on the scar and suddenly there was a complete stillness.

Draco exhaled, realising that he had just held his breath.

"Is he all right?" Professor McGonagall asked, concerned and weary.

Harry sat up abruptly. "He's going to kill Metzger!" He looked directly at Professor Snape who took a few long steps towards the room where Maximillian Metzger was held captive. He pushed the door open, only to find the man lying on the floor, his skin green and his eyes open, revealing the horror of his last moments.

"He's dead," Professor Snape said plainly.

"But how?" Professor McGonagall voiced the question they all harbored.

Amadeus leaned on the doorframe. "It's the Mark."

Their eyes found the burning Dark Mark on the left forearm of the late Maximillian Metzger. It was oozing a green liquid, quite like poison. Dumbledore and Snape looked at each other, their hearts heavy with worry.

"He's dead?" Harry came to stand beside Hermione and Ron, looking like he had just experienced something far worse than a mere Cruciatus curse. Draco felt the urge to ask him what had happened. He wanted to know. Was this part of being a hero?

Dumbledore put a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Yes," he said and then added quietly, "there was nothing we could have done." It was too true. What if Lord Voldemort found out about Severus Snape, his most trusted follower? If he could kill a man through the Mark, what would stop him from killing Snape?

Harry sighed, resting his hands on his knees. "At least he didn't get the book."

"He didn't?" There was hope in the old mans voice again. "Harry, he didn't?"

"No. He's never been this angry before. He didn't even protect his mind. He was... he tried to kill me, too. He... thank you." Harry looked straight at Amadeus. "I fought him, but you vanquished him. Thank you."

It was weird to hear the great Harry Potter thanking someone. It was almost absurd. Draco tried to remember how he had seen Potter before, how much he had hated the boy, envied him. Now, he just saw someone who was trying very hard not to fail everyone.

"It was stupid of me," Amadeus replied harshly. "He knows I'm here now."

"Why is he here anyway?" It was Snape, close to losing his temper. He was talking straight to the Headmaster, ignoring everyone else. "You know who he is. Why is he here, then?"

Draco was very surprised to hear the next person say, "I agree, it's not suitable for him to be here. He's danger to us all." McGonagall's voice was strict to the point of being almost impolite. The blond boy was pretty sure he now knew what the argument had been all about. So, the professors didn't approve of Amadeus' presence. Why? Wasn't it more dangerous for all of them to fight each other than the real enemy, Lord Voldemort?

"He is not his father," Dumbledore argued, taking a few steps towards the young wizard in question. "I asked him to come, he came. That should be enough. You of all people should know and accept that."

The trio looked as confused as Draco felt. How many secrets did the grown-ups really keep from them?

Amadeus had held his head lowered until Dumbledore answered McGonagall. He pushed himself off the wall, glaring dangerously at Snape. "You want to poison me, don't you? Am I really that much worse than you are? At least I'm innocent to it all, unlike you."

"Innocent? There's nothing innocent about you, Immortal. How did you get your powers? Tell them." Snape kept his voice low even though he was clearly feeling other than just distaste.

"Enough!" The old fragile man was gone. Dumbledore stood in front of them, powerful, worthy of the legends, all the endless tales of his heroics. His eyes burned with determination. "Both of you, we need to concentrate on what is vital. We need to find the book before Voldemort does. We need to teach the children how to survive. We need to learn to live with our weaknesses." He covered the body of Maximillian Metzger with a blanket he had conjured from the thin air, locked the door behind him and walked back to the oak table. "Sit down. It's still a long night ahead of us."

Everyone else obeyed except Amadeus. He stood quietly, hands clenched into fists at his side. "Why should I stay?" It was a mere whisper. He looked at all of them and suddenly screamed, "I'm not staying. I hate you all. I'm not staying. There is no reason. I'm not..." He took hold of one of the chairs and threw it on the table, startling Hermione and Professor McGonagall.

Draco was fascinated by him. The man was acting almost the same way he wanted to act. He wanted to scream at them, how stupid they all were. They didn't understand how difficult it was even to stand on your own, even to breathe on your own. They could never understand... but Amadeus seemed to know. Who was he?

"Calm down," Dumbledore said without any anger in his voice. "Otherwise you'll cross the line."

Amadeus leaned over the table, spitting the words out of his mouth. "I don't care. I promised to teach, nothing more. I'm not giving you anything else, old fool. Why do you collect us half-breeds? Why do you think he will redeem himself?" Amadeus pointed at Draco, "He's even worse than the greasy Death Eater you took under your wing. They're going to betray you. I'm going to betray you. He's far stronger in me than you could ever predict." He fell to his knees. "He's going to betray you."

Hermione was frowning deeply. Nothing made sense anymore. "Please, Professor." She looked at Dumbledore. "Please do something. What's wrong with him?"

Dumbledore smiled. "He's young."

He stood, walked beside the younger wizard and put his hand on top of his head. "You're not going to betray me. And I collect you half-breeds - as you put it - because there can only be chances in life. Without them, nobody can redeem themselves. We must give chances to others and to ourselves. Time after time."

"I don't want one," Amadeus said, sounding quite childish, almost as though he was pouting.

"I know, but I'm giving you one anyway."

"Why?" Amadeus looked up at the only wizard he was even mildly afraid of.

Dumbledore offered his hand and Amadeus took it. "Because you deserve it."

Did the man really mean what he said? Did they all really deserve their individual chances to redeem themselves? And why should they? It wasn't as though they owed anything to the old wizard. "Can I go now? There clearly isn't any reason for me to be here." Draco's words echoed in the room, sounding empty and somehow worthless, like he wasn't important enough to be heard.

Potter looked at him, green eyes flashing with fury. "You'd rather be out there with them? You'd rather be planning the deaths of Muggle-born children? Don't you... hah, bloody worthless. Go! Run away. Be nothing, then." He went to sit on one of the windowsills, looking out into the darkness.

That was a moment of panic for Draco Bellator Malfoy. How many people had ever had any faith in him? Any at all? He could count those people with one hand's fingers - and three of them were in that room.

How much had he wanted to be Harry Potter's friend? Years ago, when he had offered his hand just to be rejected? How much? It hadn't been just because the boy was famous, not just because he could gain something or because his father had suggested it.

"I'm leaving," he stated, fleeing out of the door, which led into the stairway and out of the room that was full of demands.

He ran down the stairs, he ran past the moving paintings that were shouting at him for being so rude and waking them up. He ran, not caring about the people in the war room, people who were trying to save their little world. He didn't care.

He finally stopped just because his legs gave in, just because he was exhausted of the day's events. He fell to his knees, hissing in pain. His nose was broken and his right eye was swollen solid. And the fucking tears, he just couldn't make them stop.

He felt a soft touch on his shoulder. Someone had managed to come that close to him without him noticing anything. The Slytherin in him really was dying.

"Um..." It was Hermione. "What's wrong, Draco?"

Why did she have to come?

"I can't do this." He tried to hide his face but she just pulled back his hair, softly stroking his cheeks and wiping the tears away. Her eyes were so warm not a hint of rejection in them. She always saw him like this, weak and on his knees.

"Do what?"

"Play a hero."

There it was, out in the open. He had started to toy with the idea that he could be something else other than just a follower, other than Voldemort's expendable Death Eater.

Hermione pulled him closer, holding his head against her shoulder. It felt awkward. She was in a squatting position and he was on his knees. They must have looked pretty pathetic.

"You can be what ever you want to be." She always seemed to know what to say. She didn't try to read him; she just listened to the things he couldn't say aloud.

"D'you think I'm nothing?" It was pretty desperate of him to ask the acceptance of a Mudblood, but he didn't care. There must be someone who could make him feel better, worthy.

Hermione pushed him a bit further, but let her hands rest on his shoulders, keeping him near. "It's up to you, Draco. You can choose to be someone worthy."

He frowned. She didn't say what he wanted to hear; she was supposed to make him feel better. "I've told you once, I don't have choices." He pulled away from her, standing up. "Go. Run back to your worthy friends."

"Draco..." She reached for him, but he shrugged her hands away.

"You could never understand how difficult everything is. Amadeus is right. I want nothing to do with you lot. I'll study Ancient Magick with you, that's all."

"Dumbledore is giving you a chance. Don't bite the hand that feeds you." The begging tone of her voice made him even more furious. Who did she think she was?

"He never asked me. Not once. He never helped me. His eyes have been following a completely different prat. You know that. Nobody's interested in me. I could jump off the roof and nobody would miss me. Fucking nobody." He kneeled, hiding his face to his hands.

"You're so selfish." That definitely was something he hadn't expected. "How many times did Harry give his hand to you today? How many? And every time, you spat on it. Did you know that Dumbledore and Snape have been trying to take care of you all this year? They know you're alone; they know about your family. They care. I care." She pushed his hands away, looking into his eyes. "You're too blind to see. You could have so many things if you'd just reach out your hand."

Draco reacted instinctively, touching her cheek with his thumb. Part of him felt giddy, but mostly he just needed to distract her, take her mind out of serious matters. "Like this?"

Hermione looked shocked, but managed to blurt out, "No, you're misinterpreting my words again. You always twist the reality."

He licked her slightly parted lips in a very sensual way - even though it was the weirdest touch Hermione had ever received. "Like this?"

"Stop that. You're changing the subject." She was about to stand when he grabbed her arm and pulled her closer. Her weight was enough to make him tumble over and they fell as a heap of arms and legs. She lay on top of him for a moment, too bemused to do anything other than catch her breath.

A wicked grin formed on his face; he was in his own territory again. He rolled on top of her and nuzzled her neck. "You smell perfect."

Hermione pushed him with her hands. "Get off me, you big oaf. Get yourself a girlfriend."

The smile grew wider. "I don't need one, when I have you." He kissed her earlobe, biting it slightly.

She squirmed under him, making all the blood that was supposed to pump reason into his brain flow downwards. "You. Don't. Have. Me. Got it. I'm not yours to play with. I'm a person. Are you listening?"

He wasn't. The poison that was her scent was making him notice nothing but the beauty of her pulse, the quickening exciting pulse that told him that she indeed liked his assault. Draco wanted to make her crave it - more than she had when the potion had affected her nervous system.

He put some of his weight on his elbows and watched her. She was trying to look menacing, but it seemed as though her resolve was crumbling. She didn't like it, though. Her eyes were blazing.

He kissed the side of her mouth tentatively, savouring the feel of her softness beneath him. Everything about her felt perfect, right even. And she didn't move, she didn't turn her head away from him, she just lay there, hands at the sides of her head.

Those hands turned into fists as he kissed her. It was a slow kiss, almost quiet, but not in any way questioning or shy. It was a claiming kiss, even though he didn't use his tongue. His lips moved teasingly on top of hers, learning to know the curves of her mouth, the softness of her flesh.

She tried not to respond, but when he finally took her lower lip between his teeth, she could not stop herself from reacting. Her back arched to meet his body wholly and she opened her mouth, begging for him to deepen the kiss.

He grabbed her hands, pushing them above her head and mumbled against her lips, "It's not just the potion. You want me." He didn't mean to speak it aloud, but somehow her willingness had clouded his mind. It was an unwise thing to say to a girl who was not so happy about the way things were turning out.

She bit him.

"Ow, what the hell-"

Hermione hit him with her head and then pushed him off her. "You!" she screamed while getting up. "You despicable moron. I hate you. It's always about proving something. Go to hell." She stomped off, leaving him there on all fours, bewildered. Add some insult to injury, he thought and smiled one of the most painful smiles of his life. She had bit him hard enough to draw blood.

Draco touched his lips with his forefinger, following the curve of his lower lip. "But you liked it," he said into the darkness and stood up. "You liked it." He wasn't quite sure if he was referring to Hermione or himself.

In the end, was it about trust? Would she ever trust him? Would he ever be worth her trust? Could he really choose?

He started walking towards the Hospital Wing. His body was carrying quite a few injuries from that day's events, but somehow the deepest wounds were healing, the ones that plagued his mind. His life was becoming quite interesting.

And for the first time in thirty-two hours, he was alone. He missed the bint already.




A/N: Merry Christmas all. :) I couldn't quite finish the whole story, but at least you got another chapter before the holidays. Yay for me.

This chapter is dedicated to my dear friend and beta Vickie (jynx67) who always makes me feel special.

Special thanks go to Crystal (crystal allan), Erin (melihobbit) and Ames (FamosAmos). You three keep me writing these silly little stories. Thank you so very much.


Chapter 10: Soul Ripper, Part One
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A/N: Please read the beginning of the fifth chapter. This is connected to Hermione's dream. I would like to thank LaDorki for helping me with this (she took out most of my mistakes). Because of her, you'll be getting this a bit sooner than I thought. Beta changes will be added later. Enjoy!


Soul Ripper, Part One



Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful

W.B. Yeats



"He has been like that for the better part of the evening." Madam Pomfrey stood by the hospital bed, looking at the grey skinned young man who had just mere hours earlier demanded her to let him leave the hospital wing. Draco Malfoy's arrogant voice still rang in her ears, stirring those negative emotions deep inside her. She refused to dislike any of her patients, but he had managed to make her feel rather uncomfortable.

Now he was dying in their hands.

The Headmaster shook his head, sighing. It was agonizing for him to see the young ones suffer. He didn't know what was causing the rapid deterioration of the health of Mr. Malfoy. He didn't know what to do. It was not something he would willingly admit to anyone. He did not know how to help the boy.

"Is he in any pain?" Dumbledore's voice held no emotion, but his eyes looked weary. It had been a long day, trying to clear up the Restricted Section of the Library and taking care of all the arrangements of finding the Book of Dreams, the only link they had for discovering Voldemort's plans.

Madam Pomfrey winced. "I don't know, Albus. I don't know. I can't reach to him at all."

"Try to make him as comfortable as possible. I'll send Amadeus and Professor Snape soon." Dumbledore squeezed her shoulder for a few seconds, giving her a reassuring smile and then walked out of the hospital room without a backward glance. He needed to think. He needed to talk to Amadeus.


He lay on a filthy bed, damning the world and all its creatures. They had cuffed him, Draco Malfoy, to the bed as though he was some kind of a traitor, a Mudblood perhaps. He felt unclean and helpless. It was unbearable.

He could hear his father talking with the monstrous figure who had made the order to tie him down for testing his loyalties. Testing? What on earth were they going to do to him? He tried to control the frantic beating of his heart, but his efforts were all in vain. Saying he was scared was downright insulting. He was terrified for his life.

“The boy can handle it.” His father's charming voice echoed in the dungeon walls.

"We shall see, won't we," said the Dark Lord with a dreadful chuckle. "We shall see."

Draco fought against the smooth steel cuffs, fear taking control of his actions. He was going to die. He could not endure pain. He would not survive any kind of test that might prove his worthiness to serve the Dark Lord. He... was... going... to... die...



Hermione Granger didn't know what to do with her hands. She tried to keep them in her lap, folded and unmoving. Then, she tried to hold on to the wooden armrests, but her knuckles revealed her distress and she had to hide them into the folds of her robes. She even considered picking up a glass of water just to keep her hands occupied.

They were all staring at her, demanding her to do weird things with her magical abilities. Yes, she was gifted, but not that gifted. They were crazy. She was just a student.

"Would you try it?" Amadeus questioned her. "It could be the only way to save him."

Hermione tried to swallow, but her throat was too dry. "I don't know how I could succeed in it." It came out as a mere whisper, harsh on her tongue.

"You've been in his mind before. You know him," Professor Snape said sternly.

"He's dying." Hermione couldn't hide the fear in her voice. Draco Malfoy was dying and they were asking her to follow him. Why? And how could she not?

Dumbledore came to stand behind her chair, resting his arms on either side of her shoulders, never touching her. "We do not want to put you in any danger. This is a request, not a command." He hated himself for pushing her. He didn't want her to get hurt, but there was very little time and very much at stake. "I just need you to know that there are greater things at risk if he dies, if we let him fade away."

Hermione hid her face into her hands, trying to gather her thoughts. It had been forty-three hours since she last saw him in that corridor. He had gone to the hospital wing because of his wounds. He had argued with Harry who had also been treated there because of the attack he had endured at the War Room. They had talked; he had been just fine. And then two hours after Harry had been released, he had fallen into a coma. Nobody knew why.

"I'll do it," she finally agreed. She wanted to help him; she just wasn't sure if she was the best choice for it. She wasn't as powerful as the adults were. She didn't have their experience or their superior knowledge. The only advantage she had was the fact that she was connected to Draco Malfoy magically. She probably was the only one who could safely follow him to the edge of life.

Dumbledore moved in front of her, looking straight into her eyes. "Are you sure?" It seemed as though he was regretting something.

"I'm sure. I brought him back once, I might be able to do it again."

Amadeus looked at the brave girl with growing appreciation. She really had more backbone than what he had given her credit for. She probably didn't know how dangerous it could be for all of them, what creatures might find their way into this realm, into this relatively safe little world of theirs.

He would take care of her, though. He would keep her safe. He owed that to all of them. His family owed that to them.

"It is settled then. Come into the Hospital Wing in an hour and take with you an object that matters you the most. We will be ready for you then." Amadeus gave her one of his rare smiles and startled, she left the room.

She walked back to the Gryffindor Tower in a hazed state. Draco was dying, but she would save him.

Draco was dying. Could she save him?


He could smell his own sweat.

His robes were wrinkled and stained and his hair was damp with the water dripping from the ceiling mixed with the moist of his temples. Fear made him sweat. Fear made him grip the metal bars that formed the head of the bed.

There were hooded Death Eaters around his bed, whispering quiet instructions to each other as they prepared a seemingly difficult potion. On the bedside table grains of sand were dripping in an hourglass like life size rocks down a hill. He could hear every scratch and every slide as though he was inside the damned thing itself.

His father was nowhere to be seen.

Abandoned, he tried to remember how he had managed to get into such a predicament. He had no idea. He had no recollection of what had happened nor why. He didn't even know when it was happening.

Draco could see the Dark Lord standing nearby, smiling almost courtly. He willed the menacing wizard to stay away from him, but instead he could feel the web around him tightening. He could feel the searching claws gripping the strings of his thoughts and he let his subconscious swallow all that was him, all that he valued, all that was his alone.

Voldemort walked beside his bed, touching his forehead. The finger was cold, but still, it burned. "You are good, my boy. I knew you would be." He wiped a drop of sweat from the boy's hairline and licked his finger with a split tongue. "It won't save you, though."




Ron and Harry didn't want to let her go. The boys had questioned every decision she had made so far, forcing her to think about the consequences of her actions. Where was she heading? Why should she risk her life to save Draco Malfoy?

"Hermione, what's going on?" Ron looked bewildered. "D'you have feelings for that creep?"

She had told them most of the things that had happened between her and Malfoy, leaving out only those few little kisses they had shared. She was too embarrassed to speak about those with her two best friends. She knew they would never approve. That's why it shocked her that Ron would ask such a question.

"I... Honestly, I don't know what to think anymore." She sighed. "I'm just so tired."

Ron's ears turned red, but he controlled his anger remarkably well. Losing Hermione to someone so unworthy stung like million little bees dying on his skin, but he would not give her away that easily. "He's a son of a known Death Eater, who has tried to kill us numerous times."

"I know. Don't you think I know?" There was despair written all over her face. She was torn, unable to understand her traitorous feelings. None of it made any sense. She wasn't supposed to care about him so much. He was not her friend and he certainly wasn't her lover. He was an obnoxious idiot, who only thought of himself. And still, she thought of him with warmth and care. She was the idiot of this story.

They were sitting in the empty common room, Hermione in the middle. The other Gryffindors had left them alone, knowing from their looks that something was seriously wrong.

Harry hesitated for a moment and then took Hermione's hand to his own. He didn't know what to say and he even had difficulties in feeling anything rational at all. He just wanted to keep her safe, hide her from all that was troubling her.

He had talked with the Slytherin during their hospital time together and even though he was a Pureblood and a rich, pampered and pompous bastard, they had almost laughed together. For a short moment there, they had understood each other. It had started with a spiteful battle of words and turned into a debate about good and evil and Purebloods and Muggle-borns. Malfoy wasn't completely evil. But it didn't change the fact that he would never let him date Hermione.

The thought was so ridiculous that it made him snort out loud. Hermione and Ron turned to look at him, bemused expressions on their faces and it made him laugh even more.

"What?" Hermione demanded, sounding far from humorous.

Harry released her hand and pushed both of his hands through his unruly hair. "I'm thinking like a big brother. That's all." He glanced at her, smiling lopsidedly and noticed that the tight line of her mouth melted a bit.

"He's not completely evil," Harry admitted finally. "He's probably not worth saving, but Draco's not his father."


It took him a while to breathe again after the disturbing words of the Dark Lord. Occlumency at his level was useless against the Master of Legilimency. He could not hide for long.

The potion was almost ready and the grains of sand had almost fallen through the hourglass. They were soon able to start the ritual.

Draco felt sick. Now he could understand why people threw up when they were overly stressed or agitated. The human body was deeply connected to the feelings of the mind. If the mind was falling, the body would fall with it. His chest felt like it was on fire and his heart was beating in his throat, making him choke on the terror he fed with each passing thought.

It was quiet now. Only the shimmering potion sent out a slight sound of inevitability. Most of the Death Eaters left the room, leaving Draco with the Dark Lord and a handful of his most loyal subjects.

The one nearest to his bed removed the hood. "I don't like the way he smells," Bellatrix Lestrange said distastefully. "And he looks like he's going to wet himself. I don't think he's Death Eater material."

"That's not for you to decide," hissed Walden Macnair, throwing his cloak on a chair near the bed. Unnoticed, it slid down the back of the chair and onto the floor.

It was shocking for Draco to see his capturers. He knew all these people. Some of them were family, some of them friends. They had visited the Malfoy Manor countless of times, treating him like the heir of his father's name. Why would they want to hurt him? And where was his father? How could he let them do this to him?

Bellatrix smiled wickedly and then touched Draco's dry lips with her thumb. "I know. I'm just playing with his mind. Look at the poor boy. He's trembling like a little leaf on the wind." She leaned in to kiss him, but her husband stopped her.

"Bella." Rudolphus didn't sound angry, but he demanded obedience.

The woman shrugged and moved away from the bed. The rest of the night, she stayed quiet.

Voldemort took the potion to his hands. "Shall we begin." It was not a question.




It was a picture of her family, the most important object she had. It wasn't her wand or her Head Girl badge or any of her precious books. It was a still picture of her mother, father and brother, Christopher. She had never shown it to anyone, but she carried it with her everywhere. It was wrinkled and old. Christopher was ten and a half in it. He hadn't received his Hogwarts letter yet and he was just smiling goofily like all kids of his age.

Part of her wanted it to be a moving picture, so she could see her brother like he had been before magic, before fear. She had never known him when he was sane. She was born two years after he was taken into the hospital. Not St. Mungo's, though.

She gave the picture to Amadeus.

It was folded, the white side showing only its age. She hoped that Amadeus' didn't need to see what it was and to her great relief, he only put it into his chest pocket.

"Sit down," Amadeus said quietly and she obeyed without a word.

The conflict, which had been so clear in him earlier at the War Room, seemed to have vanished completely. He acted very kindly and he even seemed to be more present. He wasn't as transparent as usual and Hermione noticed that he wasn't wearing any black make-up either. He looked younger that way.

Dumbledore coughed and then said, "We'll be here to anchor you, to keep you out of harm's way." He paused for a moment, thinking of the right way to express his fears and then decided that it would be best to be as blunt and honest as possible. "Mr. Malfoy has been through a lot and it is probable that he cannot or will not return. He might set a trap for you. Be aware of this. Also, if this is Voldemort's doing, get out of there immediately."

Hermione said nothing for a while, then she nodded. She could almost hear the please Professor Dumbledore hadn't said aloud. The old wizard was unwilling to put her in danger. It made her feel even less certain of her mission. How could she succeed if even Dumbledore didn't believe in her? She was doomed to fail.

"Tie this around your waist." Amadeus handed her an end of a rough rope, which seemed to have become visible just seconds after he had pulled it out of an old bag on the bedside table. "It's called Via Patientia, Path of Passivity. It keeps us close to you."

It tingled slightly against her palms, but after she tied it around her, the feeling disappeared. She wondered how old the Via Patientia was. Everything Amadeus had taught them so far seemed older than anything they had studied before.

Professor Snape took the rope after Amadeus, tying it around his wrist and then passing it to Professor Dumbledore. Finally they were all connected and the rope became invisible again. It felt as though it hadn't existed at all.

Hermione glanced at Draco's pale features quickly and then turned her keen eyes to Amadeus. "What about him? Why not connect him too?"

"We cannot do it here," he answered. "That is your task. When you find him, link him to us and we will pull you out. He is in a coma. It means you have to go deep inside his mind. It is nearly impossible to find your way out without this." He pulled his arm back and she could feel the rope around her waist tighten.

"You will find him," Professor Dumbledore said, sounding confident. It made Hermione feel a bit less hopeless. Maybe she had a chance.

She took Draco's cold hand to her own and breathed in sharply - he already felt like a corpse. She squeezed his hand and then rubbed it between her palms, trying to make the blood circulate. Closing her eyes, she kept holding his hand, thinking of him, letting the Colour of Magick guide her.

It let her in and screaming, she fell into the darkness.



"Drink it. If a drop is spilled, you'll die instantly."

Draco believed him. Either the potion needed to be devoured completely or the man just wanted to act upon his cruel nature. Whichever the reason, the result would be the same. So he drank.

He expected to feel something, anything, but the potion had no effect on him, besides the cooling sensation in his throat. He hadn't even realized how dry his mouth had become until now. It made him breathe easier.

"Bring the Soul Ripper," the Dark Lord commanded Macnair. Without a word the man walked to a set of drawers, opened the bottom one and took out a dark green box the size of a jewel case. He handed it to his Lord.

Voldemort sat on the bed, smiling gently at Draco. "This is going to sting a bit." The smile became maniac, when he leaned closer and opened the box. Something creepy-crawly touched Draco's cheek as the box was close enough to his skin.

"What? Take it off!" It was the first time he spoke since he had woken up in that godforsaken place and it almost felt as though he had forgotten how. His lips didn't seem to understand the signals his brain was sending. He wasn't even sure the words actually came out of his mouth. So he screamed instead, knowing that it was more of a universal language anyway.

The Death Eaters laughed, their faces twisting in horrific fashion. Was he seeing things?

The creepy-crawly crawled its way to the corner of his eye and in desperation he closed his eyes. His breathing was shallow and loud, each breath shorter and sharper than the last one.

"Oh God, please take it off," he begged in vain. There was no mercy in the room.

"Now, now, it's not going to hurt forever." He could feel Lord Voldemort lean over him and pull his lid open with one of his skeleton-like fingers. "Let it in and you'll know what it means to really scream."

The creature pushed its way inside his head, behind his eye, through tissue and bone it traveled until it reached his brain - and there was nothing he could do to stop the blinding pain. He wished he could fall unconscious; he wished he could will himself to die. But soon all rational thought left him and all that remained was a sense of utter violation.

He was nothing more than a potential slave to these people.




The emptiness was overwhelming.

Hermione was falling faster and faster in the nothingness of his mind, and all she could do was hold on to the thought that she would not die when the ground finally found her. She was not corporeal; she was like a spirit. She would not die.

She had been thinking about their last meeting, since the minute they had departed. And even now, his words were clear in her mind, "It's not just the potion. You want me."

What would have happened, if she hadn't bit him then? He was right about everything. She cared about him. She wanted him. She might even love him. How did that happen? It was an impossible situation, and now she was supposed to find him, save him, take care of him.

She could remember the first time he had called her a Mudblood. She could remember all those times he had deliberately hurt her. And at the beginning of their seventh school year - he had said that she would die. He had wanted to see her die. How could she love a boy like that? But she knew why. Even though he was all the things she disliked, he was also a decent person. He was a passionate person and he was fighting the evil in him, all those things his father had taught him. Draco was trying and it was enough to make her love him.

Oh God, please let him be alive, when I find him.

In a blink of an eye her surroundings changed and she was sitting on a stump of a tree in the middle of a daffodil field. She was wearing a green, sleeveless dress and her bare feet felt the grass and the wind like she was a child again.

Was he still in charge of his mind or was there someone else controlling him? Either way, it didn't seem like the one in charge wanted to hurt her.

She looked around, trying to find any clues of his whereabouts, but all she could see was mountains in the horizon and flowers upon flowers. There was something about the scenery that made her feel uneasy, though; she just couldn't quite grasp what it was. It felt surreal, of course, but it was something else. Something that she hadn't noticed before.

The flowers, they were bent not far from her and she could see black clothing moving in the wind. Someone was lying on the ground.

Could it be him?

Carefully she stood and started walking towards the figure. With each step her hope grew stronger, but when she finally reached the person, a sinking feeling filled her stomach. It was Draco, but not the one she knew.

Hermione kneeled beside the boy and leaned over him in concern. Was he all right? The boy's eyes were closed and his hands were clenched into fists, but otherwise he seemed to be well - just sleeping a slightly restless sleep.

He was the same little boy she had encountered in that burning house inside Draco's mind. How long ago was it? Four days? Five? It seemed so much longer.

When they had drunk the separation potion, he had lost control of himself and she had saved him then, too. Was he her responsibility now? She would scold him for being such a brat when she saw him again. He was such an idiot. Such a... She gritted her teeth in hope of not letting the tears escape her eyes. She would not cry for him. She would not.



***

And the next part will be up a lot sooner than this. I'm very very sorry for the delay.

Update to that: the next chapter will be up in the end of October. I've written seven pages of it and it still needs a few more and then it goes for beta reading. Sorry about the delay again. I had my wedding. That's my only excuse. ^_^ This story will have at least 2 more chapters after the next one. I hope you're enjoying it still. I am. *laughs*

I appreciate your words so much. Thank you!

Oh, and if you want me to put you on a mailing list for updates, now is the time to contact me. ^_^


Chapter 11: Soul Ripper, Part Two
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Soul Ripper, Part Two



A light breeze blew a strand of hair over Hermione's eyes and when she lifted her hand to tuck it behind her ear, the boy stirred, locking his cold grey eyes on hers instantly. The look on his face was wild, mad even, and for a second Hermione felt like she had fallen into a nightmare.

She had been waiting for him to wake up. Now she wished he hadn't.

"You came." He sat up and hugged her, making her breathe out audibly. "I thought you wouldn't come so I waited and I fell asleep. And you came." His voice was monotonic, almost like he was spilling out rehearsed lines. He felt cold, deadly, not like an enthusiastic child.

Hermione sensed she was in danger; she just didn't know how or why. "I did. I want to save you." She hugged him back with all the affection and love she had inside herself.

The atmosphere changed with her words and the child in her arms relaxed. He didn't squeeze her as tightly as before and his breathing became gentle and even. "I missed you," the boy confessed quietly.

She dared to smile a bit. "I missed you, too."

He lifted his eyes to hers and this time he was the same little boy who had given her the doll which had looked a lot like the Draco she knew.

"He's here," the boy said. "He's killing him. You have to save him... me... us." With each word he sounded more like a sweet five-year-old.

Hermione stood, pulling the boy with her and said, "Take me to them, please. Show me the way." She wasn't sure if that was the right thing to say. She didn't even know if she could trust the boy, but she had found her way out once with his help. Maybe he was distorted, but she knew how to handle a distorted Draco Bellator Malfoy. Would it be any different now that he was a child? She hoped not.

The boy looked at her with a confused expression on his face and then, without a word, he started walking towards the distant mountains, holding her hand tightly and turning to face her every once in awhile as though being afraid that she might disappear.

Hermione studied the little boy with fascination. He was wearing a travel cloak and dress robes, both black. His blond hair was cut a little too short, making his face a bit angular and hard. He carried himself with pride and his posture was admirable, like an aristocrat's. He looked like he had never had any fun and it made Hermione feel sorry for the boy, for Draco. Had he ever had any real friends?

"What's your name?" she asked before she could stop herself. She already knew. Why did she have to be so nosy all the time?

The boy glanced at her quickly with those sharp intelligent eyes. "I guess you could call me Bellator."

That was a surprise to her. She had thought that the boy would call himself Draco, think of himself as Draco. Did he have a split personality after all? What had happened, when he was five or six? What had made him hide a part of himself somewhere deep inside for her to find? And why would the boy have his second name? The grown up Draco was the Dragon and the little boy was the Warrior, could it be?

"I don't really have a name. I'm guilt." The boy walked on, looking at his feet, seemingly troubled by their conversation. "I don't want to talk," he finally added quietly. "Let's not talk, please."

It was aching to hear those words form from the pain of that little heart. Hermione wanted to take care of him, hug him then and there and promise him that everything would be all right.

She only mumbled her agreement.

They walked on and on and the scenery never much changed. She was getting tired and her stomach grumbled, demanding food and beverage. It made her worried. Something was wrong.

"How far is it?" she asked, careful not to sound too anxious.

The boy didn't answer, he just kept staring at his feet.

Hermione stopped, but the boy continued to walk until their hands were stretched between them. "What's wrong?" Her voice was a bit too high. She felt like the nightmare was coming back.

The boy turned his head to her direction, moving very slowly. His face was expressionless like he wasn't alive anymore and his eyes were closed, shut tightly. "I'm not here for you," he croaked with effort. "I'm not here to guide you."

Hermione tried to let go of his hand, but he squeezed her own so hard it prevented the blood from circulating.

"He's killing him. Let them kill each other. Let them die... Ends... It ends... Let them kill themselves."

She could feel tears in her eyes, but something told her that it would be a grave mistake to show fear of any kind now. She forced her muscles to relax and then laughed a bit. "You're forgetting that I'm not letting that happen. I won't let anyone kill him. Not you. Not me. And most certainly not Voldemort."

His eyes snapped open. "You don't know anything!" he screamed, pushing her against a tree with the strength of his older counterpart. "You don't know anything and you don't care!" He hit her with a tiny fist, but there was no intention to harm. "You don't know. You... don't... know... what he did."

Hermione took hold of his hands and turned him around, hugging his back against her stomach, enveloping him to her warmth. "Shush," she whispered, "it's okay. I'm here and I'm not leaving you."

He started to cry, shaking violently. He sounded so desperate and exhausted, but there wasn't much she could do for him so she just held him until he was sweaty and uncomfortable and completely burned.

"I'm sorry," he finally mumbled, sounding embarrassed and small. "I didn't mean to..." He pushed himself away from her, trying to wipe his eyes clean. "I was going to help. I really was. I'm sorry."

"I know." She smiled. "Can we continue now?"

"You're not mad?" he asked in wonderment.

Hermione stroked his hair. How could she be mad at the boy. He was always trying; trying to be a man, to be worthy, to be something other than he was. "It's okay. We all stray from time to time."

He leaned into her touch, seemingly yearning for acceptance and love. Closing his eyes, he almost looked like a kitten, purring with happiness. It was contradictory to his next words - words that felt almost violent to Hermione's ears.

"He put something inside us, something wicked. Its shadow is still haunting us. It's trying to kill us," he spoke quickly. "Soul Ripper! It reads your mind, eats your brain, feeds on your fear, licks your insides until you scream in mindless horror. He's remembering. Draco can't take it. He's not brave. He's not strong. It's killing him." He paused. "I remember. Everything. Father didn't help. He just stood there. He watched."

Soul Ripper? Even the sound of it sent chills down her spine. What had happened to Draco? She felt burning hatred swell up inside her. What had Voldemort done to him?

"Let's find him," Hermione urged the boy. "Let's save you two. I want you to be safe. Do you believe me?"

The boy nodded, determination clear on his young features. He took her hand again and started running to the opposite direction of their earlier heading. "Let's find me."

This time Hermione was sure the boy was on her side. Something had changed. Did part of Draco trust her after all? From the bottom of her heart she wished for it to be true. Without trust she couldn't do anything for him. He had to trust her. He had to believe in her. Otherwise it would all be in vain. She couldn't pull him out of the coma with sheer willpower. He had to want to get out.

Slowly, she started noticing small changes in their surroundings. First the trees grew thinner as they ran and then the grass turned to rubble under their feet. The air became thick, too, somehow heavy and hard to penetrate, and they had to slow down.

"We're close, aren't we?" she caught herself whispering.

The boy's eyes seemed to tell her to shut her mouth, much like the other blond's did every time she said something stupid. In spite of their situation, she laughed quietly. She would have liked to have known the little boy, when he really did exist. Maybe she could have been the only real friend to him then.

As they continued to walk quietly, she realized that the ground and the mountain walls began to resonate with an earthy sound that moved through her feet to her heart and mind. It made her feel primitive, almost as though it was reaching the secret layers of her being, the ones that formed her subconscious.

Hermione could see that the boy felt it, too. His eyes were open wide with fear and the small hand she was holding felt cold and sweaty, revealing his distress.

"Help," he whispered desperately. "Hermione, help me."

"What's happening?" She crouched down to his level, looking to his eyes. The boy was disappearing in front of her, and she was unable to do anything to stop him from vanishing. She hugged him as long as she could, hoping against all hope that her heart could keep him there.

After mere seconds he was gone.

She felt more lonely than ever before. She was completely alone in a hostile territory, her mission was likely to fail and she wasn't even a fighter. She was a scholar, a brainy girl with a bit of courage to show that she was worthy of being a Gryffindor. Other than that, she was just a little girl. Why did they sent her? Why didn't Amadeus come with her?

It never occurred to her that she was probably the only person who could have got past the first guard.

With a heavy heart she continued her journey, when suddenly a scream echoed through the rock walls around her. It stayed with her, following her - a hallow sound, full of anger, betrayal and fear. It pierced her being, hurting her from the inside, cutting her soul with razor sharp nails. She felt like screaming, too, but instead she walked on, knowing that she was close now. Draco was near and he was in pain.

You'll be all right. I'm going to take care of this. I'm going to kick the monster out of your mind. Just be alive, when I find you. It was like a mantra in her mind. She kept repeating the words over and over again until soon the only thing she could think about was, You'll be all right. You'll be all right. She was in too much pain to concentrate on anything else but walking.

The primitive earthy sound became louder and finally she started recognizing what it was - staffs hitting the ground. The ritualistic thumping got mixed with the hurtful scream and it all became too much to bear. She stumbled and fell down a hill, rolling with ever increasing speed. She didn't care. She just wanted it all to stop.

Please, Draco. I'm here to help you. Don't hurt me. It was her last thought before she fell unconscious.

The first thing she noticed, when she woke up, was the hard and cold bedrock beneath her. It felt uncomfortable under her cheek so she rolled on her back and sat up, looking around in bewilderment. She was surrounded by Death Eaters, who didn't seem to notice her at all. Their eyes were focused on something else, something that was located near to her left.

She followed their gazes and saw Draco, lying on his stomach, hands above his head and legs spread slightly. He was shaking uncontrollably, screaming.

Without thinking Hermione jumped up and ran to him. "Draco, wake up! It's not happening now. This isn't real. It's a memory. We can use a Pensieve to help you. You don't have to carry this memory with you. Please, Draco, listen to me. Wake up." She turned him around and almost screamed. He was dead pale, only the whites of his eyes were showing, and the sheer horror radiating from him, had twisted his face completely.

He was almost unrecognizable.

She took him to her arms, trying to hold his shaking body against her own. "What are you doing to him?" she screamed at the circle of Death Eaters. They ignored her, continuing to hit their staffs to the ground simultaneously and chanting in a language she didn't recognize.

What was she supposed to do now? Could he pull Draco out like this? Somehow she knew that it wasn't enough. He had to be awake, had to want to leave. "Please, please, please wake up. Draco, I love you. Please wake up." She rocked him with her body, desperate to see him well again.

Suddenly, she could feel something coming at them, attacking. She turned just in time to see a giant snake surging to their direction, its mouth open and fangs bursting with poison. She would have laughed if she hadn't been so scared. It looked so unrealistic and childish, something that only old ladies could tell tales about. But at that moment it was a real threat and she had to get them to safety.

Quickly, she pulled her wand out and yelled, "Recessus!" The snake was too huge for her to fight it so she had to make it back down. She had to use every ounce of her strength to keep the beast away from them. "Recessus!" she commanded again and this time the snake stopped. It didn't turn around, but at least it stopped advancing.

"The boy wants me to kill you," the snake hissed, full of malice.

Hermione lay Draco carefully to the ground and stood up, facing the beast. "From where I'm standing he doesn't want anything," she said, her voice confident and strong. The voice lied, but this time she was extremely glad that she was getting better at deceiving other beings. If she wanted them to survive she had to be cunning. She was fighting Draco's subconscious.

The snake spat its poison to her direction, but it was still too far to reach them. Nonetheless, it managed to make Hermione jump and her concentration broke for a mere second. It was enough for the snake to slide closer.

"He wants me to swallow you alive. He wants me to rip your pink delicious skin off your flesh. He wants me to play with you before you die. That's the kind of boy you want to save." The snake looked like it was trying to smile.

"I know and I don't care. I'm going to save us even if it's the last thing I do. So stay away from us!" She took a better standing position and readied herself for the next attack. She would win. She would kick some snake arse before she died.

The beast pushed against the command she was holding with her willpower. It was a violent attack, aiming to hurt her dreadfully.

She held her ground.

The snake looked confused as though it had never encountered anything like Hermione before. "You! A Mudblood witch, holding me away!" It attacked against the barrier again with even more hatred and intention to kill than before. The anger of the beast manifested itself, and attacked her with shadows like claws.

Her legs gave in and she landed on her knees, yelping in pain, but the barrier held. The beast couldn't get through.

It screamed in frustration. "Who are you? You have no right to come here." Again it spat the poison at her direction, but this time she didn't flinch.

She smiled, revealing her bloodied gums.

The snake realized at that moment that it could never win. It would just get beaten at the hands of that little girl. She would tear it apart, bit by bit, scale by scale. It wasn't a nice thought - and the snake wanted to live. To hell with the wants of stupid boys.

The snake disappeared.

Hermione relaxed, panting heavily. She really did it. The power she felt inside was immense. She felt gleeful, victorious. She felt strong.

Draco coughed. "Hermione?"

She turned to look at him, the victorious smile still on her face. "You're awake." The smile turned into a genuine look of relief. "Oh dear Merlin, you're back." She leaned over him, trying to take him to her arms, but he pushed her away.

"What the hell are you doing?" Draco looked at her like she was completely mental.

This was it then? Nothing had changed after all? She felt as though a cold hand had just gripped her heart and squeezed it dry. "I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking." She paused for a moment, gathering her wits in desperation. "I'm here to take you back. You've been in a coma for almost two days now."

Draco looked at her in surprise. "Two days? What happened?"

"You don't remember?"

"Would I be asking if I did?" He sounded more like his old self, the one she had known before their adventures together. Why? She wanted her sarcastic and misunderstood Draco back. This boy was too much like the Muggle hater his reputation said him to be. She felt lost.

She stood and looked away from him. It was easier that way. "Shall we go then. Snape, Amadeus and Dumbledore will explain everything, when we get back."

Draco couldn't get up on his own so she had to lend him a hand. The whole time Hermione avoided his gaze, keeping her eyes in the distance and trying to fight back the tears. She had almost died for nothing?

"How do we get out?" Draco asked, leaning on her shoulder. It was quite clear that he hated being dependent on Hermione, but he said nothing. Even he wasn't stupid enough to insult a person who was his only link to the outside world.

"Hug me," she said, feeling a bit malicious. Two could play this game.

Draco glared at her. "You can't be serious."

She started walking away, leaving him stumbling with weak legs. "When you've come to your senses, I'm here. I'm too tired to play games with you." She went to sit on the nearest boulder. Her feet were killing her and she really needed a healing spell for her knees.

Stupid Draco. Stupid boys. She would never fall in love with anyone. Boys were evil.

She could hear him staggering to her direction, but she didn't turn to watch. Let him fall over, let him suffer. Stupid, moronic son of a wizard. She felt like strangling the ferret.

"Hermione. I'm sorry. Let's go." He was leaning on a stick and extending his right hand to her. "Please."

It felt like an eternity, when she just watched the hand as though it was going to hurt her in some cruel way. She wanted it to feel like an eternity. "Okay," she finally said, sounding too cheerful even to her own ears, and went to stand in front of him. "Hug me."

The awkward look on his face was enough of a reward for all the suffering she had been through for him. She bet he had never hugged anyone. He had always been the one to be hugged and even that had been rare. She knew. She was one of the few people who had ever hugged him.

Slowly, he moved his hands behind her back and pulled her closer. He held her in his arms, head resting on top of hers. "What now?" He sounded impatient.

"Just wait," she whispered, breathing in his scent. For such a stupid boy, he smelled wonderful.

"Are you sniffing me?" Draco didn't sound so indifferent or malign anymore. "I'm ticklish, you know."

Hermione couldn't stop herself from giggling against his neck. "Yeah." She smiled. "I am."

He moved a bit so he could look into her eyes. "This isn't getting us out of here, is it?"

"Nope."

"Hermione, you are so evil." There was a hint of amusement in his voice as he pushed her away from him, holding her shoulders as though not quite sure if he wanted to let go.

"What are you planning to do about it?" She was bold, too bold, but she didn't care. Almost dying for nothing was much more painful than getting hit by the boy she had just saved. Any recognition was better than no recognition at all. She tilted her head to the right and waited for his answer.

It never came.

Instead, he leaned closer and touched her lips with his own. It was such a light kiss that she wasn't even sure if it actually happened until it was already over.

He released her, turning around, ashamed. It had been an accident; an illogical reaction to her challenge and to make things worse, he could hear himself saying, "Thank you."

Draco could feel a blush creep up on his cheeks and all he wanted was for the embarrassing silence to end. How stupid could he be? He had tried to avoid her. He had tried his very best to be a good Slytherin and kick the Mudblood out of his life, but she just kept crawling back to him. Everything about her made him crazy. He didn't even know if it was a bad thing. The only thing he was sure of was the fact that the girl would do anything for him.

That was a little too much to bear.

Lust was okay. Lust was just something primal. Draco knew that his father had lusted over a Muggle-born witch once, when he was younger. Lucius had told him about it, warning him of the luring nature of all women and telling him that it was quite a normal reaction, but that he should never act upon it. Fuck! He had tried.

Bloody hell. The girl had just saved his life. Literally. He could still feel the Soul Ripper inside him, but it wasn't out of control now, and it was all because of her courage. The girl truly belonged in Gryffindor.

He couldn't even think of her as Hermione. She was just a girl, now. Too bloody real. At first he thought that he could make the gratitude go away if he acted cruelly towards her, but then she had to be so god damn cute and daring.

"Um..." She sounded timid. "Is everything okay?"

"Yeah, everything's just fine."

Hermione hesitated a mere second and then took hold of his left arm, pulling his sleeve, asking him silently to look at her. "What's wrong?"

Draco sighed, "This whole damn thing is wrong. I'm sick of it. I'm sick of you saving me. I'm sick of not knowing how I should feel. I'm sick of myself." He stared at the hand that was holding his sleeve. "What d'you want from me? I can't be what you expect from me. I'm not good enough." The last sentence was almost inaudible and she had to strain her ears to hear it.

He continued quickly, "I've hurt you. Look at yourself. There's blood all over you. All I do is make you bleed. It's not good for either of us. And my intentions are not pure." He snatched his sleeve free. "I'm the son of a Death Eater and a Slytherin down to my heart. I'm everything you're not. Just get us out of here and leave me be. You'll get nothing good out of me."

Shocked, Hermione watched him. The honesty in his words was tangible and it made her skin tingle. Finally he was being honest, finally he showed something real to her. There was no masks, no sarcasm or stupid jokes. He meant every word and it told her something very important - he was genuinely starting to think of her as someone he didn't want to hurt.

"Draco..." She reached for him, but he pushed her hand away.

"Don't."

"Draco, it's all right. It's good to be afraid of hurting someone." Hermione wanted to take a step closer, but she knew that he wouldn't let her so she stayed put, hoping that he could see what she meant.

Defiantly, he stood there, looking at her like she wasn't important enough to be even noticed. "Shut it. I don't care if I hurt you. I just don't... bugger! Just get us out of here." He couldn't lie to her anymore, it was impossible to hide from her.

He was starting to panic.

"Hermione, make it end. Please? Stop it. Take us out. I don't want to face this now. I don't want to face you here. You shouldn't be inside me. It's not natural. I can't hold you out. You're folding into me. Parts of you are already sticking in me."

Oh god, she hadn't even thought of that. They had been in the Colour of Magick far too long and she was deep inside his subconscious. Were they moulding together already?

"Come here," she commanded and to his surprise he obeyed wordlessly.

She took his right hand and guided it to her stomach. Draco almost resisted, but then let her lead him. He could feel something materialize against his palm and soon noticed that there was an old rope tied around Hermione's waist.

"Hold on to that," she said to him, her voice urgent and strained. She was clearly worried.

"Okay..." he answered stupidly and then mentally kicked himself. He was acting like a sacrifice lamb, completely void of his own will.

She pulled the ends of the rope, untying it from her waist and then leaned close to him, tying the rope around his waist. She was too close now, awakening all his senses as her hair brushed his cheek and neck. Her soft frame pressed against him just for a short moment, but it was enough for him to notice the intensity of the emotions, rushing through him.

It made his knees buckle.

Hermione was completely oblivious to the effect she had on him. Her concentration was elsewhere as she was trying to connect both of them to the rope and finally, get them out of his comatose mind.

It took all his willpower not to demand her attention to himself. He hadn't been prepared to face those fierce emotions again. He had been standing next to her, he had even hugged her, but nothing had happened. Now, his heart was almost beating through his ribcage. It was hard to breathe, when the air was filled with her scent. He closed his eyes, desperately trying to think of something ugly and disgusting.

"We're ready. Give me your hand."

Still keeping his eyes closed, he extended his right hand to her. When her fingers mingled with his own, a bolt of pleasure surged through him. It was so powerful he couldn't quite hide the breath that escaped his lips. It was completely unintentional, completely out of his control, and all he could do was hope that she hadn't noticed it.

"Draco, they're going to pull us out. Be ready," she said, sounding professional and like she hadn't noticed his strange behaviour.

He dared to open his eyes, only to see that her brown ones were questioning, revealing uncertainty and fear. She had noticed. She could feel his pulse through his palm, the rising warmth of his skin, his ferocious presence. She was well aware of the turmoil inside him. How could she know? Always.

"Hermione, I..."

"We'll talk later." She squeezed his hand. "It's going to hurt a bit."

He wasn't sure what was she referring to - the way out of his mind or their upcoming talk - but he didn't much care. He held her gaze until the world turned into a haze of colours and sounds, then let himself be dragged out.

"Welcome back." The old geezer stood by his bed, eyes twinkling like mad fireflies.

Hermione sat on the bed, holding his hand. Amadeus and Snape were standing a bit further away, their faces grim but relieved.

"We've been waiting for you, Mr. Malfoy, and we're extremely happy to see both of you alive and well," Dumbledore said, smiling. "Poppy will take care of you two now. It's best we'll talk tomorrow."

The Shuffling noises indicated that the school healer was near and Dumbledore moved a bit so he wouldn't be on the way.

Madam Pomfrey came out of her small office, holding two bottles of yellow healing potion, and said without any niceties, "You seem to be my regular guests this year. I wish to see a change to that." She summoned another bed close to Draco's and ushered Hermione to lie down. To her aggravation the girl refused to let go of her companion's hand, but she hid her dissatisfaction well.

Dumbledore looked at the Head students with acceptance and a bit of pride, too. They were changing; in the shadow of the war they still had hope of finding new ways to coexist. "So you know," he directed his words to Draco. "Ms. Granger did something extremely difficult today, something that is almost impossible for most grown-up witches and wizards, let alone someone who is still in training. You have her to thank for your life."

"I know," he mumbled, embarrassed and wishing that they would leave him alone already. He was tired and Hermione was just looking at him, not saying a word. It was disturbing and highly annoying.

After wishing them good night, the three professors left the Hospital Wing. Only Amadeus turned at the door, watching them for a moment, and then he cast a spell to hide their presence from everyone but Madam Pomfrey.

"Are you ever going to stop staring at me?" Draco whispered fervently. The old lady had finally left them alone into the dark after watching them drink their potions and pretend to go to sleep. It was so easy to deceive grown-ups.

She didn't answer, just glanced at their joined hands and then continued to look at him intently.

Draco sighed. "Could you at least let go of my hand? I would like to get some sleep."

"I think," she finally said quietly, "that you like me."

"Yeah, I do. Happy now? Let go."

"No, you really really like me," she insisted. "Really."

He snorted, trying to sound mocking. "If I really really like you why d'you think I want to get rid of you so desperately?" He felt uncomfortable under her stare.

"Because you are afraid." She released his hand and turned around. "Go to sleep."

He looked at his empty hand, disbelieving her words and actions. She had no manners what so ever, she always said things that were supposed to left unsaid and she had absolutely no redeeming qualities.

"Bloody women," he muttered under his breath as he turned his back on her.

But Draco couldn't fall asleep, no matter how much he tried.

"Hermione?"

"What?" she mumbled, sounding a bit sleepy.

"Could I sleep with you?"

She hadn't expected that, anything but that. Her heart jumped to her throat and she had to swallow hard to be able to speak again. She had no idea how to respond.

Draco cleared his throat. "I mean sleep. Saying my day was rough, is a bit of an understatement. I'm not whole. I don't feel very good." He paused, almost unable to continue. "I'm not expecting you to say yes... I'm just asking."

She turned to face him, looking into his eyes which were almost glowing in the dark. He looked so innocent and she could see that it had taken all his courage to ask her that.

Hermione sat on the side of her bed, revealing her feet from under the warm blanket, shivering. She glided on the stone floor, took two small steps and lay next to him, pulling the covers over herself. Her feet touched his and he jumped. She was cold, but soon his warmth wrapped itself around her.

Awkwardly, she pulled a pillow into the crook of his arm, lay on her side next to him and put his arm on his stomach. He stayed completely still.

"Is this okay?" she asked shyly.

He didn't answer, but after awhile he started to relax and soon, he fell asleep. She felt confused at first, but then realised that he must have been exhausted beyond any measure. Her presence had made him feel safe enough to relax, to let go.

She smiled, unable to hide the satisfaction from herself. She was right; he wasn't a lost soul after all.




A/N: Many huggles to FaymosAmos for helping me to edit this little chapter. And yet again, I must apologize the delay. Yes, I'm a very busy student, worker, wife... but still, I'll try to be faster the next time. ^_^



Chapter 12: History Repeated
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History Repeated



It was still dark when he opened his eyes.

She was lying partly on top of him, her hand caressing his chest. She was deeply asleep.

He couldn't quite remember at first how she had ended up there, but gradually his memory started working. He had asked her. And better yet, she had obliged. There had been no mockery in her actions, just pure kindness.

The girl was completely infuriating. She was too perfect for her own good, and she trusted people far too easily. How could she be so God damn trusting?

He might have taken advantage of her. He probably couldn't have done that in his current state, but it didn't take away the threat of it, did it? Did she trust every other Slytherin half-Death Eater, or did she only let her judgment be clouded with him? He would have to scold her for being such an idiotic child.

But right now, he just wanted to drown in the feel of her arms around him.

She was so exquisite; every bit of her was somehow so very different from other girls he had ever met. She was headstrong and armed with an amazing wit and more courage than an army of Aurors. Hermione Jean Granger, a Muggle-born witch, was his bane and his doom. He was a blood-traitor now. He could never return home, not after what his father had witnessed in that corridor just a few nights ago. It was not Lucius Malfoy's dream to see his only son holding hands with a dirty creature like a Mudblood, and a friend of Harry Potter's at that.

The thought of his father made his heart feel like a hollow wound. It meant he couldn't see his mother ever again either. He had lost everything in that short moment, when Lucius had tried to kill them. If Potter hadn't interfered, if he hadn't been the damn hero that he was, his own head would now be hanging on the wall of his father's study. He didn't even want to think about all the possible fates that could have waited for Hermione.

Draco shifted a little so he could see her face, peaceful and still as she slept. Was she really worth all the trouble?

He sighed, lying heavily against the pillows, trying to escape the reality as best as he could. This was not good. She was so close to him now, so very close. Her heart beat was like his. Her blood was the same. Her skin, her hair, her dreams, her thoughts… His father had lied. All his life he had listened to those lies. They were real people, Muggles. If you stabbed them with a knife, they bled. If you kissed their cheek, they blushed.

And he had known. It was something he had carried inside him, hidden. His secret. Part of him had always known that Muggles were just the same, people with hearts to love and hate with equal passion.

The memories threatened to wash over him, the ones he had pushed back, locked somewhere deep inside his being. He was still holding them back, but the wall was crumbling, letting through parts of those unwanted shadows of his past. They filled him with fear and agony, but also with longing. He wanted to feel whole, something he had never experienced. There were so many broken pieces in the puzzle that formed the person called Draco Malfoy. It amazed him that he was still able to function almost normally, even though he had been brain fucked so thoroughly by everyone who should have loved him - including himself.

Love, what was it anyway? Could he ever love? Could he ever love her? It made his throat tighten, the thought of loving someone, trusting someone enough to let his guard down. Love. He had never experienced it. Yes, his mother had loved him, probably still did if she was sane enough to remember him, but it was that expecting kind of love. Be this and I will love you. Do that and I will be proud of you. It was not unselfish.

Could anyone love him unselfishly? Could he?

"You awake?" came a muffled sound close to his right ear.

It startled him, her soft voice and the way it made him feel. It was unbelievable how good it felt to wake up with someone. But he wasn't ready to face her now, not like this, not after everything. He needed time to think, time alone.

He tried to steady his breathing as though he was still asleep. He willed his muscles to relax while he listened to any sounds she might make. Please, go back to sleep.

"You're faking."

Draco smiled at the tone of her voice, which held a playful tune, but still managed to make her sound quite drowsy. Why did she have to be everything that he liked?

"Do you ever miss a thing?" he asked, deliberately drawling the words, buying time. She would never go to sleep now. She would pester him with questions and stir up those strange and uncontrollable emotions within him. She was so troublesome.

Hermione propped herself up against her elbow, looking into his eyes, and answered, mirth written all over her pompous face. "Hardly. They don't call me a genius for nothing, you know."

It was so easy to be like this with her. She was so genuine, not at all like the Slytherin girls, always trying to gain something from him. She said what she meant; she acted upon her true feelings, never betraying the person listening to her.

Without meaning to change anything between them, he brushed a single, wayward eyelash off her cheek - but it wrecked everything. They had dwelled in such a friendly atmosphere, but now she withdrew from him, scared of the possibilities of that simple touch. He could see it in her eyes, the shifting of protective walls, even though she didn't move an inch.

Shit.

He wanted to fix it, make it all right, to somehow take it back. He didn't want her to look at him like that, like she was desperate to escape and only thinking of ways to do just that. He wanted that comfortable companionship to return. And for the first time in his life, he did something just to make the other person feel better.

He closed his eyes and relaxed, letting his left hand - the one that had caressed her cheek just mere seconds ago - fall down on the soft mattress by his side, hoping that the gesture was both reassuring and promising. Then he said very quietly, "D'you ever get that feeling, when you just want to stop time and stay in that one place forever?" It was meant to be a meaningless question, meant to make her feel safe again, but somehow it turned out to be something deeper. He groaned inwardly.

To his surprise he felt her lie down next to him, head coming to rest against his shoulder. When had they passed that awkward phase of not quite knowing how to be close to one another? He had no idea.

She sighed and he could almost sense the smile, lingering in the corners of her mouth. "Hmm..." she started. "I often feel like that when I'm alone, reading." She paused, slightly insulted by the snort he couldn't quite suppress. "Don't laugh at me. I know what you're thinking, but it's not like that. It's not. It's just that when I'm reading and the whole castle is bristling with energy, magical and spiritual, and there's no need to be anything... There's just me, the words and everything falling into its rightful place - it's perfect."

She fiddled with the edge of the blanket. "Do you think it's stupid?" she whispered.

"Merlin, no." The answer was too quick, revealing too much of his real emotions, but he couldn't help it, not with this girl. "I mean," he explained further, "it's the best kind of loneliness - feeling content within yourself." He had never felt like that. He had always needed other people to tell him that he was worthy, and even then, he had felt worthless. Deep down, he had always felt worthless.

She snuggled closer and murmured quietly, "Do you mind if I go back to sleep? I fought a huge poisonous snake, you know." Now he could actually feel her smile.

He didn't say anything, and after a minute or two, her breathing slowed down and he could feel her body relaxing against his own. She really did trust him. She believed that he would never hurt her. And he desperately wanted that to be true. He wanted to know for sure that he would never lift his hand against her ever again. But how could he be sure? Voldemort had put some kind of a monster inside him. His father had taught him to hate. His friends were all Death Eater wannabes who thought Dark Magic was something cool and made you only powerful. Was there anything good in his life? Had he ever done anything that might even remotely be called pure?

The only thing that he could remember was tainted with terrible consequences.

He tried to swallow the pain down his throat, but it was impossible. The memories really were starting to haunt him now, even though he had done every possible thing to destroy them. How could one remember a memory that was destroyed with a Pensieve?

He was certain it was her fault. She had found the little boy within him. She had talked with him; they had shared an experience. She was so nosy.

Aggravated, he hit his head against the pillow twice. Why did he have to feel so much? If he was more like his father, he wouldn't be in this situation at all. He would now be joining the ranks of Death Eaters, proud and deserving. The Dark Lord would have welcomed him... he wouldn't have turned him into a weapon.

Merlin!

He remembered. The summer. The Soul Ripper was a test, but he had failed it. He had fought it. He didn't want to be a slave, not to those people, not to the Dark Lord, not to anyone. He had fought the beast out of him. It had hurt so much. It had eaten away his memories, his dreams and thoughts. It had all of him inside it. And he, Draco Malfoy, had destroyed it, one of the Dark Lord's little pets. When it wasn't inside him, it was just a small bug, and he had stepped on it. Somehow, he had been freed from the chains and had stood up. And they had stared at him, shocked and raged. Even his father.

But Voldemort had stopped their attack, had stepped in between his servants and the one who had defied him. And he had said, "Promising, most promising." Then, all had gone black.

He was a weapon? Could it be true? Would his father have allowed it?

His hold on Hermione tightened as the thoughts and memories mingled and rushed through him, making him shake. Would he destroy them all? What would make him go off? What was going to happen to him afterwards? Could anyone save him? Save the others?

He was breathing hard now, the shock making his body heavy and his skin tingling. Was he going to kill everyone? Even Hermione? Please, no.

His mind was scattering, every fibre of his being screaming silently. He had to get away. He had to leave Hogwarts. He had to escape the inevitable fate. Now!

Draco moved his arm carefully from under Hermione's sleeping body and tucked her in almost gently, feeling overwhelmed by the need to keep her safe. Please, don't get hurt, he caught himself thinking as he stepped away from the bed, shocked. He really did care for her, more than he ever knew.

Then he was already running, fleeing, his fears driving him to go faster. He had no plan, no idea where to go or what to do. All he could think about was, Leave. Leave. Leave.

He didn't even get out of the castle before someone was at his heel, chasing him, trying to keep him there with everyone else - there where he could hurt people. He struggled to keep the scream of frustration inside. They didn't understand. He wasn't strong enough to fight it.

"Draco, stop!" It was Professor Snape of all people. He was a Death Eater; of course he wanted to keep him there. And part of him wanted Snape to catch him. Let them use me. But the part that was stronger kept running, kept the distance.

"Petrificus Totalus!"

His legs went rigid and he fell down a set of stairs. Merlin, he hated magic! The bastard could have at least waited until he was on solid ground.

Footsteps echoed in the stairway, and then he felt someone pick him up. He wasn't even scared. Snape could erase his memory, could still make him a usable tool, but he didn't care anymore. He was through with them all!

"So, you remember," Snape stated instead of hexing him or stealing his memory. Dumbfound, Draco looked at his one time favourite professor in the eyes, seeing only concern and something even deeper. Was it regret? Severus Snape had been worried about him? What was going on? He knew that the man was a Death Eater for sure. His father had told him so. Dumbledore was a fool to trust him.

Draco couldn't move, but his eyes were blazing. How dare they do this to him?

"Finite Incantatem," Professor Snape muttered, releasing him when the effects of the spell vanished.

Draco stood, facing the man he had once almost worshipped. "Stay the hell away from me!" he screamed, leaning over with his hands on his knees, breathing unsteadily. "Stay... away... from... me." He could see black spots in his vision and knew that he was losing consciousness. He couldn't. He had to get away. He had to run.

"Draco-" Snape started, but the boy cut him off.

"Shut up. I don't want to hear anything from you. You were there!" He paused to take a shuddering breath. "You were there. You saw it and did nothing. Just like my father. You did nothing." He collapsed on his knees, desperation taking hold of his heart and mind. "You did nothing to stop it."

Snape kneeled and grabbed his shoulders. "I couldn't. The war needs me more..."

"More than me, you mean. I'm expendable, aren't I? Worthless," he hissed through his teeth. They had betrayed him, the ones he had looked up to his whole life. They took his loyalty, took his appreciation, and spat on it. They made him a prisoner inside his own body.

And now he was a slave after all, a puppet of his Master.

"No! I let you down, but I didn't know they were going to start the initiation so soon. I didn't know that Lucius would put you through it before you were of age. I didn't know. I'm so sorry." He hugged the boy without any awkwardness, knowing that there was nothing he could do, but try to make Draco realise that he was cared for. He had to convince the boy that they were doing everything they could to keep him safe now.

"Fuck off!" Draco pushed the older man away, hitting him hard, first on the jaw and then anywhere he could land a blow. "You knew! You fucking knew! Fuck you!"

Snape did nothing to stop him. He took all his anger, letting Draco exhaust himself thoroughly, and when the boy finally passed out, there wasn't a part of his body that wasn't aching. It hadn't been a wise thing to let the blows hit through, but sometimes he wasn't a very wise man. It had felt like the right thing to do.

He lifted the unconscious boy from the ground and started walking towards the Hospital Wing. He hoped that Hermione hadn't woken up. She had to be strong enough to handle tomorrow, both of the children had to.

"What happened?" Professor Dumbledore asked as he appeared from the shadows of a nearby pillar to walk beside him. He looked at the boy with concern. "Did he remember?"

"Yes, unfortunately," Snape answered wearily. "It's too soon. And he shouldn't have been alone."

Dumbledore squeezed the professor's shoulder for a moment. "I'm sorry. I should have thought of this. It was obvious the coma had something to do with these memories. I was just too relieved to see them both alive to realise the significance of these events."

"We all were," Snape said regretfully, and then after a short pause asked, "Where's Amadeus?"

Dumbledore glanced at him, surprised to see that there was no resentment on his face. Finally he said, "With Hermione. He has protected these children from both the outside world and themselves. Without him, Draco might have escaped and ran to his doom. He was the only one thinking at least a little bit coherently." He sighed deeply before continuing. "This week has been exhausting for all of us. The attack has made us weak, and it's only a matter of time before they'll try it again. This time I wish us to be ready."

Professor Snape chuckled softly. "Don't be so modest. You had an eye on them, too. I saw Fawkes."

The sound made Dumbledore smile. Yes, he couldn't fool an old friend. "Don't tell him," he quietly uttered.

"Don't worry, I won't. He can have his special moment. I'm too old for pissing contests anyway."

Still smiling, Dumbledore added, "But he isn't. Remember that."

They walked the rest of the way in a comfortable silence, both thinking of ways to make everything easier for the two Head students. It would be a dreadful ordeal for all of them.

Once they reached Madam Pomfrey's realm, they were relieved to find Hermione still asleep and Amadeus' powerful figure watching over her.

Snape laid Draco on the bed next to Hermione and then questioned, rather puzzled, "Didn't we leave her on this bed the last time?"

"Yes, I think we did." Dumbledore couldn't quite hide the mirth in his voice and the Potions Master looked at him with indignation, snarling. "You know I don't approve any of this."

"I'm quite certain that you don't," the Headmaster said matter-of-factly. "But I don't think you have any say in this matter."

For a second, it looked as though Professor Snape was going to press the matter further, demanding answers and solutions that dwelled nowhere near the idea of uniting the Houses of Slytherin and Gryffindor. He felt like growling, but then decided that he truly was too old for acting like a seventeen-year-old Slytherin. He should leave that to Draco Malfoy.

He took a minute to compose himself and then said, "What shall we do now? Leave them here and wait till this happens again, or take turns in keeping watch beside their beds?"

Amadeus looked at him from head to toe and scoffed scathingly. "You should go to bed. You look like a raged manticore just mangled you."

Oh dear, Dumbledore thought and then, before the furious Potions Master could lash back at his fellow professor, he announced, "Fawkes will stay here and keep both of them calm till the morning. We should all go to sleep - except of course Poppy. We have a long day tomorrow. Don't you agree, gentlemen?" He didn't leave any room for arguing, and soon they were out of the Hospital Wing and on their way to their individual sleeping quarters. The children would be safe, for the night anyway.

And the morning finally arrived, lifting the veil of darkness, caressing their faces with warmth and light.

The rays felt sweet on her skin, making her smile before she opened her eyes. She was alive, and so was Draco. They were both going to be all right.

"About time," a boy's voice sneered. It was distinctively Draco's, and even though it held such a scornful tone, she could only laugh when she heard it.

"You." She turned to face him, sitting up. "You are one lucky Slytherin. Not every Gryffindor girl would run after you to the end of the world and back. You owe me." She jumped off the bed and came to sit on his, snatching food from his tray.

"Hey!" He tried to stop her from stealing his food, but only ended up with butter in his hair. "Hey!" Now he sounded even more offended.

"Are you always this articulate in the morning?" she asked, smiling, and then went to sit on the window sill behind Draco's bed, munching on a piece of bread. "Oh, you can see the Forbidden Forest from here. It looks less dangerous from this distance and height. I wonder..." She leaned her forehead against the glass, feeling the coldness of November.

"Are you always this hyperactive in the morning," he muttered under his breath.

"What'd you say?" Hermione asked absentmindedly, breathing on the glass and writing something Draco couldn't see. He was pretty sure he didn't mean to be watching her either.

"Nothing."

She sighed dramatically and then turned to look at him, saying, "Dumbledore is planning something. He's using us."

She looked sombre, the earlier lightness washed away from her eyes and frame. Somehow, she was always about honesty. She followed her own truth, always real, always ready to face what ever came in front of her, whether it was huge snakes or insane little boys like him. She was peculiar.

He sighed in return. "I know."

Startled, she exhaled, locking her eyes with his. "I didn't mean it in a bad way."

"I know."

"Stop saying that. I know you know, you bloody insightful git. Harry was right. You see too much with your piercing grey eyes," she exclaimed, sounding quite exasperated.

Draco smiled. "I hope he didn't say I have 'piercing grey eyes'. I'm going to be very afraid if one of your friends decides to fall for my dashing good looks."

Hermione looked at him with utter bemusement and then she laughed, unable to maintain any kind of respectable face. The mental image of Harry fawning over Malfoy made her double over and laugh even harder. She had no doubt Harry would hex her for even thinking of such things.

"What? You think I'm not attractive enough?" He was still smiling. "You think I haven't received questionable suggestions from boys and girls alike? Well, you are wrong, my dear."

"Oh, I believe you. I believe anything about you, Draco Bellator Malfoy." She sounded almost challenging as she leaned forward, eager to see his reaction.

Draco stared at her for a long while before inquiring very quietly, "You still remember that name?" He blushed, hiding his face in his hands. "I hate that name," he muttered. He couldn't remember when he had felt more embarrassed. He never shared his second name with anyone. It was the stupidest name ever, and he cursed the damned Malfoy ancestor from whom he had inherited the all too feminine name.

She giggled. The bloody Gryffindor was actually laughing at him.

He could feel her presence move closer to him, sit on his bed, touch his forearm and pull his hand off his face. She said quietly, still smiling, "It's a good name. You do know the meaning of it, don't you?"

"Draco? Actually it means both snake and dragon. I guess it's a good name for me." He took hold of the tray on his lap so he had something to do with his hands. For some odd reason, Hermione had no sense of private space any longer. She sat down close to him just as easily as she hugged Ron or Harry. It was a bit alarming.

Her smile grew wider as she explained, "No, Bellator. It means warrior. Your name means Dragon Warrior. I think it suits you. You have so many battles behind and ahead of you. It's a good name, a strong name. And I'm sure you'll live up to it."

The compliment was so sudden and so honestly given that he had no means to accept it. He would stumble with words if he tried to speak. She had a talent for making him feel completely vulnerable, and unfortunately, he had no shields against her. He was truly lucky that she was a good person, otherwise he would have witnessed some spectacular shredding of his passionate little soul during these past few months - on a bit of a different level than now anyway.

Leaning against the pillows nonchalantly, he stated, "Well, of course. I'm a Pureblood wizard from an ancient family. I'm supposed to have a strong name." He softened his words with a glint in his eyes. He hoped she would let the matter drop and move on to easier, less dangerous subjects.

Hermione took the hint, studying his hands instead of his face, and noticed something rather interesting. "You have quite a few rings. Why?" To his great surprise she took his right hand in hers and pulled at one of the rings on his forefinger. "Can I hold it?" She lifted her pleading eyes to his. "Please?"

He nodded, letting her pull the ring off his finger.

"It's gorgeous - and incredibly heavy. Where did you get it?" She looked at it from every direction, lifting it to the light of the sun, putting it against the white sheet of his blanket and just holding it with care on her palm. "Beautiful." The ring had a red stone in a smooth crown, and its medieval look gave it a certain grace. The gold had suffered from the years, but still, it was priceless. It was probably the most expensive object she had ever held in her hand.

Draco sighed. "Mother gave it to me when I learned to fly. I had to carry it on a chain around my neck until I turned thirteen, since it was too big. Now it fits almost perfectly."

"It's not magical? I thought it would fit itself on anyone's finger..." She looked at him with questioning eyes. She had never owned a magical ring and didn't quite know about them either, just the things she had heard from her roommates. She should find a book about magical rings. It always made her feel uneasy when she didn't know something about the Wizarding world. It made her feel left out.

"No, but this is," he said, pulling off a simple smooth ring from his left hand's thumb. He gave it to her. "Try it on."

She did that, grinning widely, when the ring circled her own thumb perfectly. "Look." She showed her hand to him, feeling giddy and childish and wanting to share the joy of experiencing something new.

He took her hand to his and pulled it alongside his own. "And look at the size difference. Isn't that just amazing?"

It was - him holding her hand, the ring on her finger - it all made her feel rather dizzy, and suddenly she felt the urge to hug him, tell him that he was precious, loved. She wanted him to know even for this once, even if he rejected her.

"Draco, I..."

Suddenly, the hospital doors swung open and her two best friends came rushing in, screaming. "Hermione, you're alive!"

It was such a shock to her that she would have fallen of the bed if Draco hadn't held her hand firmly. They'd caught her like this, him holding her, them sharing a quiet moment, her almost confessing that she did care for him. Oh bugger.

She pulled her hand away from Draco's and tried to sit a bit further away from him, noticing the amused look on his face. It almost said to her, "Is this the way you want it, little girl?"

The boys stopped abruptly, taking in the scene in front of them.

Harry was the first to speak, but all he could manage was a choked, "Er..." and then he fell silent, too, the awkward quietness expanding all around them.

Draco smirked, feeling absolutely at ease. He didn't care if the whole lot of them squirmed under his piercing eyes. Let them feel uncomfortable, it was only fair and for the betterment of the wizarding kind and all things pure and pretty. He was positive that Fate was starting to love him at last.

Absentmindedly, he scratched the thumb that was missing a magical ring.

Ron cleared his throat and said uncertainly, "Are we... should you..." and then he growled with more determination. "What the hell is going on? Why were you holding hands? The separation process is over, isn't it? What... gah! How?"

"Always the one with words," Draco muttered, but still audibly enough for everyone to hear.

"Malfoy," Harry said warningly, stepping slightly in between Ron and the bed Hermione and Draco shared.

"Potter," Draco exclaimed mockingly, challenging the other boy to a verbal - or a bit less verbal - dispute.

"Stop it!"

Hermione had had enough. The boys were impossible, all three of them. They had absolutely no manners, and their ability to understand matters was on the level of an amoeba.

She stood, took the few steps separating her and the two boys, and then she hugged them both, grateful for every passing second with them, regardless of how stupid they were. "I'm okay. Everything's okay." She breathed, suddenly moved to tears. "I'm okay."

It took only a second for the boys to respond and then they were hugging her back, making her feel precious and safe. The war had made them more willing to show their affection, even in public. It was impossible to know their last breath, the last hastily uttered word, and it was vital to make every moment count.

To Draco, it was all quite new, and to his amazement, he found himself staring at them, fascinated. There was something else behind that feeling, too, but he didn't want to search it any further. It was disturbing enough that she made him almost wish that he had friends like that.

"I'm... I'm sorry," Ron finally said, leaning his forehead against Hermione's. "I blame the hair, but mother keeps insisting it's just me."

Hermione smiled, ruffling his hair affectionately. "I think it's a bit of both." Then she sobered, stepping away from them and closer to Draco, as though making it clear that they weren't alone, and that the blond boy deserved to be a part of their conversation, too. "I think we should talk," she said with a serious tone.

She glanced at Draco briefly, asking, "Can I tell them?"

Surprised, he shrugged, but then nodded in agreement. He hadn't expected her to take his feelings into consideration. He had automatically assumed that she told them everything, no matter how private some things were. Somehow that one question changed things between them. It made them... not quite friends, but something close to that.

He smothered a grin.

Hermione explained what she had done for Draco. She spoke quickly, revealing the clear facts, making everything very simple and easy to grasp. She was born to be a teacher.

As an afterthought she added, "Amadeus has a reason to be here, and it's not just to teach us wandless magic. I think he's here because of Draco."

"What?" All three boys looked at her like she had just lost her mind.

She sat on the bed next to Draco, and the boys stepped a bit closer, their earlier animosity forgotten. "You can't be serious. He's not... well... he's not that important," Ron said, clearly uncertain of how to act nicely in the presence of the obnoxious ferret.

"Why thank you, Weasley. May I just remind you that I happen to be the Head Boy and a Pureblood at that."

"Oh, do shut up." Hermione didn't even turn to look at him. "Actually I think he is. Voldemort did something to Draco this summer, and I think Dumbledore is planning to use it against him. I think Amadeus is the key for that."

Out of pure habit, Ron and Draco winced at the name of You-Know-Who, and when they noticed this, they both looked away, staring at their feet. Bloody Purebloodedness, Draco thought angrily. He didn't want to have anything in common with the redhead.

"Actually..." Harry started, "I'm pretty sure he's here because of me." He looked like he wanted to sink through the floor. There was nothing he hated more than all the attention he was always getting; no matter how forcibly he tried to avoid it. Now he asked for it himself and that made it all the more worse. "Er... he's teaching me privately."

Draco couldn't stop himself. "Of course he is," he mocked, making it sound like the lessons were about something entirely different than Defense Against the Dark Arts.

The trio ignored him fiercely.

"I know," Hermione confessed. "Dumbledore told me when we talked about Amadeus. At first I was worried about him. You know how many ill seeds we've had among our teachers, and I was sure he was one of them. He has that nasty stare and the hair and the make-up aren't doing him any good either... never mind... but it's just that so many things have happened that can't be coincidences. Why is Draco Head Boy? There is no good reason for that."

"Hey, bloody hell, woman. I'm sitting here," the Head Boy growled, demanding attention and understanding. "Don't talk about me like that in front of people who can't even spell their names."

She gave him a stern look and then went on. "And the Peace Treaty; Professor Snape bound us with a strong ancient magic without knowing for sure that we could break it. We could have killed each other. That must have been a desperate move. All of this leads to one thing; they want to keep Draco close to me."

When she noticed their doubting looks, she added, "What about the pairing magic? Why would a spell connect two people who hate each other? Isn't that highly dangerous? It's not logical at all, and mostly magic is all about logic."

Draco watched her, the curve of her mouth, her messy hair, the way she had folded her hands in her lap, and then he noticed the ring in her thumb, shining, claiming. Could she be serious? "Why?" he found himself asking.

"Because I'm very stable and because I'm a Muggle-born witch."

That didn't make any sense. He declared that, and to his amazement, Ron and Harry agreed.

Hermione shook her head, aggravated. "Don't you see? The time we've spent together has changed us. You don't hate me anymore." She said the words directly to Draco, staring into his eyes. "You can't hate me because of all the things I've done for you. Dumbledore knew I would not back down. He knew I wouldn't let you suffer alone."

Draco had difficulties breathing. Her words struck so deep, and he knew she was right. "Why a Mud... Muggle-born, then?" He wasn't sure why he wanted to know, or if he could even take the answer, but he had to ask.

"The war is all about us," she finally answered, her voice kind and soft. "It's all about bigotry. Your kind hates my kind because you think we're lesser than you. We're worthless beings in the eyes of Voldemort. Muggles and Muggle-borns deserve the death sentence he has inflicted upon us. That's his propaganda. But Dumbledore... well, he decided to interfere. He, Professor Snape and Amadeus have gone to great lengths to make us both see the idiocy of this prejudice between us."

"But he's a Death Eater," Draco said weakly, unsure of what to think about all of this. It made sense to him now, and he just couldn't believe how easily manipulated his Slytherin mind had been. He should be ashamed.

Hermione looked puzzled and then asked, "Snape or Amadeus?"

Draco glanced at her quickly. "Both, I guess."

Harry snorted and Draco turned his angry gaze at him. "What?"

"Well, Amadeus is many things, but he's not a Death Eater. He hates Voldemort with every living cell in him. He is rather colourful with his descriptions of the Lord of Darkness." Harry smirked, a wicked glint in his eyes. "He is a criminal, though, and he's here only because Dumbledore asked him to come."

"What?" Hermione sounded like her world had just crumbled at her feet. "Why would Dumbledore let a criminal teach us? It's... unethical."

Harry put a hand on her shoulder, silencing her effectively. "He's one of the old magicians, Hermione. Voldemort is trying to get his hands on the others, but they're not willing to participate in our war. They're not interested in our petty disputes. But Amadeus has a dept to pay; that's the only reason he's here. He is loyal, though - he has no other choice."

Hermione blinked a few times, trying to comprehend what she had just heard. "But he's not old," was the only thing she managed to say.

Harry smiled. "He doesn't have to be. He inherits knowledge. But it's a long story and I'm sure they'll explain it later. I just wanted to make a point that he definitely isn't a Death Eater. I don't think I've ever met anyone who hates Voldemort as much as he does. It's rather scary from time to time."

Draco coughed. "So let me make this clear, not only is one of our teachers a Death Eater, but we also have a known criminal in the staff? Oh joy, why didn’t father send me to Durmstrang?"

"He's not a Death Eater," Hermione said plainly. "He's a spy."

"How can you be so sure, you overly trusting Muggle witch?" Draco questioned, grinning slightly. "How can you know things like that? What if he's only pretending to be a spy for us - you. What if he's selling us - you. Bugger..." He stopped himself before he could sink any deeper into the ugly world of choosing sides.

She smiled widely as she spoke. "I know because he saved me once. He wouldn't have done that if he was evil." The certainty in her was absolute and it sang through her voice.

Draco shot her a nasty glare. "Well, he didn't save me."

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked, confused.

Ron and Harry looked at him, too, as though expecting an answer. Why did he always have to open his big mouth?

"Nothing. It's nothing," he snarled, unable to hide the anger within him.

She leaned closer, looking into his eyes, concerned. "What is it? What happened?"

He pushed the tray off his lap, almost dropping it on the floor, and stood, facing them from the other side of the bed. "Just get off my case. You're not my friend. Fuck off, will you? Is that so difficult to understand?" He was shaking again.

Snape had saved her; not him, but her. The bastard had had a choice. He could have stopped it. He could have chosen him. What an idiot he had been, thinking that these people might actually care about him. They were just as selfish as everyone else.

He backed away from them, his movements rigid and full of anger. They only wanted to use him, abuse him. They only wanted to get what they needed and dispose of him. He was worthless to them, just as he had always believed.

Harry touched Hermione's hand, needing her to look at him. She lifted her eyes to his briefly and noticed the question in his eyes. She shook her head, telling him silently that she didn’t know what was wrong.

Then without hesitation, she pushed both Ron and Harry to sit on her bed - she didn't need them to startle the already panicking Slytherin - and took the first tentative step towards him.

He hissed at her, no words, just pure anger. What had happened? What had made him so completely out of control?

She took another step closer and begged, "Draco, please."

The boy didn't say or do anything, but everything in his body language told her that he was ready to leap. He would try to hurt her. If he managed to do that, her best friends would most certainly come in between them. She didn't want that. It would only get them all hurt.

Hermione thought about her options and realised that she had no idea what to do. She didn't know how to calm him down, because she didn't know what was wrong. Something she had said had done this to him. How could she undo it?

She let him be for awhile, hoping that at least his breathing would slow down a bit. He looked like he was about to faint out of sheer loss of breath. But time did him no good, and she decided to act.

She sat down on the floor very slowly, showing him that she was not a threat. Yawning widely behind her hand, she moved slightly to get her feet under herself, and then she said very slowly and calmly, "I'm never going to hurt you." She kept her eyes directed in her hands. "You're too precious to me. I'm just going to sit here and wait for you to come sit with me. I'll wait for you. I don't know what is going on. I don't know why this is happening, but I want to listen to you explaining everything."

She continued to speak to him softly. She talked about meaningless things, but every now and then she mentioned how much she cared for him and that she would like to talk with him.

Gradually, he moved closer to her, his breathing slowing and his actions normalizing. He sat down, not next to her, but close enough for them to have a decent conversation together. "I'm sorry," he whispered after she had been silent long enough. "I... there's still so many things off-balance in me. And I'm not good at this. Talking. Anything. Could you just let it pass?" He tried to talk quietly enough so the boys, sitting a bit further away wouldn't hear him. He was already too embarrassed about the fact that he had acted crazily in front of them. "Could you?"

It was unbelievable how much like a child Draco was, and how much he needed only encouragement. It was as though he had never been loved. Or maybe people had loved him, but he was just one of those poor souls who needed more than they ever got. She smiled inwardly, looking into his pleading grey eyes, and nodded. "Let's not talk about this now."

She stood, offering her hand to him and he took it, a small grateful smile tugging the corners of his mouth. Together they walked back to where Ron and Harry were waiting. The boys looked at them, curious expressions on their faces. The scene had been too revealing for both of them, and they felt like they had intruded something very private.

Again the awkward silence thundered across the room.

"Um..." Ron tried to break it, but his efforts weren't good enough. He shuffled his feet and locked his hands behind his back. Merlin, it was difficult to be in the same room with someone who didn't act like a normal human being. How did Hermione deal with the Slytherin?

Harry was the next to speak. "We should probably go soon. Dumbledore is waiting." When he noticed the baffled looks around him, he asked, "Didn't we tell you? We're supposed to see the professors now. They've been expecting us all morning."

For a few seconds, Hermione looked at him with utter disbelief. The nerve of him. Harry was the saviour of the Wizarding world, and he was still so unreliable. How was that even possible? "Harry, why didn't you tell us sooner?" she scolded him, gathering the most essential possessions she had there, and then started walking towards the twin doors. "Come, quickly. They are waiting."


***


A/N: Merry Christmas, all. ^_^ I'm happy to say that this story is going along nicely and it will be done after few more chapters... either two or three. I hope you liked this chapter. I had a lot of fun writing it. *hugs to all of you*

Dear Vickie helped me with grammar/spelling/loving. ^_^






Chapter 13: Equilibrium
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Equilibrium



Ron stared at his best friends as they readied themselves for their next adventure. Both of them had changed so much this year, and it made him feel somewhat sad, somehow left out. It seemed as though he didn't matter so much anymore.

Hermione was so smart, and Harry - he was so incredibly strong. What was his part in their story anyway? The world would never miss a poor, mediocre Weasley boy. He had no special skills. His only real merit was his friendship with the Boy Who Lived. And he was a true friend; that was never the topic of his inner debates. He would stand by his best friends at the gates of Hell if need be.

But it wasn't much compared to the amazing talents of Harry and Hermione. They were good friends, too. They cared about other people as well. One day, Harry would stand between Darkness and Light, and he, Ron, could do very little to help him. He wished...

"Mr. Weasley," Amadeus uttered, pulling him from his reverie with a demanding tone.

Ron looked up, releasing his grip on the armrests of the chair. "Yes... Sir?" he asked a bit timidly.

"We need you to balance their magic," the Ancient Magick teacher said matter-of-factly, making Ron exhale audibly.

The boy blinked twice in surprise. "What? Why me?" Wasn't Harry much more powerful? And didn't Malfoy hate his guts? That was likely to cause some problems.

And as though reading his mind, the ferret turned around abruptly, screaming, "Yes, why him? That's absurd. Unheard of. I won't let a Weasley hold my hand. Ever!"

A frustrated sigh escaped Hermione's lips as she forced the blond boy to face her again. It was amazing how patient she was and that she didn't slap him silly. "Draco. Don't move, you idiot. You made me smear the paint all over your face." She spoke with a certain ring in her voice that reminded Ron of all the times she had caught him and Harry planning their next Quidditch match instead of doing their overly boring homework. She could be fairly frightening if she wanted to.

She began to remove the red paint ferociously, letting small puffing sounds inform everyone in the room that she was highly annoyed.

Hermione was actually trying to draw ancient protective runes on Malfoy's skin, following the instructions of a scroll Amadeus had given her, but the task had become increasingly impossible. The Slytherin would not hold still long enough for her to even start the second phase. Ron could almost hear the thoughts of beheading running through her mind.

"Sit! I won't take this anymore!"

She pushed Malfoy into the chair behind the Headmaster's desk. If the old wizard had any complaints about it, he certainly didn't give away such thoughts. Dumbledore was too busy helping Snape with the difficult potion that needed two pairs of skilful hands to prepare.

All of a sudden, Amadeus was there, leaning very close to Ron, looking deep into his eyes as though trying to invade his very private mind. "Were you born this dense, or is it just years of practice?" He seemed to be genuinely interested.

"What?" Ron squeaked, trying to think of something intelligent to say while someone's nose was almost pressed against his. "Eh..." he managed.

Feeling extremely uncomfortable, Ron tried to get out of the chair and far from the reach of his seriously crazy teacher - who also happened to be a criminal - but Amadeus stopped him with a slightly transparent arm.

"You are the only one of us who doesn't have a personal relationship with Lord Voldemort. He doesn't know you. Your magical aura won't blast us to the nether world." He let go of Ron, adding, "Go make yourself useful, Ronald Weasley. Read the part where the balancer makes sure that the magical weapon won't go off while the others try to disable it."

Seriously crazy didn't even begin to explain it. The man was downright dangerous. Why didn't Dumbledore see it?

Sighing in defeat, Ron leaned over the huge book that occupied an old coffee table near Fawkes' cage. Reading wasn't his favourite sport, and the idea of touching Malfoy made him sick. It was such a waste of time. They could have just locked the ferret somewhere underground and keep him there until the war was over - much easier and a lot less painful.

But Hermione seemed to care for the boy. She had been so shocked when Dumbledore had told them what had happened to Malfoy. She actually had tears in her eyes. And when Amadeus explained how they could extract the trigger system from Malfoy, she had looked so determined, so ready to help. Somehow, Malfoy had won her heart... and that meant that there had to be something good about the git. Had to. Hermione would never care about someone so much without a reason.

Ron glanced at Hermione as she gently caressed Malfoy's cheek. Her actions might have been guided by an ancient manuscript, but her eyes betrayed the deepness of her affection. She loved him. It was so obvious. He just couldn't quite tell in what way. Did she love Malfoy like she loved them, Harry and him, or did she love him differently, more personally?

"Ron." It was Harry, watching him with concern in his familiar green eyes. "You okay?"

The question startled him speechless momentarily. It wasn't like Harry to notice other people's discomfort. He was so caught up in his own world, fighting evil lords and such.

"I'm fine. Just look at the things I have to do. I have to touch his forehead every ten minutes to make sure that he's not burning up. And as if that's not enough, I'm supposed to - as he just said - hold his hand. Hold his bloody, slimy hand? God awful old magick, I tell you." If it wasn't so horrible, it would have made him laugh. He was supposed to take care of Draco Malfoy, the same boy who had taunted him for the past six years, him and his family. Oh, the cruel irony of old spells and rituals.

Harry snorted. "Well, he deserves it. Imagine his reaction, when he finds out..." He paused for a moment, becoming more serious all of a sudden. "You're protecting Hermione as well. Look. According to this, you're the most important part of this ancient spell. If you can't keep yourself calm, we all might die."

"What? Let me see." He read the part where Harry was pointing, holding his breath, scared and unbelieving. Why him? He had the temper of a redhead, and his dislike towards Malfoy was infamous. It could not end well.

"Harry, I can't do this. He'll say something and I'll... punch his face. It's an unbearable situation, you know that." He lowered his voice, leaning a bit closer to the other boy. "And look what he's done to Hermione. She's all butter in his hands. Why? That's just plain wrong."

Harry watched Hermione and Malfoy as they chatted quietly, Malfoy looking less smug and Hermione somehow calmer and more open. He found Malfoy's appearance far more shocking and disturbing than Hermione's. He looked almost human.

"I think Malfoy has a bigger piece to swallow," Harry muttered, and then almost jumped out of his skin when Professor McGonagall interrupted their whispered conversation.

"Boys, we have things to do. The sun is setting, and time is not a luxury we have. Get ready," she lectured, her voice cold and business-like. She tried to hide it, but the nervousness was evident in everything she said and did. She would never admit aloud how much she actually cared about the children, but truth be told, it wasn't necessary. They knew. It was the universal law of children knowing everything the adults thought they didn't know.

"Yes, Professor McGonagall," Ron and Harry said in unison, mimicking their classroom voices, and then the reality hit them. They weren't students now. This was it. They were trying to win the war, or at least gain an advantage in the battle. Voldemort's army was on the move, wreaking havoc in the outside world, and they needed something to fight back, something other than Harry. He couldn't win the war alone.

They were equals with everyone in the room.

"Minerva." Amadeus said her name almost fondly as he came to steal her from the boys and then guided her to the middle of the room. "Would you create a magical circle with this sand?" He offered her a heavy-looking pouch, which she took after a moment's hesitation. There was a slightly surprised expression on her face, and Ron thought she looked almost displeased with having to deal with the man who was many decades younger than her and still acted as though he knew everything. "It should be wide enough for three people to lie down in the middle. You know what to do, don't you?" She nodded, frowning deeply, and then started working, pulling up her sleeves.

Amadeus left her without a word, as though forgetting her sheer existence immediately after getting what he wanted. He went to see how the Head students were handling their part of the preparations. Hermione had finally managed to start painting Malfoy's upper arms, and for a change, the boy was quietly sitting still.

Professor McGonagall poured the silvery sand on the stone floor anticlockwise, walking slowly and gracefully, as though following an invisible path. After forming a perfect circle with the silky substance, she pulled out her wand and used it to draw two small crosses in the sand, not very far apart from one another. Then she walked to the other end of the circle and drew another cross there with the tip of her wand. If she had connected the crosses, the lines would have formed a triangle in the middle of the circle.

Professor McGonagall stepped out of the circle, flicked her wand and for a brief moment, the sand burned with a white flame.

Satisfied, she walked to where Dumbledore and Snape were preparing the foul smelling potion. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand and then hid her wand to the folds of her robes.

Ron and Harry closed their mouths. It wasn't often that they saw their professors outside the classrooms. Their interactions were foreign to them, and this particular one had been quite... interesting.

Ron wanted to snicker, but didn't want to draw any attention to Harry or him. The professors were nutters, all of them. Harry seemed to share his opinion, and silently they exchanged grins. It was good to have a friend who knew exactly what you meant without any words involved.

Soon, everything was ready for the Shaqnar ritual.

The Headmaster's office was filled with nervous movement and anxious breaths, but they all stayed perfectly quiet, knowing the urgency and importance of their task. Even Ron managed to keep his tongue tied when Amadeus asked him to sit on the left of Malfoy, who was lying in the middle of the circle. Reluctantly, Ron took the other boy's hand into his own and looked away when Malfoy smirked at him boldly. Hermione sat on the right side, holding Malfoy's other hand, smiling weakly at the two boys.

Malfoy was shirtless, his whole upper body covered in runes, and if the floor was cold under him, he kept quiet about it.

Dumbledore, Snape, Amadeus, McGonagall and Harry sat around them outside the circle, giving their power to the magical circle. If something were to go wrong, they were there to keep it from harming others. Otherwise, Ron, Hermione and Draco were left on their own to fend for themselves in the world of the unknown.

Amadeus cleared his throat. This was new to him, too. He had never tried to disable a magical weapon that was inside a person before. "When you drink the potion, this world will disappear from you. Hermione and Draco will be connected through the pairing magic, and she will be the one to try and disable the trigger. Ronald, you will have to keep breathing normally, keep thinking normally. You will see things as well, but you can't follow Hermione. You will have to stand still and keep your task in mind. You can calm them. And remember, if Draco starts to burn, you will have to step out of the circle. That should end the Shaqnar. Good luck."

With these words, Amadeus handed the potion to Hermione. She took one sip of it, grimacing a bit, and then gave it to Ron. The green liquid looked menacing. Why were potions always green and foul-tasting? He swallowed the liquid quickly and handed it to Malfoy, who propped himself up on an elbow, released Hermione's hand and then drank the rest of it with a stern look on his face.

"Good luck," Harry muttered. It was tough for him to sit on the sidelines and watch his friends get in harm's way. Nevertheless, he leaned closer and willed his magic to cocoon the circle, just as Amadeus had taught him a mere hour ago. Be safe, he thought before he felt the circle close.

Malfoy put the vial down and let himself rest on the cold floor again. Nothing happened. "This sucks," he exclaimed and was just about to sit up when a wave of nausea washed over him. "Let me rephrase that," he muttered, eyes closed. "This sucks major arse."

"Snape said the potion would make us feel horrible. Just wait and concentrate on the connection between us," Hermione said in her know-it-all way, but squeezed his hand reassuringly. She would fix this like she had fixed every other problem they had encountered so far.

"Hermione?" Draco whispered with a strangled voice.

"Hmm?"

The boy gripped her hand painfully, almost as though trying to stop himself from drowning. "It's coming... it's... this works too well... I'm d... "

Ron locked eyes with Hermione, concerned. "You're going?" He knew the answer, but he just had to see it in her eyes. Had to know.

She nodded, and then lay down next to Draco, never letting go of his hand. "Keep us safe."

Ron could feel it, too, the tugging sensation in his stomach, images swirling before his eyes. It was all so inviting, pure, clear... He could just reach his hand and touch the surface of belonging. He felt like lying down, closing his eyes...

...You can't follow...

...safe...


He pulled out just before the pairing magic swallowed him, too. He was breathing hard, seeing red and bright-yellow spots everywhere, thinking in high speed. What was he supposed to do?

He looked at Malfoy and saw the pain carved in the lines of his face. It had something to do with touching. He was supposed to think normally, breathe normally. Oh God, breathe. He steadied his breathing, and while doing so, his mind started working again.

Malfoy's forehead. Check.

Mafloy's hand. Check.

Calming magic. Check.

He had done it. He could keep them safe. He would.


****


"Draco, let go of me. It hurts."

"How many times have you come here without an invitation? How many? You mess with my fucking mind all the time."

He held Hermione against the wall, strangling her. She was up in the air, trying to push his hand away, scared beyond belief. She was rapidly losing her ability speak; only croaking sounds would come out of her mouth now.

They were in a windowless, filthy room. Its only furniture was a large table and the eight chairs that were shoved messily under the table. One of them had fallen over.

It looked like a negotiation room inside a warehouse.

Some negotiation, Hermione thought frantically. This was the worst she had ever experienced with Malfoy. She didn't even know why. She just knew that it had been a bad idea to try and disable the weapon through the pairing magic. They had been stupid to think that Voldemort would ever leave an easy way in. Unless he wanted to. Maybe this time he had wanted them to try just this. Maybe he was prepared for it.

Draco let go of her throat, and then pushed her violently, sending her flying across the room. She landed heavily on the wet floor, all air escaping her lungs. Was he going to kill her now?

"Sit."

Where was she supposed to sit? What did he want? She tried to get up, but her legs wouldn't move. She was paralyzed by fear. This wasn't just because of Malfoy. Something else was terrorizing her very soul. There was something else inside Malfoy. Had to be.

The boy grabbed her hair and pulled her up, shoving her into one of the chairs around the table.

"You wanted to come. You wanted to see. You wanted to fix. Now fucking watch." He was spitting out every word with such malice that it was hard for her to keep looking at him. She didn't turn away, though. She had to stall him. She had to get her voice back. She had to figure out how to get out of there without harming anyone, including the mad, raving boy in front of her.

"They are coming."

A steel door to her left opened. It creaked, rust raining down from its hinges. Hermione could hear whispers circling the room, and she could almost see the shadow of her own fears slide closer to her. Something ominous came in with the rest of the group.

Her eyes followed the people gathering around the table, sitting down and acting courtly as though having a dinner party. A little boy lifted the overturned chair and sat on it, closest to Hermione. She recognized the boy as the same one who had helped her many times before. The rest, they were evil. Lucius, Voldemort, a masked Death Eater, Narcissa and a man Hermione didn't know. Voldemort sat at the head of the table, smiling, revealing his teeth.

Malfoy didn't sit down, but kept pacing around the room. Was he nervous? Angry? Betrayed? Frightened? Hermione couldn't read him now. He was so different from the boy she had come to know. And yet again, wasn't. This was the Draco who wanted to be a Death Eater. This was the Draco who wanted to see her die, suffer. This was the boy who couldn't care less about other people. It wasn't so long ago that she had known him as such. But why was he acting like that now?

Nobody said a thing, and she soon realized that they were expecting her to begin. What could she say to a crowd like that?

Hermione glanced at the little boy, but he was playing with the hem of his robes, trying to look like he wasn't there at all.

She glared at them with what she hoped would be frustration rather than fear, and then swallowed nervously. "Are you going to kill me?" she asked, her voice thin and raspy. It hurt to speak and she tried not to lift her hands to her throat.

The little boy seemed to become smaller, and then she could almost hear him think, Wrong, wrong, wrong... don't say that. You know what to say. You've always known. Don't let us down now.

Voldemort's eyes flashed, but nobody answered.

What was she supposed to do? How was she supposed to solve this problem? Something had happened to Malfoy when he drank the potion. What? How could she save him?

She turned to look at Malfoy, still pacing the room. She gathered her courage and whispered, "I love you. I only want what's best for you. Please, Draco."

The boy stopped and came to stand inches away from her, snarling. "I don't fucking care what you want or feel. It's never about you. It's never about anything. There is no choice. Just fucking accept it." He left as abruptly as he had stepped into her private space. He was worried, she could tell that much.

A choice? What choice? These people, they were all influencing Malfoy somehow. They had power over him? They ruled him? Perhaps, or perhaps he was fighting their rule over him and he wanted her to... acknowledge it? What? That he could do it on his own? That he didn't need her to save him?

What are you trying to tell me? she screamed silently.

The little boy looked at her, startled. Can you read my mind?

Yes. She was equally surprised.

Oh... You're in serious danger. The weapon is connected to me. You can't save us. He will never remember and I will never tell. He's angry because he can't feel anything else. All his feelings are locked inside these people. The potion separated him from you. You can't save him this time. You have to get out of here. I can help you. Please, let me.

"No!" She could hear her own voice echo through the walls. Gryffindors were famous for their courage, but she was pretty sure stubbornness was one of their characteristics as well. She leaned over the table, eager to understand the puzzle.

"You." She pointed at Narcissa. "What did you take?"

The woman smiled to her sweetly. "Trust."

Merlin, what an awful mother. "Willingly?"

"Never. I love him more than anything in this world."

Hermione shook her head. This would not be easy. Next, her finger pointed at Malfoy's father. "What about you?"

Lucius cocked an eyebrow at her, drawling, "Everything, perhaps?"

Malfoy came to stand behind her chair, leaning close, whispering to her ear. "What the hell d'you think you're doing?"

She smiled a little. "Learning."

Shocked, the boy backed away from her. "Hermione, don't do this, please."

She turned to face him, saying, "You invited them here. You wanted me to talk to them. Why?"

"You're not supposed to know. Just leave."

Hermione stood, tentatively walking closer to Malfoy. "What don't you want me to know?"

Draco backed to the wall. He looked like a deer in the headlights of a car. Hermione's father had once run over one, and the eyes of the poor creature had followed Hermione to her dreams. Now the same eyes were staring back at her.

"Draco, the trigger is connected to this... thing you're hiding. Can we disable it here? Or should I go?"

"No."

She sighed. "No? To what?" She took a step closer and tilted her head slightly, looking into his downcast eyes. "No, we can't disable it?"

He shook his head, and then realized it wouldn't give the correct answer, so he added, "No, we can't."

"Should I stop talking to these people?"

He nodded.

"Why are we here?" It was a barely audible whisper.

Suddenly, he lifted his gaze, eyes shining. "Because I want to believe." Something shifted in his features, and he grabbed Hermione by the collar of her blouse, pulling her against him roughly. "Because I don't want to die. Because I want it to be over. Can you make me feel?"

He buried his face to her neck, grabbing a fistful of her hair. "Make me feel," he muttered against her skin. "Make me feel."

It all made her feel somehow otherworldly: his strong body against her, the eyes following their every movement, the words he had uttered with desperate need. She was painfully aware what he was asking from her, what he wanted her to do... but she didn't know if it would only make a mess out of everything she had worked for so hard.

Nevertheless, her hands snaked up his spine, pulling him closer, pushing his shirt up, wanting to feel his naked skin on her fingertips. "Is this what you want?" She kissed his ear, breathing gently on his sensitive skin, knowing that it would make him moan. And it did. The sound reached parts inside her that were deeply hidden from anyone but herself.

Moving surprisingly fast, he pushed her against the wall and pressed his knee between her thighs. His hands mingled with her hair, tilting her head back, capturing her efficiently. His mouth was so very close to hers, his eyes a dark shade of grey, staring deeply into her, searching for something.

Draco leaned in, touching her lips with his, biting her lower one almost gently. He could feel her surrender to the kiss, and it made him want to pin her against the wall harder, bury himself into her, make her scream. Mine.

Everything disappeared from her but Draco. Her mind was exploding with ecstasy and it didn't feel normal in any way. All her senses were heightened, as though she could only here and now feel so thoroughly. It scared her, and at the same time it made her yearn for more.

She opened her mouth for him, opened herself, mind and body, asking him to take everything he needed. Her tongue found his and the soft wetness made her feel boneless, like liquid fire. She grabbed the back of his shirt, desperately holding on to him. Please, make me feel more.

"Draco," she murmured in his ear. "Draco... I want you."

He knew it, and still it made him hiss through his teeth and bite her neck. Her voice did funny things to his rational mind. All he wanted was to take her. He lifted her legs around his waist and carried her to the table, placing her on top of it, kissing her lips, her nose, her eyes, her everything.

The people had disappeared, and the room had changed. It was darker, cosier, with candle light and less dripping wetness covering the walls and the floor. The wetness was all in her and he wanted to taste it, touch it. She was completely his.

Some part of his mind still followed the things he was saying. Merlin, you're gorgeous. But most of him was struggling to get rid of her clothes, touch every inch of her body. He wanted to see her come, wanted to hear her scream his name.

Under her touch, his skin was burning, but she could also feel a cooling breeze caress their overly sensitive bodies. It made her relax completely, made her forget all the questions she could have asked. His touch was feather light now, exploring her, holding her with care. He seemed fascinated by her softness, the lines of her body, so different from his, so fitting against him.

He muttered something against her lips while his strong arms pulled her even closer. I love you. She wasn't sure about the words, but somehow she knew it was true.

She cupped his face, pushing his long hair away from his eyes. She wanted to see his heart. They stared into each other's eyes, brown meeting grey, and then she kissed him tentatively. Her thumbs caressed his jaw and cheekbones, her lips playing with his, gently, lovingly.

Something broke inside him. Tears mixed with saliva, and he couldn't tell if they were his or hers. Pain and pleasure roamed freely inside him, and to numb the feelings, he grabbed her hair, tilting her head so he could deepen the kiss.

I love you.

Suddenly, the whole room was burning. They were inside Malfoy Manor, in his room, on top of his bed.

He craved to be inside her. She felt so warm underneath him, and he couldn't resist the urge to purr. It made him feel embarrassed, but also extremely satisfied. She was the only one who would ever see him like this. Hermione was the only girl he wanted, the only one who had seen him at his worst and still, she was here now.

Draco kissed a trail down her jaw, neck, collarbone, travelling lower, loving every inch of her exposed skin. "You're so beautiful," he whispered, opening the buttons of her blouse, kissing the valley between her breasts.

Her breath caught, and her fists curled around the bed sheets, holding on tight. "Oh God," she cried out, arching her back, seeking contact.

Her white, sensible bra made him smile, but at the same time, it was the sexiest sight he had ever seen. She was so predictable, his sensible Hermione.

He let his palm hover above her skin, barely touching, marvelling the warmth radiating from her. She was incredibly lovely, short quick breaths making her chest rise, her lids almost closed, but her eyes still focused on him. "I've never seen anything like you." He continued to whisper, moving to kiss her parted lips, tasting her.

It was then that everything shattered.

Their world ripped apart, crumbling to sawdust and stones before their feet. Draco was pulled to the other end of the burning room by an invisible force, and Hermione, she couldn't stop screaming. Everything was spinning and the flames roared violently, filling their minds with fear and despair.

Then all of a sudden they were back at Dumbledore's office.

"Are they all right?"

"Is he dead?"

"Let me see."

Draco opened his eyes to see Amadeus' face too close to his own. "He's alive," the man said without even trying to hide the relief in his voice.

"She's okay, too," Harry said quietly.

Ron was breathing hard and heavy, sprawled on the floor outside the circle, looking like he had just seen a mountain troll.

"What happened?" Draco croaked, leaning against his elbows, trying to remember what was going on. Luckily his robes were tied around his waist, covering some embarrassing side effects of his time with Hermione.

Amadeus moved a bit, still crouching nearby, but not over him like earlier. "We could ask the same from you. Mr. Weasley had to stop the ritual untimely because you were so... feverish. What happened?"

A part of Draco was sure that Amadeus knew; somehow the bastard always did. He glanced at Hermione quickly, but her eyes were downcast and her bushy brown hair covered her face. She was embarrassed, more than so. She was ashamed that she hadn't remembered her real task. She had let her emotions guide her, and now they had to explain their professors why the trigger was still active inside him. Bugger, bugger, bugger.

He closed his eyes, trying to think. What had happened between Hermione and him was private; he didn't want to share it with anyone. With a shaky sigh, he confessed, "It's impossible to disable the trigger through the pairing magic. I have a strong defence mechanism when it comes to feelings, and the weapon is somehow connected to something that happened to me when I was five." He hated the girl. It was her fault he was spilling his guts now.

Professor McGonagall pushed past the others, kneeling beside him, her old bones complaining loudly. Her cold palm touched his forehead briefly. "You should get some rest. The fever is not settling, and we need time to figure out how to continue from here. You should go back to Madam Pomfrey's and see what she can do for you." She turned to look at the headmaster. "Don't you agree?"

Dumbledore coughed. "The boy is strong," he said pointedly.

"I'm fine," Draco muttered.

"We could use a Pensieve," Professor Snape suggested unexpectedly. He was standing further away, looking at them with distain.

Hermione looked up suddenly, speaking with an airy voice. "That's not possible. He doesn't have that memory anymore."

All of them turned to stare at her, including Draco, whose mouth was open and his eyes big as saucers. "What? How? I... How?"

"Who's articulate now?" Ron muttered under his breath. He clearly hadn't forgiven Malfoy for his earlier comments about his inability to form understandable sentences. Bloody ferret.

Hermione seemed to wake up from a trance, and when her eyes met Draco's, she blushed. She bowed her head again, mumbling. "I've read his mind."

"Whose mind?" Draco asked, anger clear in his voice. "You shouldn't know that."

She kept looking at her hands, her fingers curled around the soft fabric of her robes. "I met him. I know you know."

"Who?" Harry and Ron questioned, confused looks on their faces.

The whole situation was getting out of hand, and Headmaster Dumbledore decided it was time to have some tea. Oh, and lemon drops would be a wonderful addition to their stressful night. Winky popped in and he gave her instructions to bring them tea with a table. He smiled. Life was easy when you had magic.

"Let us discuss this while enjoying some refreshments," he said amicably. The children looked tired. Severus was about to snap someone's head off. Minerva was too worried. And Amadeus, it was hard to tell what he was thinking. It was possible that the man was actually relieved this time.

They all sat down, but nobody said a word. What could they possibly say? Their plan had failed. How should they proceed from here?

Draco sipped his tea, happy to notice that someone actually remembered that he loved milk and honey. So, now Hermione knew about the non-existent memory. Of course she did. She had been inside his mind numerous times. It would have been ridiculous of him to think that she wouldn't find out secrets that he didn't want to reveal.

Hermione tapped his forearm, and he turned to look at her. "I'm sorry," she mouthed, looking as though she sincerely meant it. He nodded, acknowledging it, but not forgiving her, not yet anyway.

"Mr. Malfoy, could you tell us about this memory you don't have?" It was such a stupid sentence that if anyone else other than Dumbledore had said it, Draco would have probably laughed in his face, but the old bat was different. He could say funny things and make them sound reasonable and important. This was one of them.

"I removed it when I was twelve, and then destroyed the Pensieve. It was my father's," he added as an afterthought. It was the first and last time his father had spanked him. It had been utterly humiliating, and he'd rather have his father whip him in the dungeon of Malfoy Manor than spank him like a little kid.

Hermione gasped. The wrath of Lucius Malfoy was not foreign to her either.

Dumbledore turned to Amadeus. "Do you have any knowledge of reinstalling a lost memory?"

Amadeus shook his head, but then added, "When you remove a memory, it's never completely lost to you. Parts of it still stay in your subconscious." He eyed Hermione for a moment and then asked, "Am I to assume that you have met a part of this memory?"

"Yes. A five-year-old boy who's probably a younger version of Draco, but he said that he won't tell anything." She sounded nervous, unwilling to share what she knew. Draco was certain she felt like it would be betraying him if she did.

Dumbledore drank his tea, watching Draco and Hermione closely, seeing more than most did. "What do you think, Mr Malfoy? Is it possible for you to remember that incident even though you wanted to hide it so desperately that you destroyed your father's Pensieve?" He wondered if Lucius had lost anything valuable within it. He had to admit that it was an enjoyable thought. At this point, even the smallest loses the other side suffered were highly appreciated.

"I... I'm... I don't think that's possible." Draco hated himself, hated that small insecure side of him that wished for a better life, better friendships, better parents, better anything and everything. He wanted to smash the cup he was holding, throw it against the wall. Do something to make the buzzing of his mind stop. He did remember already. The wall had crumbled. He had lost. Fucking Granger. Fucking pairing magic. "I'm... not feeling well. Could I go to sleep now?" he asked wearily, hoping that the headmaster couldn't read his mind.

Professor McGonagall made a noise that sounded almost like a haughty, "I told you so." She stood and walked the short distance to Draco's side. "Would you like someone to accompany you to the Hospital Wing, young man?" She looked at the headmaster as she helped Draco up.

"I'm fine, really. Just feeling tired." He pushed her hands away slowly but firmly. "I... will remember. I don't want to kill anyone. I don't want to be the cause of suffering. I don't know... I'll try. I promise." He knew he was sounding desperate, but at the moment, all he wanted was to escape. Harry was staring at him with a calculating look. Hermione was breathing long, deep breaths as though calming herself. Ron hadn't looked him in the eye after the Shaqnar.

"May I be excused?"

Dumbledore stayed quiet for a long while. Finally he nodded, smiling kindly. "You may."

Draco released a breath, turning to leave, when Dumbledore added, "Harry will see that you will get to the Hospital Wing without any... difficulties. I've already asked Poppy to follow the safety precautions we created this morning. You'll be shielded from the outside world. That should prevent any disaster awaiting us." The smile on his face never faltered. "Have a good night."

Now he could understand why Voldemort feared Dumbledore. He might be a senile old goot, but he could crush you with his little finger. That had been a warning. He wasn't acting the way Dumbledore wanted him to act. What was he supposed to do? Turn all Gryffindor on them? Become a snivelling, little goody-two-shoes? He didn't know how, even if he wanted to. He was doing the best he could. Damnit.

Harry rose from his chair, ready to follow Malfoy. For the first time in his life, he felt sorry for the other boy. So much had happened since the beginning of their seventh year and most of it had somehow touched Malfoy. It was a miracle the boy wasn't crippled beyond repair already.

"Shall we?" Harry asked nonchalantly, knowing that it would annoy Malfoy that he was to be escorted to the Hospital Wing.

"Bastard," Malfoy whispered quietly enough for only Harry to hear the word. He smirked, catching the glint in Malfoy's eyes. They weren't quite enemies anymore. He didn't know what they were, but somehow Malfoy felt less like a stranger and more like a familiar thorn in his flesh. He was rather fond of the pain it caused.

Walking quietly through the dimly lit corridors, they looked like two friends, comfortable in each others company. Harry's hair was as messy as always, and he carried himself with the confidence of someone who had always had to take care of himself. He was a few inches taller than Malfoy, but what he gained in height he lost in size; he was definitely skinnier than the other boy.

Draco's long blond hair framed his face, making his angular features softer, more approachable and kind. He looked as though he had always got what he wanted and knew that he deserved it all. The aristocratic poise would probably never leave him completely. Nevertheless, the expression on his face was troubled. "Will you keep a secret?" he asked, fearing the answer, whatever it might be.

Shocked by the sudden vote of confidence, Harry stumbled a bit. After finding his balance, he said slowly, "I guess it depends on what you'll tell me." The questioning look he received made him continue. "I can't keep a secret that could harm the Order in anyway. The war is my first priority."

Draco made a face. He would not admire the stupid Gryffindor. Ever. "No, I'm not expecting you to do that. I'm just... oh, forget it."

Harry stopped, looking at him intently. "What is it?"

Draco sighed. "Can you win this war? If I can believe that... maybe then..." He couldn't continue. He didn't want to choose sides now. It was wrong. He wasn't supposed to be here anymore. He was supposed to stand by his father, do what he wanted him to do. This... this was just leftovers.

"You want me to give you an assurance that I'm going to win this frigging war? Fuck you, Malfoy. Fuck you!" He stomped off, leaving the other boy standing there with his mouth open.

Draco recovered quickly, running after Harry, determined to make him see what he meant. "Wait, you idiot."

Harry turned around, his green eyes burning with hatred. "You calling me an idiot, you snot-nosed coward? We don't need you, just run back to your daddy, Malfoy."

Draco leaned against the wall, crossing his arms against his chest protectively. "You don't know what it's like," he said quietly. "I've lost everything I've ever had. But I don't care. It's not that difficult to get everything back. The fucking hard part is that I don't know what to believe anymore." He lowered his head, staring at his feet. "You don't know what it's like to one day not know what you think of things. I don't have a clue about the world. I've believed these things all my life. All my fucking life I believed him. I listened to him. My world was clear and it had a bottom and it had a top, and it was just simple. Nothing's simple anymore. I don't know what to believe. And I want to believe in something. Can't I believe in you?" He couldn't believe what he was saying. God, he was even softer than he thought. Had he really asked Potter if he could worship the ground under his feet? Just great, just endearingly brilliant. He had finally lost his mind.

Harry stared at him, unable to speak. All the anger had vanished and had been replaced by confusion. He blinked, trying to get his frozen mind working again. "Er..." He tried. "Are you serious?"

The cold, grey eyes stared back at him, steeling themselves against the world where Harry Potters never offered their hands to Draco Malfoys. "Forget it," he muttered, pushing himself away from the wall. "Just forget it."

Panicking, Harry grabbed the sleeve of Draco's robes. "Don't go," he said. "Please."

They stood like that for a long moment. The only sounds were their ragged breathing and the thump-thump-thumps of their hearts in their ears.

"Let go of me," Draco finally said with a cold voice.

Harry released him, reddening slightly. "I'm sorry. Just listen, okay?"

Draco nodded, taking his original pose against the wall. "Tell me."

Harry coughed. He didn't know what to say. He had absolutely no idea how to convince someone that they should definitely follow him to the war. So far, he hadn't needed to do that. "Um... I actually know a little bit about not knowing what to believe. I was eleven when I first found out about the magical world. Nobody had bothered to tell me who I was, who my parents had been. It was quite a shock to realize that there was a huge part in this world that I knew nothing about. It was a good thing, though. It changed everything for the better and I'm sure many Muggle children wish that someone would come and tell them that they were different, that they were supposed to live in another place with magic and unicorns and all kinds of good and pretty things. But still, it changed everything. It shook my world, so to say." He smiled, seeing the acknowledgement in Draco's eyes.

"However, I've never believed in anything. I admire Dumbledore. I love my friends. I have to destroy Voldemort. But I've never believed in anything that profoundly defines my world. So I don't really understand your need to believe in something. I don't know if you can believe in me. But I do know this, I will never stop. I will continue as long as there is breath left in me. I will do everything in my power to free this world from that bastard. He killed my parents. He killed my godfather. He's tried to kill me countless times. I won't let him kill anyone close to me ever again." Harry's eyes were like green flames. They could have burned holes into lesser men, but Draco came to stand opposite Harry, offering his hand.

Harry hesitated only a second and then took the hand in his. Neither of them smiled.



A/N: There're so many people I need to thank. First my dear beta, Vickie, who has done a marvellous job betaing my silly stories. ^_^ Then Canadian Warrior Babe who helped me through a difficult phase. And finally FaymosAmos who constantly keeps my spirits up.

I'm going to finish this story before the next (and the last) book comes out. So expect a bit more regular updates from here on. I hope you enjoyed this and if you have any questions, feel free to ask me.

Why hasn't the weapon activated yet?

Who is Amadeus?

What is the Book of Dreams?

How did the Death Eaters get into the castle?

All these will be answered soon. ^_^


Chapter 14: Draco's Worst Memory
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Draco's Worst Memory



Hermione found herself wandering towards the Hospital Wing right after the meeting with the professors. She knew Madam Pomfrey would not let her in, especially since the certain someone she wanted to see was all right. Harry had said that Draco had been very cooperative when Madam Pomfrey had performed the spell, creating a protective shield around him. She hoped that he wasn't feeling desperate. The events of that night still haunted her, and she wasn't the one with the tampered mind.

She stopped before the twin doors of the school hospital and waited. Should she knock? Or should she just walk in unannounced? Was he awake? Would he talk to her?

She blushed. What could she say to him? She could still feel his fingers against her skin, travelling lower, touching her with such care. She had never been touched like that before. Should she feel embarrassed that she had let a Malfoy get that close to her? She didn't. She couldn't. Draco was different. Something was changing, and she wanted to see it to the end - no matter how hurt she might be after it was all over.

She knocked. After waiting for two long minutes, she was about to knock again when the doors swung open.

Madam Pomfrey looked at her with weary eyes and then nodded. "You have permission to come in, but I can only let you stay for fifteen minutes."

She led Hermione through the wide, long room. All the beds were empty, reminding Hermione of the attack that had happened mere days ago. The beds could have been full of dying people. Why hadn't the Death Eaters killed anyone? It was still a mystery. They hadn't even tried. They had destroyed almost the whole library as they looked for the Book of Dreams, but everything else was left untouched.

She could still remember Lucius' eyes, filled with murder and pure hatred. They weren't the same as Draco's. She couldn't even imagine Lucius having any of the gentler looks that Draco had shown her. He wasn't human, he was just evil.

Draco lay on the bed eyes closed. He was wearing a black pair of pyjamas, and in Hermione's opinion, he looked gorgeous in it. Nothing gave away to the fact that he was under a shield spell.

"He's still awake," Madam Pomfrey said with a smile, and as though reacting to her words Draco opened his eyes. He was lying on his back on top of the covers, a smug expression on his face. He crossed his arms behind his head, staring at them boldly.

The smile on the school nurse's face grew wider as she started walking towards her office. Turning to look at them over her shoulder, she said fondly, "I'll leave you two alone, but I do expect you to behave. I'll be back in twenty minutes."

The words registered to Hermione only after Madam Pomfrey had disappeared into her office. She had given them an extra five minutes. Sometimes it was a blessing to be The Hermione Granger. She sat down on the left side of his bed, blushing again. "How are you?" she asked with a shaky voice.

The pyjama jacket revealed his lower stomach now that his hands were behind his head, and Hermione couldn't stop herself from staring. He was doing it on purpose; it was the only logical explanation. He was annoying by nature, and this was his way of torturing her.

"My eyes are up here." He chuckled.

The blush on her face grew an even deeper shade of red, and she was about to stand up and leave, when his strangled words stopped her. "Don't go, please."

She turned to look at him, realizing that all the smugness had gone from his eyes. He was concerned and looked suddenly a lot younger. It was a vulnerable look, and somehow she felt immensely grateful that he could still be like that in front of her.

His right hand reached for hers, but the shield stopped him. "I'm sorry."

Was that the fifth time he had ever apologized to her? And what for? For the way he had acted now, or for the things he had done when they were inside his mind? Maybe both.

She touched the shield with the palm of her right hand, wordlessly asking him to do the same, and he did. For a short moment they gazed at each other, not smiling, not saying a word, just listening to their quiet breaths.

"Um..." She finally broke the silence. "Do you know what happened? Why we couldn't disable the trigger? Why you reacted the way you did?" Her voice was uncertain, quivering. She wasn't sure if it was okay to ask such questions. Were they good enough friends?

Draco stared at the fabric of his pyjamas, suddenly realizing that he was still holding his hand against Hermione's. He pulled his hand away, hiding it between his thighs alongside his left one. Could he form the actual words like he had practised in his mind so many times already? Could he tell her? He could try.

"The memory is not very real." He knew he wasn't answering her questions directly. Still, this was what he needed to say. Hermione sat quietly, a neutral look in her eyes, and it made it easier for him to begin.

"I can't feel any of the emotions that belong to this memory. Those are gone." He paused, pulling one of his rings off his finger, playing with it, remembering the ring that he had given to Hermione earlier that morning in this very same room.

She hadn't given it back to him yet.

Clearing his throat, he continued, "In short, I had a Muggle friend. Her name was Lissa. Her dad was a firm believer of magic, and he wanted to prove its existence.

"We had a summer place in Wales by the seashore. She was there with her dad, and we just kind of got to know each other. At first, I didn't even like her. She was so strange, a tomboy with a loud mouth and a dirty set of clothes. I just couldn't understand her manners, nor the way she fooled everyone, played them so easily.

"Yeah, she was weird. And mind you, we were only five at the time. Mother didn't know that I had found a way to slip through the magical barrier. She didn't know, until one day I brought Lissa home with me. I was so proud. She was my first real friend... and we'd just built a sandcastle. I wanted mother to see it. I wanted to show her how big it was - I'd used magic without really knowing it.

"Mother was petrified. Not only was Lissa a Muggle, but I'd also brought her with me, showing her our not-so-normal house. Mother sent her away and me to my room. The next thing I know, Father is home, furious beyond belief. He didn't say anything, he didn't have to. I could see it in his eyes, the disappointment. At that moment he hated me, truly from the bottom of his heart... hated me.

"He left me with Mother, was gone for fifteen to twenty minutes and - I never saw Lissa again. I don't know what he did. I didn't know then what my Father was capable of. Now... I know he's killed many."

Pulling his legs close to his body, he leaned his forehead against his knees, hugging himself. "He's my father," he whispered finally.

Hermione's mind was racing. That's why Bellator, the little boy, called himself guilt. That's why there was a separate part inside Draco. He was blaming himself for what had happened, for everything. Sudden helplessness washed over her. What could she say? Nothing she could think of would make things better. But still, she had to be able to do something for him.

Drawing in a shaky breath, he added, "So yes, I'm a monster. And maybe I do deserve all this. Maybe you should just send me to You-Know-Who and be done with it. Maybe I'm just not worth saving."

Furious, Hermione felt like kicking the curled-up boy. How dare he think like that? "You can't honestly believe that," she demanded with a forceful tone of voice.

He lifted his gaze to hers, but didn't say a word even though she could clearly see the yearning for answers in his grey eyes.

"You can't honestly believe that it's your fault? You were five, you were just a child. You weren't capable of a single cunning thought. You were just you, a small boy who had found a friend."

Draco winced, hiding his face again, and since the shield stopped her from touching him, she merely continued to speak softly. "You couldn't have known. Don't ever say that you're a monster. Annoying perhaps, unstable and stupid at times, but you're far from a monster. I think of you as a friend. It's not something I say lightly. Have you ever seen me befriend anyone other than Harry or Ron? No. I don't like to socialize much, because I'm not very good at it. I like Ginny. I can stand most of the people in our year, but I don't befriend people easily. Despite your shortcomings, I've come to care for you. This thing between us, this mutual need for something solid and real... it's a good thing."

She stopped for a breath, shifting to a better position, and then found her train of thought again. "I think you're a good person, and I want you to survive this. I want you to work your butt off to solve this problem. I really do, because I don't want to lose you... and neither does anyone else." She looked at him intently, the begging tone in her voice getting ever stronger. "Please tell them about this. Please let Dumbledore and the others help you. Please?"

"You really think of me as your friend?"

Was that the first thing that came to his mind after her tirade? He was peculiar. She smiled warmly. "Yes."

It was a simple answer, but it meant the world to him.

Draco crossed his legs, staring at her carefully, the need to hide leaving him suddenly. He had no idea how deeply she felt. He had always tried to avoid his own feelings for her, never quite taking in hers. But there were so many uncertainties in their lives at the moment. How could she so easily dismiss all the dangers that faced them?

"What if you disappear, too?" he asked. "Father already knows. What if he comes after you? Kills you? You'd be dead because of me. I don't want that."

Hermione cursed the stupid magic that always blocked their needs. She wanted to touch him, hug him, somehow show him that she was serious. All the hesitation and fear were gone. She felt calm. "Don't you think I'm already in danger? I'm Harry's best friend. It would be so easy for Voldemort to hurt him through Ron or me. Dumbledore has already hidden my family, because as Muggles, they can't protect themselves in any way. Voldemort could kill them in a heart beat. Harry knows this. He's a danger to us all. I could be killed because of him." She paused for a moment, looking at all the different emotions crossing over his face. "Do you see me walking away? Do you see me abandoning him just because this crazy, super powerful lunatic is after him and his close ones? No. I won't leave his side, and neither will Ron. One Lucius Malfoy won't scare me away. I'm built stronger than that."

Shocked and disbelieving, he just kept staring at her. She was downright telling him that her friendship would never waver, that she would never leave his side. Also, it had never really occurred to him that Harry's friends were in that much danger. And he had just made a pact with the boy, a pact that could very well get him killed, too.

He was crazy, he had to be. All his life he had done everything he could to make things as simple as possible. He was the top dog, or at least wanted to be one. Now... now he was giving his loyalty to someone else, trusting someone, believing in something bigger... He had to be crazy. Only crazy people made decisions like that - or good people who were too dumb to keep themselves alive. Oh bugger. Had he made the wrong decision after all?

"Say something," Hermione pleaded, looking as though she was ready to burst. She had revealed everything, and he was just staring at her, eyes as big as saucers. Annoying boy, really.

"I'm... what d'you expect me to say? You just told me that being close to Harry will most definitely get me killed." Draco sighed dramatically. "My life is never going to be easy."

Hermione's expression was, mildly put, alarming. He was quite happy that he was under a protective shield.

"What? With whose ears are you listening to other people? And why am I even bothering?" She stood, ready to leave him, to go back to her dorm, hide under her bed, and never come back again... not without a flamethrower. The boy was a complete idiot with a highly attractive smile and other evil wiles. Otherwise he would have never fooled her.

Draco panicked. She wouldn't dare to leave now, would she? "Hermione, I know what you said, and I am thankful." His father had never taught him how to apologize, and even though he’d had a lot of practice these last few days, it was still impossibly hard. "Just... you know I'm not good at this. Did you just tell me that you're not scared of my insane father? That you're going to stand by me no matter what? Nobody, I repeat, nobody has ever said to me that they don't give a fuck about my family. They are scared of me because of my father."

"Well, I'm not."

He smiled. "I can see that."

"Five minutes," Madam Pomfrey yelled from her office, and Hermione felt like she was trapped. She wanted to talk to him more. They were getting somewhere. He was starting to understand her. They needed more time.

"I don't want you to go." The words surprised them both. Draco blushed deeply, but didn't try to hide it. He was beyond salvation already. He had lost everything the moment she had touched that stupid Peace Treaty parchment.

Hermione sat beside him again, saying, "I want to stay." And it was the truth.

"Merlin, why does everything have to be so difficult?" He leaned closer to her, almost touching, almost feeling her warmth. "I... This... Everything. It's good."

"I know." Her heart was beating so fast now. It was impossible to tell if it was out of fear, excitement or just pure physical closeness.

He pondered about the last time he had kissed her in the real world. It had happened in the corridor a few days ago, before his coma, before the memories, before the Soul Ripper and Voldemort's plans. He ached to touch her again. The dreamworld inside his mind wasn't enough. He wanted to feel the real her. "I want to kiss you."

Did he really mean to say that aloud?

Hermione breathed in sharply, feeling a bit light-headed. He was a smooth talker after all. "I wouldn't mind," she said wistfully, knowing that tonight was not the night. Madam Pomfrey would not let the shield down, and even if she did, she wouldn't leave them alone.

Oh bother, she was the luckiest teenaged girl on earth. Her would-be-boyfriend was an unstable maniac with a magical weapon inside him, her teachers were either criminals or Death Eaters, and her life expectancy was down to zero because of all the lovely people she knew. She smiled kindly at the boy, thinking that she should really get her brain checked because falling for such a strange little Slytherin creature was not a very sane thing to do. Maybe she was going through a phase of some sort.

"It's time," Madam Pomfrey said, emerging from her little office. "Are you ready?"

Hermione stood, a smile carved on her face. The light-headedness wouldn't leave her, and she was feeling rather strange, as though she was moving out of her body suddenly. She didn't want to leave.

"Can I stay?" She heard herself asking.

Madam Pomfrey looked at her for a moment, a strange expression on her face. "I'm sorry," she said quietly but firmly. "Unfortunately that's not possible. Professor Dumbledore clearly said that I'm to let you in and have a short conversation with Mr. Malfoy, nothing else." She put her arm around Hermione's shoulders and started walking towards the doors with her. "Come along now. Tomorrow's another day. You'll have plenty of time then."

Draco felt something cold grip his heart and it hurt so badly that he let out a strangled scream. He needed her presence; she was calming, soothing even. Something about her made everything a bit more bearable. "Please, let her stay."

"Mr. Malfoy, I'm sorry, but I can't do that. You need to rest, and she needs to be close to her friends. You'll see her tomorrow." Her voice was stern. The children needed strict boundaries and clear rules.

Hermione turned to look at Draco over her shoulder. He seemed so lost in the softly lit room. She could feel him reach for her, desperation and fear gripping him. "Um... wait," she blurted out suddenly. "I forgot to say good night to him."

She half-ran half-walked back to him and kneeled beside his bed, whispering, "Don't worry. Everything's going to be all right. We're going to solve this, and we're going to win this battle. I'll be back tomorrow. You'll be in my thoughts, so please, don't worry. Please?"

How did she always know? He was pretty sure she was a psychic. Resting his head against the pillows, he smiled. "I'm not a baby. I can take care of myself." But the gratitude in his eyes was genuine, and she smiled right back at him.

Waving at him, she walked back to Madam Pomfrey's side. "See you tomorrow!" she hollered a bit too loudly. He just growled for her to shut up because some people were trying to sleep.

"How did you do that?" The school nurse sounded almost confused.

"Do what?" Hermione asked, puzzled.

"Calmed him, of course. Before you came in, he was quiet, but seemingly troubled. And just now... How did you manage to calm him so easily?"

Hermione eyed her for a short moment, uncertain of what to say. She hadn't really thought about it. She just knew how he felt, seemed to always know. She didn't want him to feel awful, and part of her just knew that what he needed was to feel like he could beat that thing inside him. It was really rather simple in her mind. "I knew what he needed to hear."

Slightly startled, Madam Pomfrey let her out, absentmindedly saying good night, and closing the doors with a soft click.

Hermione sighed. It had gone well. He hadn't been mad at her. He didn't hate her for letting him down, for not being able to help him. And he had wanted to kiss her. Butterflies and all kinds of sweet things fluttered in her stomach at that thought. She was becoming a giggling teenager with a crush. She would definitely have to study tomorrow to get these silly ideas out of her head and become Hermione Granger again... Head Girl, top student, Know-it-all who never fails to give the correct answer. She would not let Draco Malfoy mess with her NEWTs. Nothing and nobody was worth that.


****


The school had changed since the beginning of the year. The Aurors had formed a new force whose single task was to guard the Hogwarts grounds night and day. The force was called Hogwatch, and most of them were volunteers, parents and other people who wanted to keep the children safe. They stayed hidden, never interacting with the children, and only reporting to Dumbledore. They had been training together for over a year now, and after the attack, Dumbledore had called them in.

Hogwarts had also become a bit less House oriented over the last few months. Hermione had worked hard trying to encourage inter-House relationships, taking into action all the things she and Draco had invented while under the influence of the Peace Treaty. Her efforts were starting to show.

The Great Hall was full of grim faces. It wasn't because of breakfast, but because their usual seats had been changed, and not just their seats, but their tables as well. Hermione had taken the liberty to arrange the tables so the Houses weren't sitting at their separate tables anymore. There were round tables, half-moon shaped tables and long tables mixed around the large room. For some odd reason, they all managed to look inviting and charming, as though she had used a bit of magic to ease the change. One other magical trick was that the tables would not accept more than four members of the same House at them. She was so happy with the result that she was beaming every time people growled at her. Only the High Table at the end of the Hall was left untouched. Even she didn't have the courage to change Severus Snape's seat.

It was the first time in over two weeks since she’d had breakfast in the Great Hall. She sat between Harry and Ron at one of the half-moon tables, chatting animatedly about her last night's studies. She had been reading about Grindelwald, the dark wizard Dumbledore had defeated in 1945. She was sure Grindelwald was somehow connected to Amadeus and wanted the boys' support on the matter. Neither of them seemed to be awake enough to listen, though.

"Granger!"

If she hadn't been so preoccupied by her thoughts on Grindelwald and Amadeus, she might have noticed how hysterical the voice was. She didn't and turned around, assuming that some third year wanted her help. The long, sharp nails scratching her skin and the strong fingers pulling her hair weren't exactly a pleasant experience and she howled in pain.

"What the Hell have you done to Draco?" the black haired girl screamed, full of rage. "He's in the Hospital Wing constantly and he never comes to the common room anymore, and you... you just keep bugging him. What did you do to him?"

Ron and Harry were both on their feet ready to step in between the girls, but Hermione had already pushed Pansy away from her and to the floor. She was towering over her, snarling. "What have I done? You should be asking yourself what you haven't done! Go see him, you nitwit. He needs friends, not bullies. And let other people eat their breakfast in peace."

She sat down, grabbing her wand from her bag. She healed the scratch marks on her cheek and eased the tingling of her scalp. Then she continued to eat and act like nothing had happened. She had dealt with Draco for so long now that little Miss Slytherin could not push her off balance.

Pansy stared at Hermione's back for a long while, and then shifted her gaze to Ron and Harry. It was obvious she had lost. She pushed herself up, embarrassed and defeated, and walked out of the Great Hall. When she was out of sight, the room was suddenly full of excited chatter. Good old drama made them forget their grimness and the sad new seating arrangements. Pansy versus Hermione in a cat fight over Draco was something they didn't see everyday. Was there something other than Head duties between the two? Were they in love? About to elope? Was Hermione pregnant? What was going on in their school that they didn't know?

Oh bugger. She was in trouble. The student body had known very little about Draco and her; now the rumours would start spreading. She sighed in defeat. It had to happen sometime soon.

Harry sat next to her, patting her back. "You handled that well."

Hermione smiled slightly. Harry always knew how to cheer her up. "Not well enough. Listen."

They sat quietly, listening to the rumour mill working. By the end of the day, she would have probably declared her undying love for Draco and demanded Pansy to leave them alone so they could get married and disappear from the evil world that was trying to destroy their perfect love story. She hated romance writers from the bottom of her heart.

"D'you think she went to see him?" Ron asked, stuffing his mouth full of white bread.

Hermione thought about that for a moment. Draco needed friends, needed people he could count on. There had been very little of those in his life. Would Crabbe and Goyle go see him? "I hope so," she finally answered.

Harry leaned closer, whispering to them both, "What d'you think, does she support the Death Eaters?"

Hermione shook her head, but then said, "Hard to tell. I hope not, but Draco seems to think that he has no real friends." She paused for a moment, the wheels turning inside her mind. "Maybe you should start asking if some of the Slytherins are willing to join the DA. We need them."

"Hermione, that would be a suicide. We would be telling the enemy what we're up to," Ron muttered quietly, immensely grateful that there wasn't anyone else sitting at their table.

She gave Ron a pointed look, "You know they're not all evil. They're just like us. Harry has a good eye where people are concerned. He'll know who to talk to, and Draco can help him."

After that, she stood, finishing her pumpkin juice, and whispered, "Let's give them something else to think about." She waved at all the people who were staring at her and spoke in a loud voice. "I hope you like the new Great Hall. All comments are very much appreciated." She bowed shortly, adding, "My private life is none of your business, though."

As she started walking towards the exit, she could hear Harry muttering, "You're getting weirder every minute, you know that?"

She just smiled, blowing him a kiss, making the god-awful chatter ever stronger. Was she two-timing the poor boys? Wasn't Harry seeing Ginny? What if they were having a foursome?

Going to a school with other teenagers would have been Hell on earth if she hadn't learned long ago not to care about any of it. She went to school to study. She wanted to learn everything. In between, she could save the world from time to time, stop evil lords from getting powerful stones or letting giant snakes into the school's pipes. She could do that. But she would most definitely not gossip about boys, do make-overs, or act all silly about other people's private lives. She just didn't care enough to bother.

She sobered a bit, thinking about their upcoming troubles. Dumbledore was expecting them in the War Room, and she was supposed to bring Draco with her. She didn't know what they had in mind now. Had Amadeus figured something out? Could they help Draco this time?

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sight in front of her. Even though she had said that she hoped Pansy would go see Draco, she was still shocked when she saw the other girl there, sitting where she had been last night, touching his hand, talking to him like he was the most precious person she had ever known.

She knocked on the door, letting them know that she was coming in.

Draco smirked at her. "Pansy told me you two had a little fight over me." Pansy poked him in the ribs and he winced, but the smirk never left his face.

"She had a little fight," Hermione said, coming to sit on the chair near his bed. "She just wanted me to get involved."

Pansy shot daggers with her blue-green eyes, but Hermione ignored her completely. Draco was dressed in his robes again, his hair well groomed and his eyes less haunted. He looked better, and she had to admit that Pansy's visit had given him back something of his original self. He was strong again.

"We should get going..." For some reason, she didn't want to pull him away from this safe place. Pansy was still holding his hand, either trying to get something from him, or just needing to be close to him. It felt good to see him smirking, even though it really didn't make him any prettier. It just told her that everything was still okay, that he could survive this.

Draco pulled his hand away from Pansy's grasp, standing up. He looked taller, too, as though he had been hiding his true self all this time. Hermione stared into his shifting silvery eyes, trying to see what he was thinking. She couldn't read him now.

"Pansy, I'll be back later. I can't promise that I'll be there tonight, but as soon as I can. There's something that needs to be dealt with before I can... move freely again. Just be patient." To both of the girls' surprise, he pulled her up into a hug, holding on to her like she was about to disappear. "Thank you for coming." His voice was thick with emotion, and Hermione could see that Pansy was crying openly.

"I've missed you," she murmured, so quietly that Hermione had to strain her ears to hear her.

Draco pushed her to arm's length, looking at her intently. Finally he let go of her, catching Hermione's eye. "Let's go," he said sternly and started walking away.

Hermione turned to look at the other girl, who was crying into her hands now, hiding her face. "Thank you," she mumbled before her courage would give in, and then she ran after Draco, not staying to hear her answer.

It was a quiet walk to their destination in the north wing of the castle. Hermione could have said something, but she didn't want to break the magic Pansy had created. She wanted it to last as long as it could. Draco, on the other hand, didn't even know what to say. He was feeling rather strange, like he had just woken up from a very long dream.

As they entered the War Room, everyone else was already there sitting around the large, wooden table. Amadeus was the first to speak. "How are you?" he asked Draco, looking at him as though he was a wounded animal.

"I'm fine. Actually feeling better than in a long while." He sat next to Harry and leaned over the round table. "Where do we start?"

Hermione took the seat next to Draco, smiling at Ron and Harry, and then she turned her eyes to Dumbledore. She wanted to ask, "How can we help him?", but swallowed the words quickly. Dumbledore would tell them everything in due time.

The room looked exactly the same as the last time they had been there, with swords on the walls and floor, and arched windows circling them with light. Dumdledore waited for all of them to settle down and then started, his voice strong and unyielding. "The urgency of this matter makes it our first priority, and that is why I have closed the school for two days. There will be no classes, only free study under the eyes of our very capable professors. We,” he pointed to the other professors, “will stay here for these two days and find away to solve this problem." He looked at Draco with expectant eyes. "Now, could you tell us everything you know? We will do our best to fill in the blanks. Professor Snape is one of the seven Death Eaters who were in the room with you when Voldemort tried to puncture your mind. He can tell us quite a bit, but the most important part is your story. You know what happened, and you know the memory that is connected to the trigger. You have all the keys. Could you tell us?"

Draco leaned back in his chair, suddenly feeling the pressure on his shoulders again. "What do you want me to tell you?"

"Everything."

And so he did. He told them everything he knew about the Soul Ripper, about the memory he had destroyed within his Father's Pensieve, about Voldemort's plans for him, about the coma and the little boy Hermione had awakened in him. He spoke for a long while, only stopping to take a breath, never looking at anyone in the eye. He was revealing his weaknesses, and they could use them against him any given time. He was handing them the opportunity so willingly. He wasn't a Slytherin anymore, just a puppet trying to free himself.

After he was finished, the room was quiet for a while as everyone expected someone else to comment first. The boy's tale was rather unique, and now even Ron could understand a bit better why Draco acted the way he did. It wasn't easy to know the difference between right and wrong if there had never been anyone to teach you that.

Amadeus caught the attention of the teachers. "We need to find the Book of Dreams. Voldemort is likely to use it and the boy at the same time. The book could help us discover his plans. We don't know how he's going to use the boy. We need that book."

Professor Snape nodded, watching Dumbledore carefully. "He's right."

"Why is the book so important?" Harry asked suddenly. They were all staring at their teachers, confused by the sudden change of direction in their conversation.

Dumbledore smiled, closing his eyes. "It's a dream book, just as it says. It shows you your dreams. It reveals to you everything you need to know. For example, if Voldemort's greatest dream is to destroy Harry, through that book, he can see how to succeed. It will show him the right path; it will guide him every step of the way. It is a very powerful tool."

"Oh..." Harry felt fear creep up his spine. He was very lucky that the Death Eaters hadn't found the book, very lucky indeed.

Dumbledore stood and started walking around the table. "Summa Summarum, we have a missing book that could solve this war in either direction; we have a magical weapon inside a boy whose mind is divided into two different persons." At this point Draco looked up abruptly, his eyes following the old man as he kept pondering aloud. "We have a trigger inside a memory that is not real anymore; we have the Colour of Magick and skilful students who can already use wandless magic better than their parents ever could; we have a..." He stopped, turning to face them all. "I have a plan," he announced. "We will activate the trigger and let Voldemort use the weapon."

Hermione gasped. "What? No, it might kill him!"

And then, all of a sudden, her whole world turned upside down.

"Do you know why the Death Eaters got into the castle?" Dumbledore asked Amadeus without any prior intent on the matter. It was a cold question, pure fury behind it.

Amadeus stood, anger rising in him fast. "Yes, I do."

"And do you know why I haven't asked this before?"

Everyone was holding their breaths. What was happening? Why the sudden aura of power and destruction? The two wizards were standing face to face, ready to strike, and it had happened in a blink of an eye. Nobody dared to move.

"Because you assumed it wasn't me?"

"Because I knew it was you," the old wizard said, almost as though giving in. He leaned against one of the high-backed chairs, looking exhausted. "But not just you, Harry, too."

Hermione wanted to cry. The rush of emotions in the room was just too much. What on earth were they talking about? And Harry, too? Why?

Harry stood, hitting the table with his fists, his green eyes gleaming. "What the bloody Hell are you talking about? What is going on? Tell me. I'm sick of this. Nobody ever tells us anything. You always keep us in the dark, and if you haven't noticed... all the bad things happen right fucking there. Tell me. NOW!"

Both Amadeus and Dumbledore took a step back, relaxing, letting go of the surging power. Dumbledore attempted a smile, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. "The wandless magic studies... they've made a passage through the boundaries of Hogwarts. The spells that are keeping us safe were damaged by the practice sessions you've all been having. Voldemort found out about it somehow, probably through Harry's mind." He sat down wearily, letting Amadeus help him. "Amadeus has been teaching Harry, and their magical power together has breached the Hogwarts' magical shield. Also the fact that Amadeus can't stay here for longer than few hours at a time... His travels between his hometown and Hogwarts have made us weaker."

He looked at the younger wizard, letting his eyes twinkle a little. "I'm sorry. I had to be sure that you hadn't done it on purpose."

Amadeus sat down, a rare smile on his face. "How can you be sure?"

Dumbledore sighed, looking almost smug. "The Young will never understand how the minds of the Old work."

Harry stared at them, not quite angry anymore and feeling a bit embarrassed about his outburst. Someone patting on his back made his knees buckle. Oh bloody Hell, he was weak.

"Good going," Draco snickered, pulling the other boy back to his seat by his robes. "You'll only get them mad. We don't want mad and powerful wizards, do we? We will get killed and nobody's going to have fun anymore." He was speaking in a low voice so nobody but Harry could hear him. "Stay put and let them work this out."

Harry glared at him, but stayed quiet. The Slytherin was right. It would do them no good if these two fought. The whole school might burn down.

"Um..." Hermione hesitated. "What do you mean by 'activating the trigger and letting Voldemort use the weapon'? I don't see how that could help us." She didn't like that kind of a talk at all. It made her feel uneasy and extremely worried.

Dumbledore's whole appearance was full of warmth when he spoke to her. "We will use it against him. We will let him believe that he has killed me and that you're completely hopeless without me. We will show him our weaknesses and let him think that he can win easily."

Draco blinked twice, a bit worried about the prospect that his insides would be at everyone's disposal. "D'you know what the weapon is, then?" he asked quietly, afraid of the answer.

"No, but I have an idea."



A/N: Am I ever going to say anything but, "Sorry about the delay"? Well anyway, this has now been betaed by the wonderful and talented Vickie. She’s amazing.

There's going to be one more chapter and an epilogue, then it will end. I've been writing this story for over two years now, and I've loved every step of the way. It's been a marvellous journey. Thank you so much for keeping me company. ^_^

I truly hope that you like this chapter.

Oh, and the name is of course the same as Rowling's Snape's Worst Memory. ^_^


Chapter 15: The Light in Darkness
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The Light in Darkness


Draco Malfoy was ten years old when he first realised that there were actual monsters in the world. Of course he had seen trolls and ghosts before, and had been scared of the banshee living in their attic at Malfoy Manor. He had seen all kinds of strange things since he was old enough to focus his eyes on something other than his mother's golden locks. But none of those had been monsters.

It was the painting of Tom Riddle, a young boy in his Quidditch uniform that made him realise what true evil was - it was the way he smiled. The eyes told him that light had never been a visitor there, had never whispered beautiful things in his ear, things worth dying for. The boy was breathing darkness, that affectionate smile and those calm eyes, peeling, gutting, torturing, turning things - people - into worthless research objects.

He had wanted to scream, run, do something that would make those eyes disappear, but his father had treasured the painting, had hidden it in the dungeons of Malfoy Manor. A ghost of light always caressed the painting, making it seem deader than anything else he had ever seen.

But meeting the man - the monster - face to face was much worse. The eyes always followed him, curious and destructive. One wrong move and nobody would even recognise his face afterwards. Voldemort's presence was crushing, too intense for most people to bear. Draco was able to look at him, but speaking was an entirely different matter. Sometimes he managed to repeat rehearsed sentences, at other times he just pretended to be uninterested or invisible.

Now that he looked at Harry - who had to kill someone so powerful someday - he finally admitted to himself that he had underestimated the boy all these years. Harry sat next to him, his eyes following all the people in the War Room. He was listening intently, drumming the cracked surface of the round table with his forefinger, anger still lingering in his tensed muscles. Draco wondered if perhaps Harry was even more impatient than he was. He smiled flatly. Figures.

Hermione poked him in the arm, clearly thinking that he should be listening more carefully since they were talking about his very insane future.

"Mr. Malfoy," Dumbledore suddenly addressed him, "are you familiar with a dark spell called Pario Animus?"

He shook his head, aware of their eyes on him. It was strange how they didn't feel so hostile anymore. Had he really changed so much that they could actually trust him? In his opinion, they were all fools. How could they give him another chance?

Dumbledore turned to look at the other children sitting around the table as though thinking, "What about you?", but then realising that they wouldn't know anything about Dark Arts - except perhaps how to defend themselves. "We need to explain it then. You do the honours," he said to Professor Snape, who looked like he had just swallowed a lemon.

Professor Snape coughed. His expression told them that he really didn't want to share his knowledge. If they were so stupid that they didn't know, why waste time trying to explain? That was his motto. "Pario Animus means Create a Mind," he finally began. "It literally creates a mind inside a mind, giving the caster control over the other person's senses. It also enhances the abilities of the spell caster, giving him a sixth sense through the other person's mind. He can see, feel and taste everything that the person under the spell experiences. Also, the sixth sense gives him the ability to read people far more efficiently than with Legilimency. There is no way to escape the sixth sense." He paused for emphasis. "He will see you."

"You think it's this spell?" Hermione asked. "How can you be sure?"

Professor Snape glared at her as though she was an insolent brat. "Voldemort has been studying this spell for quite a while now. He wanted to test it, wanted to see how well it works. Who could have been a better test subject than Draco?"

Amadeus joined the conversation. "It is also a highly difficult spell to perform. He is known to push his limits in search of knowledge that would make him even more powerful. This spell is perfect for it. Inside Draco's mind he could spy on our world and we wouldn't know anything about it. He could also manipulate Draco to do minor things, like walk into a room, look through parchments, follow people around, et cetera."

Draco felt his world turn pitch black. The Dark Lord was inside him? Could read his mind? Could control him? He shivered inwardly. Had he been under Voldemort's will recently? Fear breached all his defences. "Has he used it already?" he said quietly, hiding his face behind his hands. "Have I already hurt you?"

"Draco, no," Professor Snape said with almost too much force. "You haven't done anything, and even if he used you, it still wouldn't be your fault. None of this is your fault. If it's anyone's fault, it's mine."

Dumbledore smiled. "It's all right." He patted the forearm of his old friend, somehow managing to comfort them all with his calmness. "This is nobody's fault. Sometimes things just happen, even when we don't make choices of any kind. Things choose us; this chose us. We need to make the best of it. Blame won't help anyone."

"How can we activate the trigger, then?" Harry suddenly asked. He wanted to get things done. He wanted advantages and simple plans. Meaningless speeches could do very little to help him.

Dumbledore looked slightly irritated, even though he tried to hide it. "First things first, Harry. We need to decide what is the best way to use this opportunity."

"But sir, why hasn't Voldemort used the spell already? And won't he know that we have tampered with his..." Hermione looked at Draco apologetically, "...toy? And what about the sixth sense? Won't he be able to read us after the spell is activated?" She felt breathless, but still, there were more questions inside her. Why were they so willing to sacrifice Draco? If it had been Harry, they would have only been thinking of ways to get the awful spell out of him. Draco was truly expendable, wasn't he?

Amadeus stood, his translucent hands shaking slightly. He walked to one of the arched windows, staring out into the distance, seeing nothing. "He can't use it because I'm here. My magick let him in, but I'm also keeping him out. I'm too powerful, even for him..." His arms hung loosely by his sides, but his body seemed to be in a rigid state of anger and fear. He spoke with calmness, but when he turned to face them, his eyes gleamed with madness. "But I can't really help you, not this way." His voice was dark and laced with malice. "My ancestors have taken care of it. They want to see me suffer, rip me open and see just how much I can bear. I'm useless to you like this."

He started walking again, his movements restless and unbalanced. He stopped in front of another window and hopped on the windowsill, crouching and leaning his forehead against the glass. Amadeus spoke quietly now. "Voldemort knows I'm here because I had to show myself to save Harry. He saw me when I pushed him out of Harry's mind. But it's actually a good thing. Otherwise he would be wondering right now who had betrayed his trust, who had told you all about his plans. It will probably save your bony arse, Snape."

Draco was almost certain that the madman was grinning. What was wrong with Dumbledore for letting all these crazy people inside the ancient and magnificent school of the Four Founders? He wanted to stomp his foot and maybe beat some sense into his fellow wizards. And these were the people whose side he had chosen? He was doomed.

"Amadeus, we're not asking you to do more than you can," Dumbledore said. "You have already done more than I could have ever hoped. Show him, Harry."

Harry looked startled and then nodded, understanding what the old wizard wanted from him. It seemed as though he didn't do anything, but then suddenly the swords on the floor moved, rising slowly. They hovered in the air, ready to fly wherever Harry's mind would guide them. To make the matter more clear, he sent one of them at Ron, who didn't even flinch when it stopped right in front of his nose, nearly touching. His trust for Harry was absolute.

The clattering sound of the swords falling on the ground told them, though, that the boy wasn't able to hold the spell for long when using wandless magic. It was very difficult to control many objects at the same time, but the most difficult part was to make them move in different ways. Harry had performed the spell perfectly, but it had also drained him. He rested his head in his hands, leaning against the table with his elbows.

Draco thought he heard Hermione mutter something like, "Use the force, Luke." He didn't know anyone named Luke, and it made him ponder how very little he actually knew about Hermione. What were her hobbies? What did she really like? When was her birthday? She was a stranger to him after all.

"This might save Harry's life one day, and Voldemort doesn't know about it," Dumbledore said quietly. "Thank you, Amadeus. You've already made a difference. It's enough."

Amadeus didn't say a word for a few moments, letting the silence expand around them. He relaxed visibly as he sat down on the windowsill, the smile on his face quite genuine. "I think you already know this, but... I've waited to hear those words for a very long time." He jumped of the sill, a cocky grin on his face. "I am excellent, am I not?"

He sat next to Snape, and to Draco's horror, he winked at the Potion's Master as though meaning to say, "I win, you old bastard." It just wasn't right. It absolutely did not fit in the picture. Draco felt sick.

"We actually have two options," Amadeus said brightly. "We can either kill me or keep searching for the trigger inside the boy. I suggest the former." He turned to look at everyone, the weird smile making him look rather insane, especially considering what he was suggesting.

Instead of announcing the Ancient Magick teacher mad, Dumbledore asked, "How do we do that?"

"Good question," Professor Snape muttered as though he had been wondering the same thing himself.

Hermione shifted nervously. Draco could easily tell that she was having a hard time staying quiet. "But Professor...s, there has to be some other way to do this. Can't we just destroy the spell, inactivate it somehow. I don't understand how you can even think of using it." She was bright red and embarrassed. She didn't talk back very often.

For the first time during the entire meeting, Professor McGonagall reacted. She had been following the conversation with a distant air around her, looking as though something was truly bothering her. "I couldn't agree more," she said. "This boy does not deserve this kind of behaviour. We need to act in a way that is the safest for all of us. Please, think about something other than how to win the war. We have to choose our battles carefully."

"That is exactly why we need to choose this one," Dumbledore said matter-of-factly. "We still don't know the whereabouts of the Book of Dreams. We know next to nothing about Voldemort's plans. But the most important part is that Mr. Malfoy has given us a chance to... change the course of the war. Our only wild card so far has been Amadeus' presence here. Now we have this. How can you even suggest that we shouldn't use it? If the boy is willing to help us..." He paused, turning to look at Draco. "Are you?"

Feeling rather overwhelmed, Draco nodded. "I'm not completely... there yet. I'm trying to choose my battles as well, and it's not so easy, but I'm willing to try. I want to do something." His voice wasn't quite strong enough, and he really didn't know the correct words, but they didn't seem to mind. Dumbledore smiled reassuringly, and Professor McGonagall seemed a bit less troubled. Even Professor Snape looked at him with what seemed like pride. Did he really deserve their vote of confidence?

"Besides, he needs to do something after all those half-hearted attempts of trying to hurt me and my friends," Harry said mockingly, his face serious, but his eyes shining with almost wicked friendliness.

"Shut up, Potter. I'm trying to save your sorry arse."

"Hah, I would like to see you try."

Draco hit him in the head a bit too hard and snarled, "You will. Sooner rather than later."

"Ouch. Watch it, Malfoy," Harry muttered, rubbing the back of his head. "I'm not a nice person when angered."

Hermione stared at them both, mouth open, a flabbergasted expression on her face. "Who are you people, and what did you do to my Draco and Harry?" she asked, her voice surprisingly calm considering how utterly confused she was. Her boys weren't supposed to act like this. They were not friends. At least they hadn't been just mere days ago.

Draco laughed, but before he could answer, Dumbledore brought the original subject back. "Amadeus, do you have any suggestions on how we should proceed? What would be the best way to kill you?"

Amadeus frowned, thinking. "I'm not here completely, so none of the ordinary spells would work." He thought about the matter further, and then eyed the Potions Master carefully as though measuring his abilities. "Could you create a potion that would destroy my spirit both here and in my home town?"

Professor Snape smiled dryly. "Gladly."

It was strange how fast everything happened after that. Dumbledore sent Amadeus and Professor Snape to the dungeons to concoct the needed potion, and then gave the children permission to go outside for awhile. They had been in and out of trouble since the beginning of the year and really did deserve a short, worry-free break.

They decided to go sit by the lake, feeling quite like strangers inside the school which they had called home for the past six and a half years. The other students stared at them as they walked by. Everyone knew that Draco Malfoy was not supposed to be with them. It was an unwritten rule; Draco Malfoy would never fraternize with Harry Potter and his groupies. Nevertheless, he was with them, encouraging the school gossip even more about his possible relationship with Hermione.

Draco didn't take it well. His reputation was ruined, and he really didn't want everyone to know that Harry Potter wasn't his number one enemy anymore. At least he still disliked the red head. It made him feel slightly better.

"Go fetch your cloaks," Hermione said to Harry and Ron as they stopped in front of the Fat Lady. "We'll wait for you here."

Draco leaned against the wall opposite the painting that was guarding the entrance of the Gryffindor Tower. He crossed his arms, closing his eyes. He was very tired. He just wanted the spell out of him, wanted his life back, wanted something normal in his life for a change.

"You all right?" Hermione came to stand beside him, mimicking his posture.

Draco didn't open his eyes, but could still see her concerned expression. She was so predictable. "I'm fine," he said flatly.

"Are you really going to do this?" she whispered.

"Hermione, do I really have a choice? I'm a pawn in this game. They want to play, and I'm going to let them." He sighed. "It's going to work."

He could feel her leaning closer, resting her head against his shoulder. "I don't want you to get hurt." Her voice was a mere soft breath.

Do you really care?

He wrapped an arm around her waist, feeling somewhat light-headed. "I'll be okay."

"Oh God, oh God, oh God. It really is true," a shrilly girl's voice screamed suddenly. "You're an item!"

"Parvati," Hermione muttered, getting out of Draco's grasp. "What do you want?" she asked, irritated and in full Head Girl mode.

Parvati looked satisfied, almost cat-like and very enthusiastic indeed. "Oh, nothing, nothing. Continue, please," she said and walked out of their sight, every movement of her body telling them that she was going to talk to everyone about her little encounter with the Head students.

"You can't be serious," Draco murmured tiredly.

Hermione turned to look at him, smiling slightly. "Pansy made it public. I'm sorry."

Draco watched her as she once again came to stand next to him, her expression steady and strong. She seemed so irrationally level-headed and at the same time the most fragile being he had ever seen. "I don't really care, you know," he said, realising for the first time that he had passed the point of caring about such matters. "I just don't want people to think that I like the Weasel. That's all. Everything else I can bear, but not that."

She felt like laughing, but instead said, "Don't call him that. He's my friend."

"Not mine."

"I know... But Harry is, isn't he?" She sounded genuinely interested.

Draco didn't know how to answer. He didn't consider Harry as his friend. It was something else. He needed to believe in something and Harry was something worth believing. "I suppose so. I don't hate him."

She smiled. "You're such a weird person, did you know that? You never really commit to anything."

"Nonsense," he said with mock haughtiness. "I'm not a commitment phobe. I'm very dependable."

Right then Harry and Ron came through the portrait hole. "Hah," Harry said. "I'll believe it when I see it."

"Now, now, Mr. Potter. Don't you know that it is very impolite to interrupt a conversation?" Draco scoffed, grinning.

Walking side by side in silence, they found their way to the Hospital Wing, and as Draco went in, Harry, Ron and Hermione waited by the door, chatting quietly. Draco greeted Madam Pomfrey, took his cloak and then left before she could say a word. He loved to make adults confused.

When they reached the front door, Hermione took her cloak from her bag, ending the spell that had shrunk it. It was a brisk autumn day, the wind blowing harshly, making them wrap their cloaks about them more carefully. Most of the students were inside, wisely avoiding the cold air, studying and just enjoying the two free days Dumbledore had given them.

"What should we do now?" Ron suddenly asked. "Do we really need to keep him company? He annoys me."

"Oh, poor Ronikins." Draco smirked. "I promise not to interfere with your intellectual conversations."

Ron muttered something under his breath, sulking and walking faster, leaving them all behind.

"He's a friendly fellow," Draco said brightly.

"Stop that. You don't have to like him, but you need to get along with him." Hermione grabbed Draco's wrist, making him slow down and turn slightly to her direction. "He's a good friend. He's very important to me. Try not to offend him too much." She looked at him with pleading eyes. "Please."

Draco cursed quietly, pulling his hand free. He nodded ever so slightly so that only Hermione could see his agreement. She smiled happily, jumping to Harry's side next, grabbing his arm with both hands, cooing, "Give me that book and I promise I won't burn your cloak this time. I've been thinking about the spell, and I know what went wrong. I thought it was about destroying something, but it's actually a healing spell. I'm sure of it. It has to be."

"What are you talking about?" Draco asked hesitantly. He didn't really know anything about these people. How they spent their time? How they spoke with each other? How they treated others? He wasn't familiar with their habits. They were just people who had been on his way. Now they were something else. He didn't quite understand what, though.

Harry grinned. "Remus... You remember Professor Lupin?" Draco nodded. "Remus gave me an old spell book this summer, and told me that somebody he trusted had said that I should have it. Hermione's been dying to read it ever since. I gave it to her the last time we went by the lake and she managed to burn my woollen cloak with one of the spells. I'm very fond of her, but I'm not going to let her destroy anything else of mine."

Hermione frowned, clearly insulted. "Don't talk about me like I'm not here," she said to Harry, and then turned to speak to Draco. "He's just a coward. He knows that we need to study things to understand them, and he's never been much of a scholar. I have to do all the studying for both of them." She sighed dramatically.

Harry shrugged, smiling, and Draco could feel a similar smile forming on his face. They were pretty nice people, decent and relaxed with each other. He felt a strange longing fill him, as though he was always meant to be somewhere and he was finally getting closer to it now.

They sat by the lake close to Ron, still giving him enough space to cool down. He was panting heavily, throwing rocks into the lake.

"He's actually very smart," Harry suddenly said, and then added rather quickly, "I just wanted to let you know."

Draco didn't know what to say so he stayed quiet. Many of the things that were happening to him right now felt weird and misshapen. It seemed as though the one who had constructed the whole universe had suddenly gone insane and left everyone to survive on their own. He hoped he knew what he was supposed to do.

"Could that book of yours be the Book of Dreams?" Draco mused, watching the quiet grounds of Hogwarts as he leaned back against his elbows.

Harry looked at him abruptly and then relaxed, lying down. "I don't think so. The Book of Dreams is probably somehow very different. A spell book is just a spell book. A book like that is something else." He closed his eyes, covering his closed lids with his right hand.

Draco thought about it for a moment. How could a book like that stay hidden in a world like theirs? Voldemort and his followers had probably turned every stone and every brick to find the book. How could it still stay unfound? "You're probably right."

Hermione went to talk to Ron. Draco watched her as she touched the boy's forearm and spoke very softly to him. The way she moved and held herself with other people was remarkable. She was very confident, but in a quiet sort of way. She didn't have to make everyone see how powerful and excellent she was at everything. She was quite humble. It was easy to respect her. It was even easier to like her.

"D'you like her?" Harry asked quietly.

Draco hesitated for a moment. What could he say to a friend of the girl who had saved him numerous times? He couldn't very well say no. "Yeah, I like her. She's very kind."

Harry smiled. "That she is. Just don't offend her. She's also very fierce."

"I know."

Harry's face became grim all of a sudden as he asked, "D'you think she'll survive the war?" There was a lot of horror and fear behind those words.

He couldn't understand why Harry would even want to think about such things. Wasn't it just easier to walk through things moment by moment, never looking back and never trying to predict the future? "I don't know. I hope so." He just couldn't lie.

The other boy turned to look at him, revealing his bright green eyes from behind his hand. "Just three months ago you wanted to see her die. What changed so thoroughly?"

When had they become friends who share? He was slightly worried about Harry's willingness to confide in him and his own eagerness to do the same. Were they rapidly becoming actual friends? It was a very scary thought. "She's very persuasive. You know that she came to my room and cut me with a knife, don't you? Or that she vanquished a giant snake from my mind when I was in a coma? Or that she took something heavy off my shoulders when I'd just heard of my mother's condition? She can carry a lot of things, and it doesn't even seem to bother her in the least. Hermione is a very strange girl."

"You do realise that you're talking about a Muggle-born witch?" Harry said tentatively.

Draco looked at Hermione, pondering. "I do now," he admitted. "None of this is very clear to me yet. I don't really know where I stand. The old is getting wiped away, but nothing new has come to its place. I'm not sure who or what I am yet."

"Just don't hurt her." It wasn't quite a threat.

"I try not to."

They stayed by the lake for two hours, enjoying the brisk weather, chatting about unimportant and light things, knowing that they would have to concentrate on serious matters again later that day. They wanted to have one perfect moment before the storm. After awhile, Ron and Hermione came to sit with Draco and Harry, and they played some wizarding games with cards. Draco cheated a lot, but nobody seemed to mind. All in all it was one of the happiest moments of his life - and it made him feel sad.

"We should go back." Hermione finally spoke their thoughts aloud. She didn't want to go back either. Everything could go wrong. Since the school year had started, everything had gone wrong. What would be so different now?

They walked back to the castle in silence, their minds filled with gloom and doubt. Every step felt heavier than the last one, and by the time they reached the front entrance, they were exhausted.

Harry pulled the door open, letting everyone pass him. Walking slowly behind them, he finally asked, "Are we going to do what they say? Is it the right way to do this? What if something goes wrong? What if Snape and Dumbledore have made a mistake in thinking that it's that spell... Pari... Pariu... Help me, Hermione?"

"Pario Animus," she whispered.

Harry nodded. "Pario Animus. How can they be sure?"

Draco stopped in his tracks, turning around. "They're right. I don't know how I know it, but they're right. Professor Snape is a Death Eater. He can prove himself to Voldemort now by killing both Amadeus and Dumbledore. Imagine the triumph; imagine how he swells with self-importance and power, how he thinks that he has won and how very fragile we've become. He will do something stupid... Too much pride and people will always do something stupid. I want to do this."

"All right then," Harry said firmly. "We'll help you in every way we can."

Ron and Hermione stared at each other, their questioning eyes getting no answers from each one. Their friend was walking his own path again and had forgotten to fill them in on the details.

Draco nodded, a startled look on his face. After a short pause he added, "Thanks," when nodding didn't feel like it was quite enough. Harry wasn't just a good friend; he also took his job very seriously.

As they rose the final stairs that led to the War Room, Draco smiled to himself. One day he would have to ask Harry if he had always been as strong willed and bullheaded.

Ron voiced the password to the evil-looking vampire queen who was guarding the door of the War Room with her silver framed painting. Reluctantly, she let them in. "Why does she always have to look at us with her nose so high up in the air?" Ron muttered to Hermione as they walked in. She only shrugged, her mind already on the matters at hand.

"Good, you are here," Amadeus said, and then forgot their presence once more as he continued to stir the potion in front of him. He seemed nervous, and his pale face had a greenish tinge to it.

Harry went to stand beside Dumbledore, speaking quietly to his mentor, while the others found a place to stay beside a window. The room was gloomy and quiet and they didn't dare to break the silence.

Suddenly Draco felt more uncertain about his choices than ever before. What was he doing? Why was he here with these people? Why would he let them use him? Why should he just stand there and wait for them to crucify him? He turned to look at Hermione who was facing the window, her lean frame being lighted by the rays of the afternoon sun. For her? Was it all because of her? What if something happened to her? He leaned closer to Hermione, ignoring Ron's angry stare, and whispered to her ear, "I can't do this." Please, help me. I'm going to run.

Hermione smiled, the window mirroring her sweet face. Mesmerised by her, he stared, unable to move or speak. "Draco," she said, turning to look at him, "you always say that. I don't believe you anymore." She was so close, her soft hair brushing his jaw and her small body almost touching his. "You're strong enough." She took hold of his arms, stood on tiptoes and kissed his right cheek, lingering there a bit too long. Then she let go of him, walking away to meet Professor McGonagall at the other end of the room.

Ron cleared his throat. "She likes you," he said with an angry tone. "Don't let her down." Then he walked away as well, leaving Draco alone. A rainbow of emotions flashed on the blond boy's face, making him look like a small, confused child. What the Hell was happening here? He sat on the windowsill, pulling his legs close to his body. His father had always told him that women were useful tools. He had never said that you could actually depend on one.

"Ladies. Gentlemen," Dumbledore addressed them. "Gather around. There are things that need to be discussed. How will we protect our minds from Voldemort? How will we end the spell after Voldemort has seen everything we want him to see? How do we keep Mr. Malfoy safe? We cannot rush into things without considering every possible angle. We need to be prepared. We also need to know that another attack isn't coming at us while we're sidestepping here." Dumbledore turned to look at Professor Snape. "Contact Mr. Lupin. Make it absolutely clear that we are in a dire need of information about the next attacks. He may sacrifice his position if that's the only way." The Potions Master left the room without a word.

Outside, the weather was changing fast. Rain clouds gathered, and wind blew nastily at all the odd holes of the castle, making everything rattle, whistle and whine. They all stood a bit closer to one another, feeling the anger of the surrounding nature. Distantly, they could hear Hagrid bellowing at his beasts, ushering them into their shelters. Suddenly, lightning struck and the skies opened as the whole ground shook from the force of the thunder.

"Voldemort?" Professor McGonagall asked, looking out of the window that was closest to her.

Harry ran to McGonagall's side, his mind racing and fear gripping his heart. Not now. Please, not now. I can't face him yet. He didn't see the Dark Mark on the sky, but it didn't mean a thing. The monster could change his tactics. He turned his eyes to Dumbledore, trying to get an answer out of him, something that would delay the inevitable, but the old wizard didn't know anything. He was as confused as the rest of them. Amadeus eyed him from head to toe, but said nothing. He didn't know either. Nobody knew if this was the day he had to kill or be killed. Nobody bloody knew. He stepped away from the window, panicking.

Draco was by his side in a heart beat, whispering to his ear, "He sent it. It's magical, but you can feel him, can't you? Is he here? Is he really here?" He was holding Harry by the arm, anchoring him into the War Room, into reality. "Is he within the storm?"

Harry stopped trying to get free from Draco's grasp and listened. Quieting his mind, he felt his way through the grounds of Hogwarts, searching... Nothing. Voldemort was somewhere else, giving orders, screaming in frustration. And then suddenly, his eyes turned to Harry, his mind turned to Harry. And Harry screamed.

"Get out," Amadeus yelled, pushing Harry to the ground, and since Draco hadn't let go of Harry's arm, he was pulled to the ground as well. He kneeled beside Harry as Amadeus grabbed Harry's head between his hands and yelled again, "Get out. Get back here, you idiot."

Harry sat up, opening his eyes, and instead of being green, his eyes were bright red. "I will kill you," he said very quietly to Amadeus. "I will kill you with my bare hands." Harry coughed, seemingly suffocating on something. Gagging and coughing, he sat there for awhile as the rest of them stared at him in horror. Voldemort hadn't come with the storm, but he was close by.

"This has to end," Dumbledore said determinately. "This ends now." Gently he pulled Draco up and motioned for him to go stand beside Hermione and Ron. Then he crouched down next to Harry's sitting form and looked at Amadeus in the eye. "At three?" he asked, and Amadeus nodded. Dumbledore counted to three and then at the same time the wizards put their wand hands against Harry's forehead and uttered one word, "Occulto!" All the torches went out, leaving them in the dark, only the occasional lightning illuminating the solemn room.

Harry coughed again, but this time he sounded like himself, when he spoke. "What happened?"

Dumbledore sighed. "You're safe for now." When he tried to stand up, his legs gave in and he stumbled on the floor again. Hermione and Ron came to help him as Professor McGonagall and Draco took care of Amadeus and Harry.

"What was that spell, Professor?" Hermione asked Dumbledore once they were all sitting around the table again, the fires lit and happily burning.

Dumbledore leaned heavily against the table, his elbows shaking and his face grey. "It's something I finished dabbling with this autumn. It's my gift to Harry." He turned to look at the boy. "It keeps Voldemort out of your mind. It concealed the scar."

"But it drained you?" It was partly a question and partly an accusation. Hermione was worried about everyone, including the mighty powerful.

Dumbledore smiled tiredly. "Everything has its price."

"We have one advantage on our side, though." Professor McGonagall suddenly spoke. "Dear Professor Snape was not here."

"Oh, but that is true, Minerva," Dumbledore said delightedly. "He can kill us all now."

The rain kept on lashing at the windows.



A/N: I'm not so late this time. ^_^ No apologize needed. ^_^ I do need to tell you, though, that this is not the end. Of course, it isn't, you say. Well, it isn't. We still have one chapter and an epilogue to come... Because these characters are so nasty and they still have too much to say. ^_^

Anyway, this is not yet betaed so you can see all my lovely mistakes. I apologize for those. I am an evil non-native speaker. I'm actually Finnish (no, we don't have polar bears here). ^_^

I hope you like this chapter. I hope it's good enough. I'm scared that you won't like it... again. Like always, I feel like I'm not quite there yet. Well, I'm not. One day I probably will be and then I say, "I can still do it better."

I hope it was a pleasant read. Do tell me about it. Thank you. ^_^

Oh, and the sentence Hermione used, "Use the force, Luke" is of course from Star Wars.

Update: Beta-changes added on 27th June. ^_^ Thank you so much, Vickie. Such a precious friend. *hugs*


Chapter 16: Becoming a Hero
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Becoming a Hero


Hermione was glaring at Draco with all the self-righteous indignation of a deeply hurt girl. How dare he mock her now? He was just one amazing imbecile, always saying and doing the wrong things at the wrong time. She bit her lower lip, trying to think of some way to get back at him.

Draco was half smiling, half smirking, thinking that he must have hit a wrong button again. She looked infuriated. How could she always look so damn beautiful when she detested him? "Hermione, I didn't mean it like that. You just like to interpret my words in a funny way."

She actually stomped her foot and moved to stand mere inches away from him, snarling, "How else could I interpret 'You're not pretty enough for me'? Huh? How?"

Draco looked shocked. "I didn't say that," he said uncertainly. Or did I? It was hard to keep track of everything he had said during their frantic conversation inside the small supply closet connected to the War Room. Hermione had wanted to talk to him before the activation of the spell, before their actions against Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Hermione had some kind of a deep desire to speak to him, and he hadn't understood half of the things she had said. What did she want? He was pretty sure his brain was shutting out everything because of sheer self-preservation.

"You did." She sighed and after a short pause, continued, "I'm not asking you to marry me. I'm asking you to promise me that you'll come back, that you won't let him break your mind. Do you care? At all? Do I mean anything to you?"

The girl was crazy. He wasn't going to confess anything here, now, with all those ears and eyes in the next room, with her so close to him, her eyes shining with... bloody hell. He pushed her away, turning his back on her. This was so stupid. She was so stupid. He was the king of stupid people. His palms were sweating. He tried to wipe them on the fabric of his robes, but it was useless. She made him nervous.

"I... like you, okay," he finally admitted. "I wouldn't be here otherwise." He spoke very quietly, wishing that she would be too deaf to hear him.

Hermione came to stand opposite him again - the stupid girl that she was - and poked him in the chest. "Then survive, you idiot. Come back to me." There were tears in her eyes, actual tears that were threatening to roll down her cheeks. She looked stunning, her hair still carrying the scent of the lake and her eyes as intense as the storm outside. "Come back to me," she whispered as she hugged him with all her might, rendering him breathless.

This was it. This was what she had been trying to tell him. This he could understand. Stroking her hair slowly, he said, "It'll be all right. They know what they're doing. You heard them. They already know how to break the connection between me and Voldemort, and Amadeus really has enough power to conceal my mind. We'll be safe. I'll be safe. I promise."

"Is it going to be worth it?" asked the small voice against his chest.

He smiled, feeling her heart beat, listening to her soft breaths. "It's a boy thing, Hermione. We want to be heroes."

She moved a bit, leaving enough room between them so she could look him in the eye. "You want to be a hero?" There was mirth in her voice. Did she not realise how important it was to him that she of all people would not laugh at him - all the time.

"No, I want to be a loser for the rest of my life. I want to become an old bitter man with nothing in his back pocket but a broken wand and a few shameful memories." He pulled her closer, resting his chin on the top of her head. "You're a hero already," he said. "So are Harry and Ron. You've done this quite a long time. I want to do something now."

"Heroes die young," she whispered.

He didn't know how to respond so he just held her. Her part in their current plan was to stay out of the way. She could do nothing to help him. It was better for everyone if she didn't come close to him while Voldemort was in control. Otherwise it could be quite disastrous.

"This hero is too stubborn to die. You've seen me. How many times have I bled this autumn? The Guardian slashed me with his nails. The Soul Ripper came to destroy me. I've practically lived next door to the Dark Lord and I'm still breathing. Amadeus is going to-"

"But he'll be dead for over ten minutes." She interrupted him. "Will his magick linger in you long enough? He's not there to take care of you, and neither is Dumbledore nor Snape. Everyone is doing something other than watching your back. I won't be there either."

He pushed her to arm's length, speaking in a demanding tone. "Look at me!"

She lifted her gaze to his, wondering if perhaps she had gone too far. He just stared at her, a stern look on his face. "Just trust me," he said harshly. "Just trust me, will you? I'm not some snot nosed child who hasn't seen death except on stage. I know what I'm doing. Just a mere hour ago you said to me that I'm strong enough to do this. Let me do it then."

She knew he was right. If they were going to go through with the plan, he deserved her faith in him. He deserved her trust. She followed her feelings and kissed him lightly, whispering against his mouth, "I will." Then she took his hand and guided him out of the small closet.

The plan was quite simple as best plans usually are. Professor Snape would give the potion to Dumbledore first, and it would have the same effects on the old wizard as the killing curse. After that he would give it to Amadeus. At that point, the spell would activate inside Draco, and Voldemort would be in the room with Professor Snape. The short conversation between them would reveal that he had just killed both of the powerful wizards, and would now go tell Professor McGonagall about how Amadeus had attacked Dumbledore, killed the Headmaster and how he, Professor Snape had come to the room and duelled with the mad wizard, and had won only by surprise.

The only mind that needed to be cleaned of all the evidence of their plan was Professor McGonagall's. She would act upon the true situation as though everything that was happening was real. She would then do exactly what the Headmaster had instructed her to do in an emergency as such, and hide Hogwarts from all magical contact, thus destroying the connection between Draco and Lord Voldemort. In reality, after exactly ten minutes Harry would give the antidote to both Dumbledore and Amadeus, bringing back the magical aura that had kept Voldemort out of Draco's mind.

Professor Snape's mind was actually their best asset. It was a rather strange place to dwell in. He could tune out everything whenever he felt like it - that being the reason why he had survived such a long time as a spy. He absolutely did not have anything on his mind except the things he wanted to be there. That is why they trusted him to be the one who could be in close proximity with the Dark Lord and still have all the precious knowledge of their plan. The children would stay out of their way, especially Ron and Hermione.

The only serious problem they had was Draco himself. How to keep the boy safe? His mind would be completely exposed. It wasn't a very balanced mind to begin with, and it certainly wouldn't be after everything if they didn't come up with something that would actually make him seem like himself and still keep him behind a veil of pretence. Amadeus knew how to veil his mind, but they couldn't be sure how long the spell would last after his death. He very well couldn't make it permanent either.

"Are we willing to take the risk that the boy has to fend himself against the most powerful Dark Wizard of our time?" Professor McGonagall asked as she paced in front of the window through which they had first seen the magical storm Lord Voldemort had sent over Hogwarts. It had turned their world dark, disguising day into night so very easily. The grey-black storm clouds behind Professor McGonagall made her look frightening, almost sinister.

"We must believe that Voldemort isn't quite that interested in Draco Malfoy. The boy is a tool for him. Voldemort is using him, but otherwise he doesn't care. Why should he? Draco wasn't suitable to be a Death Eater. He rejected the Soul Ripper." The Headmaster frowned, thinking. "But still, we need to be sure that his mind won't be leaking any valuable information to Voldemort. How can we be sure of that?"

Hermione shifted her weight from foot to foot nervously, unsure, but still knowing that she was right. She had to do it. "I want my mind cleaned as well. I'm not going to take the risk that he reads Draco's mind and sees that he cares about me. He might already know about it anyway." She remembered Lucius Malfoy and his cold eyes. He could have told Voldemort the things he saw. It might have been wrong information then, but it wasn't that now. Draco did care about her.

"I want to do that, too," Ron said suddenly, surprising them all. "He might run into us. I don't want to be the cause of our failure."

Amadeus smiled. "It's a good precaution. We need to be ready for all possible setbacks. Severus will give you false memories on top of the ones we remove. That way Voldemort won't notice too easily that you have missing parts in your mind. It isn't so uncommon for staff members to use a Pensieve or even memory charms, but if children run around the school with memories missing, he might start wondering."

Harry was problem number two. It was highly unlikely that Voldemort would just enjoy his stay at Hogwarts and wouldn't want to read the mind of his worst enemy. But Harry would need his memories to be able to give the antidote in time. He had to know what he was doing.

"An Invisibility Cloak won't help him. Voldemort will sense his presence because of the sixth sense he develops when the spell is activated," Dumbledore muttered under his breath.

"Maybe I could just hide somewhere until he leaves the room where you two lie dead?" Harry mused. It was a simple approach to the problem and they all seemed to agree. He would have to be very careful, reading the Marauder's Map like his life depended on it - as it most likely did.

Standing beside the round table, Professor Snape leaned on one of the high-backed chairs and said, "One last problem. What do we tell everyone else? Will we keep Dumbledore's death a secret, or will we reveal to the whole wizarding world that their leader is dead? If you start walking the corridors of Hogwarts again, the word will get back to Voldemort. He will know that we have faked it all."

"And he might not be attacking now, but there's no guarantee he won't do it tomorrow. Are we prepared for such an attack? What do we do to the children?" Professor McGonagall continued their list of problems.

The Headmaster nodded, deep in thought, pondering their options. Finally he spoke with a strong but kind tone. "Minerva, you'll let everyone know that I've left the school in your care. I've gone to investigate a mysterious disappearance of an old friend, but I'm actually looking for the Book of Dreams. You can drop that information to some people at the Ministry as well. Amadeus has gone home because of urgent family matters. Nobody knows anything about Amadeus, so they won't ask too many questions. The school..." He thought about it for awhile. "Should we close the school? Will the children be safer at home or will the Hogwatch be able to take care of minor Death Eater attacks? Voldemort isn't stupid. He knows that even if we're weak, we're not hopeless. We'll decide together now. What shall we do?"

Draco wasn't sure if his idea was good or even acceptable, but he decided to open his mouth anyway. "We could send everyone for an early holiday. Let's have the exams next week and send everyone back home for Christmas."

The room was quiet for a moment, and then all of them spoke at once. The only thing Draco heard over the mass of voices was the Headmaster himself saying, "That is an excellent idea, Mr. Malfoy." The old man was smiling widely now. "That way we don't have to make a scene out of this."

"We'll have to wait, though," Professor Snape muttered. "A week and a half is a long time to carry this inside us. We're letting Voldemort inside the school. He might not act the way we want him to act." But nobody was listening to him now. They were making preparations, planning the curriculum of the exams, choosing their tasks, accepting the fact that they would have to wait long enough for every child to step on board the Hogwarts Express. The wheels were turning already. He could do nothing to stop them.

The week and a half turned into two weeks. Draco stayed with the Slytherins, mostly studying and trying to avoid trouble. The problem was that trouble wasn't trying to avoid him. He had lost his status as the top dog, and to the Slytherins, he was now a weak prey. The news travelled fast, and they knew - the Mudblood was on everyone's lips. He still had friends, but nobody feared him anymore. The boy had no money, no parents, and he was a blood traitor. Draco had to sleep lightly, his wand at the ready.

During one of those nights, he woke up to a strange sound, or more precisely, to a complete stillness. There was nobody there but him; all the other boys were gone. Very cautiously, he pulled the blanket off him and lowered his feet to the floor, sitting up. He listened. No sound came from anywhere. Nothing could be heard, not even the wind, not even his own heartbeat.

He stood, walking very slowly towards the dormitory door, his wand hand shaking slightly. What were they up to now? Shouldn't he be able to trust Crabbe or Goyle to protect him? Damn them all. He didn't need this on top of everything. He's life was complicated enough already.

Opening the door, he remembered that it should creek. No sound came from it either. He peeked out of the doorway, wondering what was going to happen to him now. They had used a silencing spell. If he screamed, nobody would hear him. And like clockwork, he could feel someone pull a sack over his head, hands grabbing him from behind, pulling him to the ground. He wasn't wearing anything but the pyjama pants so the cold floor made him realise how very uncomfortable he would feel for the next twenty minutes or so.

It wasn't actually a beating - one could bear a few well-directed blows and kicks. It was more like a mob, trying to suffocate someone to death. He had a hard time concentrating on just breathing. There were knees on his stomach, hands on his face, someone holding his arms and legs. Feeling totally helpless, he finally passed out, his last thoughts circling the irrational fact that he would die without his shoes on.

After Merlin knows how many hours, he woke up in his bed, eyeing the darkness menacingly. He could hear them snoring close by, his attackers, people he had called friends or at least allies at some point. Now they were out to get him. Very slowly and very painfully he got up, standing on weak legs, grabbing the pillar of his bed for support. Bugger, buggering hell.

Draco didn't know why he had though that it would be better if he stayed at the dorm with the other boys. It clearly had been a mistake. He dearly missed his private Head Boy room at that precise moment.

Staggering to the bathroom, he hoped that he wasn't showing too many signs of the nightly beating. The others would get upset, especially Hermione. She might even come and lecture the Slytherins. Don't you know how to treat a friend? You have no idea what he's been through. No idea, you selfish morons. Yeah, that would be exactly what she would say. He smiled, but then quickly straightened his face because of the nauseating wave of pain it caused. Bloody hell. The bastards had actually hit him in the face.

He walked as quickly as he could to the mirror, staring at himself with what could only be described as utter horror. The skin surrounding his left eye was almost black, and the right side of his mouth had an ugly wound on it. They had actually ripped open the side of his mouth. Damn them. His neck had black and blue markings on it, and so did his whole torso. He had an especially awful looking mark on his right ribcage, and he feared he might have some broken bones there. All in all it wasn't so bad, though. He could have lost a limb or two.

Eyeing his wounds critically, he came to the rather demented conclusion that being a hero probably meant just this. After giving it some thought, he decided that he would endure everything. He wouldn't move out. He wouldn't tell anyone. He would take it like a man, alone, without the help of his newly found friends. This was his trial.

As the days went by, he noticed that even though he suffered from the same affectionate attention every night, people became less hostile around him during the day. They seemed to respect his silent way of accepting things, and how he even told lies to protect his House members. In Advanced Potions, he told Professor Snape that he had fallen down the stairs, and when Professor McGonagall showed concern, he said that one of Hagrid's creatures had stepped on him. He only went to Madam Pomfrey if he had broken bones; otherwise he let all the marks show. He wanted everyone to know that he wasn't afraid.

Draco avoided the Golden Trio fiercely. He hadn't spoken to any of them since they had decided to wait for the holidays. Hermione had tried to corner him three times after that, but every time he had managed to disappear from her sight. The only time he acknowledged her in anyway was when they practiced Ancient Magick together. It wasn't easy for him either, but he wanted the Slytherins back, and he couldn't do that if he let himself be seen with the Gryffindors. He ate alone, he waited alone for the classes to begin, he sat alone in the Slytherin common room. He rarely spoke, letting people initiate all contact.

He was a shadow, and shadows tended to turn people curious.

"How are you?" Pansy enquired one evening, sitting next to him on the sofa, touching his leg with her own. The common room fell silent all of a sudden.

Memorising the page he had been reading, Draco closed the heavy book in his lap and then turned to look at the girl he had dated from fourth year until the end of the sixth. Pansy should actually hate him; he hadn't been that loyal or faithful; quite the opposite, actually. The end of their relationship hadn't been pretty, but she still seemed to care about him. He could see it in her eyes even now. "Fine," he said dryly, watching from the corner of his eye how everyone in the room shifted nervously.

"Where have you been lately?" Pansy continued her line of questioning as the cunning Slytherins used all their abilities not to seem like they were listening.

In the end, Draco was surprised how easy it was. He just had to act like he didn't want any of it, like he didn't crave for their attention. "Recovering," he answered, carefully avoiding all kinds of emotional tones that could betray his nervousness. Heroes were never that talkative; they went straight to the point. He could become very good at this.

When Theodor came to stand close to him, demanding to know what had made him leave the Slytherins behind, he knew he had them. Only people who felt betrayed and hurt acted like that. And so, Draco told them. He told them his version of the Soul Ripper, of his mother's illness, of the Death Eater attack. How he had met his father. How he had tried to break the connection between him and Granger, and how the Guardians of the Blue Room had taken that away from him. He took the risk that some of them might already be Death Eaters and told them that he couldn't become one. He said it lightly, just mentioning it in between everything else, but people noticed anyway. Fewer were the faces that damned him, and it made him feel strangely satisfied. They were listening to him, and although he was bending the truth to his purposes, it was the first time he had got people's respect just by being himself.

That night, he didn't wake up to the cold silence. That night and every night after that, they left him alone.


****


"Bellator? Where on earth did you get a name like that?"

"Shut up, Potter."

"No, seriously, tell me?"

"I'll Obliviate you if you won't shut your mouth," Draco hissed through his teeth, trying to listen to Amadeus explain the shielding charm which was supposed to keep his mind safe while Voldemort roamed freely inside him. It had something to do with Muggles, some odd aurors called psychologists, images and a rather powerful charm that would be cast by all four adults, and also Harry I'm-the-Chosen-One Potter.

Harry looked as though he had found a rare and valuable gem - something that could be used for blackmailing. Draco didn't want to know how he had found out about his very embarrassing second name. He had high hopes that Hermione wasn’t that upset with him. She hadn't spoken a word to him, yet, but he was hopeful. She couldn't be that mad at him, could she?

"Spoil sport," Harry muttered and pretended to listen to his teachers again. He had heard the same tale quite a few times. They had been endlessly studying all the possible flaws in their plan while the Blond Menace had been doing Merlin knows what. Ron was sure he had been practicing some horrible dark ritual that had left him bruised and some innocent bunny headless. Hermione had disagreed, but hadn't elaborated her own thoughts on the matter. Harry just thought that the git had finally received what he had been asking for all these years.

Amadeus sat down after his speech, adding as a final thought, "This will end the Pario Animus spell. Voldemort won't be able to return to Mr. Malfoy's mind again. We've been able to study the spell further and have realised that removing the trigger would have been impossible. It would have killed the boy. The only way to get rid of it is to let Voldemort use it. Our plan has been the only possible one all along."

The War Room fell silent. The finality of their situation suddenly hit them, making them see how close they had been to killing Draco. He was alive only because Ron had crawled out of the magical circle while the Shaqnar ritual was still active.

Draco stared at them, white-faced. "Excuse me?" he managed to croak. He stood, pushing his chair away with the back of his thighs, too shocked to even know what he was doing. He walked to Professor Snape's side, all eyes following him. "Please explain?" he said very quietly, standing in perfect attention.

"Draco-" Dumbledore began, but Snape interrupted him, gesturing the Headmaster to let him do the talking.

Professor Snape turned to look at his favourite pupil - his favourite Slytherin - and attempted a smile. "We didn't know what the weapon was, what the spell was. The logical explanation was to try and remove the trigger so he couldn't use it. We've been trying to solve this problem ever since I found out about it, but it hasn't been easy. There isn't much knowledge on these kinds of spells. Malfoy Manor might have had some useful information, but we obviously couldn't go there - even if it wasn't burnt down."

Draco jerked back, but before he could say anything, Snape continued quickly, "You found out too soon. It made it all the more risky. We had to act fast so it wouldn't destroy you... and it almost did. I'm so sorry about everything."

Harry couldn't turn his eyes away from the Potions Master. This was a different kind of Snape, a person who actually cared about someone. Had Draco realised it? Did he know that he was like a son to someone?

Draco tried to speak, but nothing came out. He hit the table with a tight fist and then cleared his throat. “How… did you find out?”

“It’s a part of my collection,” Amadeus said all of a sudden. “The book, I mean. We’ve been searching for the answers all this time, and then last night, I found it. We know as much about the spell now as he does.” He turned to look at Professor Snape, clearly thinking hard how to explain everything. “Voldemort could have used a dozen different spells, but Snape knew the ones he had been studying lately. Much later, as you know, Dumbledore made an educated guess - and I believe he's right. But it’s still up to you, Draco. If you don’t want to do this-“

“It’s not about want,” Draco snapped. “I don’t have a choice, do I? Unless I want to become your house-elf.” He glared at Amadeus, anger and frustration competing over their right to rule his features.

“Draco, please calm down.” Professor Snape took a hold of his wrist, but Draco pulled himself free, growling, “I don’t need to calm down. I need people who can actually think. You could’ve told me. I could’ve helped. She could’ve helped.” He pointed a finger at Hermione. “She’s marvellous when it comes to thinking.” He shut his mouth suddenly, realising that he was babbling again.

Harry stood as well, thinking that the whole situation had gone too far. Why were Dumbledore and McGonagall just sitting there? They should have interfered the moment it started to move to a dangerous direction. “We don’t need this,” he said calmly. “Do you want to do it?” He directed his words to Draco, looking at him with relentless patience. “You said you were sure it’s this spell. D’you want us to help you now?”

It was the handshake of their first year all over again. Will you take my hand now? Will you trust me not to pull mine away? Melodramatic idiot, Draco thought savagely. He put his hands in his pockets and walked to his seat again, glaring at Harry. He sat down, saying, “What do we do next, then?” Part of him wanted to walk out of the door, but a much larger part wanted to kick everyone’s butt. He would show them that Draco Malfoy was not a weakling. And when Hermione found his hand under the table and squeezed it gently, he didn’t even jump.

“I believe it’s time to act,” Dumbledore finally said, ending the dispute completely.




A/N: It's a bit short and it's definitely not the last. It came out quicker though. I hope you like it. ^_^ Beta changes have now been added. My wonderfully patient beta, Vickie did a great job with this one, again. She’s marvellous.

It's kind of an in-between-chapter. Voldemort is too evil, Draco is quite locked up and Hermione... well, you'll find out. There's too much on my mind.

Oh, I also want to thank two reviewers: LaurenT for staying with me even though I've taken looooong breaks between chapters, and Canadian Warrior Babe for helping me with chapters, convincing me that I really shouldn't leave this fandom... well, they are just amazing. Thank you. ^_^

Update: I’ve been busy. That’s my only excuse. Anyway, I’ve been able to write a little and I’ll try to finish the last chapter this weekend. I have time, finally. Anyway, hope to update soon.


Chapter 17: Nightmare Game, Part One
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A/N: It's possible that I'm always going to be late in life. Anyway, here is the first part of the last chapter of Hate, Prejudice and Secret Intentions - my little baby. I've decided to post this now, even though the second part isn't finished yet. I'm going to keep pressuring myself to write it though. It will be up very soon.

Also, Hermione really is an adult in this story. She's eighteen. I'm warning you. There's a bit of violence and torture here. I'm not getting too graphic, because it's not allowed on this site, but it can be disturbing at times. Voldemort is evil. Period.

The chapter picture is the handiwork of lovely melihobbit.

Enjoy!


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Nightmare Game, Part One


Two people walked past the Great Hall of Hogwarts, purposefully heading for the main entrance. Only one of them could actually move; the other could only hope that one day, he would get his body back. Now, he was a prisoner inside his own mind, locked in a safe room, unable to do anything but curse their lack of knowledge.

Amadeus had been so sure that Voldemort could do only minor things with Draco's body. So frigging sure. It was completely useless to cry now that he was striding towards the Forbidden Forest where Hermione and Ron were gathering potions ingredients with Hagrid - completely oblivious of everything they had been planning for the past two weeks. Professor Snape had wiped their minds, giving them false memories to replace the ones that could jeopardize their plan. All he could do was hope that Hagrid could hold Voldemort off long enough for Harry to give the antidote to Amadeus. They needed his magical aura back.

The plan had gone haywire the moment Voldemort had shown no interest towards Snape's actions, and had stormed out of the door, making it clear that he had a plan of his own. The only thing that could stop Voldemort was Amadeus, alive and well.

Ten minutes. They could survive ten minutes, couldn't they?

Hermione will think it's me. The thought hit him like a troll's hammer. She didn't know. It was his face, his voice, his hands... Painful images of torture, blood and tears filled his mind, shaking him to the core. Fucking bastard. The insane black magician was going to rip her to shreds - and he could do nothing to stop it.

He looked around his prison, hating the two armchairs and the small tea table that looked too friendly and warm. He wanted to destroy the fire place that was his link to the mad man, his way of controlling the thoughts that reach his enemy, the leach. It had felt so safe when he created it, when Hermione had created it not so long ago in the Blue Room. It had been their safe haven from the Guardians. Now it was just a hole. It was nothing but a shrine of desperation. He was trapped. And the insanity of Voldemort was pouring all over him, suffocating any and all rational thoughts. Draco tried to block most of Voldemort's thoughts, but wasn't very successful at it. The other wizard was too strong, too heavy, too happy.

Voldemort chuckled as he followed the form of his Patronus - a dog that could trace all smells. He had been planning this all along. The only reason he had decided to invade Draco's body was to kill Hermione Granger. Ronald Weasley was a rather nice bonus, but the main target was Ms. Know-It-All. Voldemort had finally learned that Harry Potter loved his friends. Killing one or two of them would hurt the boy magnificently. He was very pleased with himself; he had trusted the right man. Snape had done his part and now Dumbledore and Amadeus were dead. He could wreck havoc in Scotland, and nobody would be there to stop him. Hogwarts was going to be his pet project. First, he would make living statues out of all the professors...

Draco shook his head, driving away the images of his stone-faced teachers. How could he keep his sanity while listening to the crazy wizard? Only thing that kept him from completely panicking was the fact that he needed his wits when they finally reached Hermione and Ron. He had to be able to think.

Only three minutes had passed since Voldemort had occupied his mind. They would still have to endure seven. Draco hoped that Hermione and the others had gone further into the woods, making it harder for the ugly mut to find them. He hoped and wished, fingers crossed.

Voldemort would kill her. He wouldn't wait. He wouldn't play. He would just kill her. Avada Kedavra and it would all be over. She was going to die, her beautiful hair all bloody and her warm brown eyes dead as the rock beneath her. She would die.

Draco ran his fingers through his hair, trying to direct his thoughts to something other than her dead eyes, trying to see that they still had a chance. Someone could do something. Hagrid was there. The stupid giant could do something to save her. He could be brave. Draco shivered inside out, falling on the floor, boneless, helpless. She would die.

"Are you there, little boy? Do I have to force you to show me yourself?"

Fuck.

He didn't know what to say. He had never liked talking to the monster, but now he had no choice. He wrote on a parchment, "Why are you here?" and then burned it in the fire, sending the thought to Voldemort just as Amadeus had instructed him.

"Bold, are we? I'm here to greet your unwisely chosen girlfriend. I must tell you, your father is most disappointed in you. He asked me to... destroy you before I leave your healthy young body."

"She's not my girlfriend!" He wrote again, sending a bit of anger with the message as well.

"But still, you know who I'm talking about. I can feel your poor anxious heart even though you are hiding. How did you manage to create that little room?"

Amadeus had been wrong about everything. Voldemort wasn't supposed to notice that he was hiding. He wasn't supposed to be aware of any of the magic inside him. "I didn't forget the initiation, the Soul Ripper," he lied. "I knew you would come some day. I'm not going to let you invade my personal mind."

Draco could feel Voldemort claw around the boundaries of the room. "You!" That one word held so much hatred that it pushed Draco on his knees. He couldn't even lift his head. He was bowing. The bastard could make him do such a thing even when he was in his shelter. How long would the walls hold his thoughts?

Then the pressure was gone, and Voldemort turned his focus back on the dog that was leading them into the forest. Draco sighed in relief. It was unbelievable how powerful the dark wizard was. His mind was like iron, unyielding and merciless.

"What are you going to do?" Draco asked with another parchment, knowing that he would not get an answer. Voldemort was furious with him. He had escaped twice already; first the Soul Ripper and now this. It seemed to make the Dark Lord feel incompetent. He could kill his incompetent underlings, but killing himself was... well, it fought against all his beliefs. Incompetence was just something he had to learn to accept in himself.

Voldermort slowed his pace suddenly, walking among the trees, carefully avoiding open space. Then he cast a silencing spell around himself, and Draco realized that he could hear Hagrid's thundering voice already. They were so close.

He scribbled quickly, messily, "What is your plan?" and burned the text. Merlin, let her survive.

"Close your mouth, boy. I'm going to show you glory."

"There's no glory in killing people!" Draco was starting to lose his grip on the last strings of his rational mind. Even Hermione's voice could be heard now, her telling Ron what that precise ingredient would do to the Solidification Potion.

"That is a matter of perspective."

Why had he ever thought that he would like to see Hermione die? Why had he ever said that aloud? His own words haunted him now: "I hope I'm there to gloat when they kill you... slowly and painfully." He had really said that to her - and really meant it at the time. God damn it. He hit the fireplace with tight fists, cursing aloud... he... would... lose... her...

"See how young she is? See how oblivious she is? Isn't that just glorious?"

"No," he screamed, writing the word over and over and over again. Please.

They sneaked closer, Voldemort vanquishing his Patronus to make sure that they would go unseen.

Hermione was grouching nearby, digging some twigs from under the thin snow cover. Further away, Ron was talking with Hagrid, their faces bright and relaxed as the December breeze tugged their cloaks. The scene was so peaceful, no cracks in that beautiful frame.

Draco screamed as loudly as he could, willing for Hermione to hear him. He didn't care about the words, he just screamed, hopelessness enveloping him. Voldemort laughed, the kind of laugh that made it clear that your fate was not in your hands anymore.

All of a sudden, Hermione stood, looking around and walking backwards, seemingly worried. Her brown eyes were sharp and watchful.

"What is it?" Ron hollered, noticing Hermione's odd behaviour. He had a basket in one hand, but the other was already reaching for his wand. "D'you see something? The bloody spiders for sure..."

"It's nothing... I think. I just thought I heard something." She continued to stare at the place where Voldemort stood, just behind a tree, just behind a veil of disguise. "I suppose we should head back soon. This basket is almost full, too," she added, taking her wand out of her sleeve. Just in case.

Hagrid smiled, waving at her, "Yeh come back now, Hermione. It's gettin' dark as well."

After one more glance at the source of her worries, she turned her back on their worst enemy and quickly walked to Hagrid and Ron's side. "Let's go, boys," she said cheerfully.

All his life, Draco Malfoy had thought that he was more important than anyone else. His mother had indulged him. His father had taught him Things even when he was just a child. At school, people had worshipped him (only Potter and his groupies had made life difficult for him). In other words, Draco Malfoy deserved more than most people.

At that moment, he realized how very wrong he had been.

Voldemort moved from behind the tree, walking slowly towards the group of three. He moved like a wild predator, hunting, ready to leap. His eyes were focused, his mouth a straight line of concentration. Draco Malfoy's features revealed absolutely nothing about the inner insanity of his existence.

Draco wanted to close his eyes, shut the world out, make it all go away. Instead, he sat on the wooden floor, hugging himself, staring. The world seemed to be full of details. He could even spot a tiny snowflake on Hermione's shoulder. How pretty.

"Hermione."

She turned, her brown curls framing her sweet face. Her rosy cheeks made her look energetic as she smiled, taking a step closer. "Oh, it's you. I'm... It's... You're here?" She sounded puzzled.

Ron moved to stand next to Hermione, crossing his arms as though he was her guard. "Why, would be the question?"

Voldemort grinned with Draco's mouth, moving closer to Hermione, whispering to her ear, "I have a present for you." He touched her neck with two fingers, tracing her collarbone under the cloak. She sighed, not encouraging but not turning away either.

"Get off her!" Ron pushed Draco as hard as he could, hoping that the blond boy would fall down. He didn't. Instead, he seemed to move faster than the eye could see, grabbing Ron's left hand behind his back and pushing the boy down on his knees. Ron howled in pain.

"Boys... That ain't the way ter play." Hagrid said, landing his huge hand on Voldemort's shoulder. "Yeh just relax, Mr. Malfoy." That was a mistake.

To Draco's horror, Voldemort revealed his wand, pointing it at the giant's chest. "You relax!" he snapped, transfiguring Hagrid into a cockroach. Draco realised that Voldemort had been stalling the situation, trying to figure out how to get rid of the giant. Avada Kedavra wasn't enough and neither were many of the other conventional curses. Transfiguration was one of the few subcategories of spell making that didn't rely on the size or the race of the target. Not that much anyway.

Hermione grabbed Voldemort's hand next, her eyes worried, questioning. "Draco, what's wrong? Please, let them go. This is not what you want." That distracted the dark wizard long enough for Hagrid the cockroach to flee before he was squashed. Otherwise their predicament was getting worse with each step. Five minutes was enough for Voldemort to kill both Ron and Hermione and then focus all his energy on destroying Draco, just as he had promised.

Draco tried to get into the Colour of Magick so he could warn Hermione, but he needed the control of his whole mind to do that. Not even Hermione's hand on his helped him. The girl was out of his reach. He felt like his mind was turning into crystal. Nothing seemed to work anymore. Everything happened in slow motion and he could only follow, not think.

"Please, let go of him," Hermione said with a tone of someone who cares deeply of everyone in her small world. "Please."

"She's a sweetie, don't you think? Can you hear the blood bounding in her ears? She's afraid of you. Your girl fears you. That's the way to go, boy. Teach them their place, begging for mercy at your feet."

"Get away from her!" Draco screamed, burning parchment after parchment in the fire. "Let her go!"

"Why? Is she that important to you? Are you not a Malfoy, a Pureblood whose ancestors would turn in their graves if they saw you now? Weeping because of a Mudblood. You deserve no mercy. You deserve it even less than her. You discrace. You bloodtraitor... I never wanted you."

The last part scared Draco more than anything else. This was a revenge? That's why Hermione was the main target. Voldemort didn't just want her dead, he wanted her to suffer.

"Now, watch!"

Voldemort stepped back, releasing Ron, giving him room to stand up and turn to face him. Hermione started to smile, but then shocked disbelief crawled its way on her face, making her look like she was about to throw up. The person she loved had just magically ripped open her best friend. Ron was lying face down on the snowy ground, blood pooling around him.

In Draco's opinion the white-red display looked like macabre art, and he just couldn't stop staring. He couldn't look at Hermione. Not like this, not behind the eyes that had just decided which part of the human body would bleed the most.

"Expelliarmus!" Hermione screamed, teary-eyed but angry - more angry than Draco had ever seen her. She seemed almost cold, deadly. Hardly a sweet girl who loved everyone. Her face was distorted with hatred. She didn't wait for Voldemort to take in the turn of events but rammed herself against him, pushing him to the ground. She sat on top of him, and pointed her wand against his neck. "Move, and I'll kill you," she said with an edge in her voice that spoke volumes. She was dead serious.

"Now, now, aren't we feisty," Voldemort chuckled, admiration in his voice. The girl was almost like young Bella. Maybe she could be turned as well. Too bad she was tainted by Muggle blood

Hermione pushed her wand harder against Draco's throat. "Shut up! I'm this close... I'll kill you."

Voldemort tried knocking her off of him, not being too serious about it. "No you won't. You would have done it already." At ease, he lay underneath her, smiling. "You lead now."

"Who are you?" Hermione cried. "What happened to you? Why? I thought..."

"You thought what?" he interrupted. "That I cared? That I loved you? Please. A Mudblood like you could never make me feel a thing. You are a key, dear. Key to the heart of one Harry Potter. Key to win the favour of Lord Voldemort. Nothing else. You are the key to my glory." He laughed a mirthless laugh, mindless if you asked any sane person.

"Watch her face. She believes it. Look at her eyes, those big brown eyes. She's in sweet pain."

"Please stop. I'll do anything. I'll come with you. I'll do anything you want. I'll be anything you need me to be. Just let her go." Draco begged, crawled at his Master's feet, asking for mercy.

"Too late."

With one quick motion he pushed himself and the girl up, crushing her against a tree, summoning his wand. "Now, we stop playing. You die."

Draco could see that Hermione's fighting spirit had died already. Her wand slipped from her grasp and her eyes turned inward. She looked like a fragile doll. With all his power, with all the power of the Colour of Magick, he reached for her, reached for the link that still pulsated between them. Don't give up! Hermione, please. Don't give up!

She didn't stir, didn't move, didn't make a sound. She had lost too much.

Binding her to the tree, Voldemort took a moment to admire his handiwork. Hagrid was out of the game, Ronald Weasley was dead, and Hermione Granger, the intriguing Mudblood, was next on his menu. She was a strange one, coloured with emotions and responsibilities. Her heart seemed strong, almost as though she was an ancient warrior. It was a pity that she was so worthless otherwise.

"I want you to be awake." Voldemort pointed his wand at Hermione's right temple, healing her strained mind. "Be awake." He touched her lips with his thumb, entering her mouth.

"You know, this is the first time in years that I have a fully functional body."

Hearing those words made Draco's stomach flip over. Parts of his mind shattered, leaving him lying on the floor in a fetal position. He could not... endure... this...

Voldemort leaned against Hermione, kissing her cheek softly, running his hands up her sides. "She could be tasty."

The girl was awake again, quickly reacting to the situation, biting Voldemort's cheek, growling in anger. Her eyes were blazing. "Let go of me, you spineless worm!" She spat out blood, his blood.

Slowly and with difficulty, Draco pushed himself up on hands and knees, watching her, seeing the girl he had learned to admire. He had forgotten how determined she could be. How fragile, how emotional, how strong.

Voldemort held his injured cheek, shocked. "This is your woman?"

"You are going to regret that, dear," he said aloud, distancing himself from her.

He was known for his experimental magic. Today, he would use some of that on her. He still had time, a few more minutes to play. Snape had said twenty. That was plenty.

He walked past her three times, making her sweat. She knew it would hurt.

"Serpensortia Intestinus!"

Immediately after the last syllable, Hermione started to cough, trying to breathe, trying to get her hands free from the binding spell. She was suffocating. Her eyes watered as she clawed the tree, gagging as though she was about to vomit. The suffocation continued far too long, making her skin grey and her eyes bloodshot. Finally the cause of her suffering came out: first the head and then the body of a viper slithered out of her mouth, its back slick with saliva. It slid down Hermione's front, happily encircling itself around Voldemort's extended arm.

"You see, I don't appreciate cheeky girls like you. Your Muggle parents have taught you no manners."

It looked as though Hermione was about to pass out again. Her head was hanging loosely and her breathing was ragged, hard. Her mouth was bleeding, small red droplets falling on the white ground, marking the spot where she was losing everything.

"Stupefy," she croaked, surprising all but herself. Even without her wand, she managed to hit the blond boy hard enough for him to fall on the ground. He hit his head on a rock, cursing wildly. It was enough to free Hermione.

She didn't waste any time but started to run, not caring where just how far. She didn't see very well and blood was drumming in her ears, but she continued to run as fast as she could. Everything had died there. Everything she had believed in. All her dreams. All her love. She had died there. Only thing that was left was Harry. She had to warn him. She had to survive.

"She's a fierce one, isn't see? Do you think she can outrun me? Do you? I believe it's time for illusion. It's time to make her see her worst fears over and over again until she falls. It's time for Eternal Pain."

Draco hugged his knees, rocking himself back and forth, back and forth, his mind completely cold.

... Draco... you can save her... love can destroy Voldemort... haven't you been listening?

The voice was familiar, childish, boyish. He lifted his gaze, scanning the room for any unexpected guests. The boy startled him, revealing himself behind one of the armchairs. I don't want her to die... she's always been so kind....

Draco tried to stand up, but his legs wouldn't hold him. He was too exhausted. He crawled on all fours to the boy's side, staring at him with wild eyes. "How can you be here?" was the only thing he managed to say or think. He didn't even know if he had said it aloud.

I'm you... you just never liked me much...

"What... did you say earlier?" he asked, pronouncing every word carefully as though afraid that he would not be understood otherwise. "How can I save her? She's dying... worse, she's losing herself. I want to stop it. Help me! If you know anything, help me. Help me."

I can take your memories and stay here. You can keep the ones that have her in danger and you loving her. Just save her.

Frustrated, Draco grabbed the boy forcefully. "How the hell am I going to do that? It's Voldemort. He eats bigger rats than me for lunch. I'm nothing next to him. I can't beat him."

The boy pushed Draco's hands away, anger flashing in his eyes. You are a whiner! You've been sitting here, waiting for him to kill the girl you love! You LOVE her. You can save her, idiot. Dumbledore preaches about love all the time. It's the only way to kill the monster. Fill him with love and he can't kill her! Go!

Draco finally understood what the boy meant. He knew love. He stormed out of the room, creating a door that disappeared at his wake.

... and when you come back... please don't leave me alone anymore...

Voldemort enjoyed the chase more than he had anticipated. The girl was far more interesting than he had understood from the reports Snape had sent him. She was supposed to be a bookworm, a scholar... the mousy type. Instead she was a capable adversary. Smirking, he sent the web of Eternal Pain over her. She would be seeing her best friend die at the hands of her lover all eternity. That should crack her. That should crack anyone. He could hear her insides rip apart already. What sweet music it was to his highly enhanced senses.

The Dark Lord was completely infatuated by Hermione Granger, the Muggle-born witch, whose mind was in his hands, his to play with, his to tamper with. He didn't pay attention to the warm feeling inside him. The strong waves of pleasure were misguiding his thoughts, making him believe that all his feelings were his own. Nobody else was at loose; nobody that could possible have the key to stop him.

Draco had found a quiet place in Voldemort's mind, had sat down on the ground and started to feel, repeating all kinds of powerful words in his mind. Let her be safe. I adore her. She's the most beautiful person in the world. But after awhile, his magic, his thoughts, his emotions turned into one word: precious. He could feel everything begin to burn around him, the warmth radiating from him, destroying Voldemort from the inside, eating away all the carnal pleasures that he so desired.

It was only then that the Dark Lord noticed something was wrong. Hermione lay on the ground, barely breathing, beaten and bloody. He should be overjoyed. He should be celebrating. All he could feel was remorse. He couldn't even point his wand at her, couldn't utter the words that would end her life. He loved her. He fell to his knees, screaming. He grabbed his right wrist with his left hand, trying to destroy the being he hadn't pitied a moment ago. Now, it seemed as though his heart would die if he hurt her. He had never felt anything like that. It brought all kinds of miserable thoughts to his mind.

"What are you doing to me?" he cried, doubling over, burying his face into his hands, tasting snow... and her blood. "Stop." His voice was strangled, a mere whisper.

Precious.

With the word came the burning sensation of guilt. The boy, Malfoy heir, was showing his true colours. Voldemort dived into his subconscious, following the voice, pure rage clearing his clouded mind. The boy would cease to exist. The boy would not have time to beg for mercy. The boy would be gone...

All of a sudden, Draco felt Voldemort leave his skin, ripping through him violently. He watched the shadow of the dark wizard haunt the forest for a few seconds as though unsure of where he belonged or why he was there. Then he was gone, leaving them breathing the cold winter air, listening to the calming sounds of Mother Nature.

Draco crawled to Hermione's side, trying to see if the girl could be saved. Was she too hurt? Had Voldemort destroyed her mind? Would she ever smile to him again? Would she ever hold a quill in her fingers, a brilliant joy lighting her eyes?

Hermione lay on her back, her arms and legs in odd angles. Her face was so full of agony that Draco wished he hadn't looked at her. Parts of him wished that they hadn't survived. Life would be so difficult after this. The absurdness of that thought made him laugh out loud. Like his life had been swell before. Like anything had ever been easy.

"Move away from her!"

Draco turned towards the voice, staring with hazy eyes, just barely recognising the person who was threatening him with a wand. "Professor Snape?" he croaked, turning his gaze back to Hermione, laying his head on her stomach. "Save her," he muttered before passing out.


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"... never should have let them stay..."

"... didn't know... don't do that to yourself..."

"... no choice..."

A conversation was been held beside his bed. His ears couldn't focus, his mind even less, but he understood that something was wrong. The voices were so soft, hurt, oddly distant. Something was wrong.

He bolted upright, immediately feeling dizzy. "Hermione? Is she okay?"

"Lie down." He felt strong hands pushing him back against the pillows. "You have a high fever."

"I don't..." his voice gave in, but still he pushed out the last words, "... give a damn." He tried to lift himself up again, but the hands were pressing his shoulders, holding him down.

Blood trickled to his mouth, telling him that his nose was bleeding. That scared him, and he lay still, trying to figure out who those people were whose presence he could sense in the room with him. He tried to focus his eyes on the person who was touching him.

"Sir?" he said, unsure of what he saw. The person looked like his father, but that couldn't be... His father was a Death Eater and an escaped convict. Then his vision cleared and he recognised Amadeus. He wasn't so transparent anymore, and his hair was completely white. Draco felt like crying all of a sudden. It had all been too much, and for a second, he had thought that his father could be there, caring... He was gone. He turned his face away, trying to hide the need he felt.

What he saw scared him even more than the blood in his mouth. Hermione lay on the next bed in that exact same position Draco had seen her in the forest. Her body was rigid and her hands and legs were stiff as though death had already touched her. She looked like she was screaming in her dreams.

Draco grabbed Amadeus's wrist. "Eternal Pain, do you know it? He used that on her. Take it away, please. Please?"

Amadeus looked at him with disbelief. "Illusion spell? It's rare for illusion spells to work this way. Are you sure?"

"Positive." He felt as though everyone in the room were idiots. Didn't they see that she was in pain? She was suffering and they were just standing there, looking at him, talking.

Amadeus pulled his wrist free and walked to Hermione's side. He sat on her bed, placing his right palm on her forehead and his left over her heart. He muttered something incomprehensible, causing Hermione's whole body to relax. A long breath escaped her lips and then she was completely calm. Too calm.

"She's alive," Amadeus assured them, "but she's unwilling to wake up." He turned to look at them, a worrying look on his face. "I'm not actually sure if there is anyone here who can wake up. I don't know what Voldemort did to her, but it made her aura disappear. There's nothing coming out of her. She's absolutely still.

Draco closed his eyes, willing for the reality to disappear. In his dream world, he took Hermione flying. They were laughing. He teased her, and she smiled. What a shitty world it was! Why did everything have to be so god damn difficult? Why? What had he done to deserve all this? You were born. Her words teased him. Past, present and future. She had to be there.

"Can I go look?" he asked, looking at Amadeus. Please.

"No!" The word was breathlessly uttered, full of despair and fright. "No." Professor McGonagall looked like she had just met a herd of Bogarts that had gripled her beyond repair. "No. Absolutely not. You've had enough excitement for one evening, young man. You go to sleep and leave the rest for us adults." She said the last word with a strict voice, looking at the other three professors pointedly.

"Minerva..." Dumbledore tried, but she wouldn't let him talk her out of it.

"No, you won't. Look at them. Look at her. This is our fault. My fault. They are children. We should have never..." she broke off, hiding her face behind her long sleeves, shoulders shaking.

Draco had had enough. "Shut up!" he screamed, not caring that they were his superiors, not caring that she was just shocked. This would not help Hermione. He could help her. He tried to calm himself a bit before saying, "I can help her. Let me help her."

Dumbledore went to talk with Madam Pomfrey, taking her hand to his, guiding her a bit further away from the hospital beds. Still, Draco could hear him. "Poppy, can we allow it? Is he strong enough?"

Draco didn't care what the school nurse had to say. He would do it anyway. While the others talked, he rose from the bed, softly stepping close to Amadeus, who let Draco lie down next to Hermione without saying a word. He just nodded, accepting Draco's choice.

It didn't take long for him to notice that there was nothing inside her. She was just shattered glass. He had to pull out immediately, because the atmosphere was too hollow and cold for him to endure it. She was broken.

"Is she...?" Amadeus didn't have to finish the sentence. He could read enough from Draco's eyes. The boy was pale in the begin with, but now he was almost as white as the hospital walls. His lips were turning blue as well. "Lie down, Draco," he whispered to the boy's ear, helping him to his bed. Seeing that kind of despair on someone's face... nobody that young should feel like that. He knew too well what it meant to lose something you cherished. He had lost everything when his father died.

The ceiling was Draco's friend from that moment on. He could not look anywhere else or everything would cease to exist. The ceiling and its small cracks soothed his mind, making breathing almost understandable, acceptable. He followed the lines of those cracks, trying to create pictures, something to occupy his mind. He blocked the whole world out, just staring at the ceiling, not thinking, only breathing very quietly.

On a very uncomfortable hospital chair sat Harry Potter, feeling exactly the same. He had pulled his legs close to his body, hugging himself tightly. His chin was resting against his knees, and he kept opening and closing his mouth, causing his chin to snap every time. It even made a small sound.

"She's a fighter, mate. She can... she will..." Ron pushed his fists hard against his eyes, trying to stop the tears. Snape's timely arrival had saved his life, but only barely. He was still weak, but at least he had his wits about him. It was more than could be said about Hermione. She was a fighter, but even she couldn't fight with an empty mind.

Harry nodded, but didn't say a word, didn't want to, couldn't. He had almost lost Ron. Voldemort was supposed to be after him, not his friends. He was losing Hermione. She was slipping away, had slipped away already, had disappeared into a scary world of nothingness. Only her body kept breathing steadily. He grabbed Ron's hand, squeezing too hard. He needed something solid, something to keep him there with all the people he knew.

Ron squeezed back, just as hard. "She's going to be all right." Harry could hear the unsaid words as well: otherwise we're never going to be the same again.



To Be Continued Very Soon...

Chapter 18: Nightmare Game, Part Two
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Nightmare Game, Part Two



For two whole weeks they continued to try and cure Hermione. Amadeus and Dumbledore used all their knowledge to create spells that could reach the unharmed sides of her mind. Every single day Draco entered her broken mind, searching for her spirit and her soul, never finding anything but shattered glass. Ron and Harry sat beside her bed, relentlessly telling her how special she was. Snape created potions that would ease the strain of her body and mind. McGonagall brought all Hermione's precious belongings to her, even letting Crookshanks sleep at the foot of her bed. Everyone took her recovery to their heart, but nothing helped. She was lost.

Finally came the time for decisions. They were aware of Voldemort's movements and his intention to declare an open war. Most of the werewolves and vampires were on his side, and the giants had chosen to side him as well. The situation looked gloomy for all the peace-loving witches and wizards.

It was decided then that Dumbledore and Amadeus would go gather an army of their own with the help of Amadeus's people, the Ancient Ones who rarely chose their side. The school would stay open, but well protected, and parents could choose not to send their children back. The threat against the school was very real. Headmistress McGonagall regained the strength of her mind, taking Hogwarts under her strict command.

To Harry's surprise, he was chosen to continue Amadeus's classes. Wandless magic had always been rather natural to him and the private teaching sessions with Amadeus had left him years ahead of his class mates.

All in all, everything returned to normal. After New Year, the school started with almost sixty percent of its student body ready to continue their studies.

As the other seventh year students prepared for their NEWTS, Draco continued to stay by Hermione's side. He only attended classes so he could teach her new things. He read to her constantly, keeping her informed about everything that happened in the outside world. He barely slept, barely ate. Nothing was more important than keeping her connected to the world she belonged.

Ron and Harry were as stubborn as he was. They sat by her bed, listening to him read, holding her hand occasionally, just being close, missing her.

Dumbledore and Amadeus had decided that it would be too risky to move Hermione to St. Mungo's, because Voldemort had her scent now, and his Patronus might be able to find her again. That was why specialist all over the country came to see her, trying to figure out if she had been tortured to insanity or if there was still something left to salvage. Every time a new Mediwizard Specialist arrived, hope rose among the three boys, yet every time they had to swallow their disappointment when absolutely nothing could be done for her.

A month after the attack, Hermione's parents came to Hogwarts for the first time. They had been so deep in hiding that even Dumbledore had had difficulties in finding them. Her mother, Mary, and her father, Oliver, barged into the Hospital Wing without a warning, making Draco drop the Daily Prophet he had been reading to Hermione. He looked at them suspiciously as they hurried to Hermione's side. Her mother looked nothing like her. She was a rather plump lady with square glasses, and her mousy hair had stripes of grey in it. Her face was neither kind nor cold; she just looked concerned.

"Are you the nurse?" she asked Draco, looking at him like he would, could and should save her child right now.

Her father, a skinny man with black hair and an odd smell about him, took Hermione's hand to his, trying her pulse. "It's strong and steady. What's supposedly wrong with her?"

Mary stared at her husband, hope lighting her face. "She's going to be all right. I told you. We have to get her to a proper hospital. They can help her. Real doctors can help her." She watched Draco intently, and when he still didn't speak, she commanded, "Say something," her patience running out.

Draco wanted to hide. He didn't know how to address Muggles. He had never really talked to any of them. He also knew that Hermione's parents had already lost one child to insanity. This would be too much for them. "I'm not the nurse," he blurted.

"Then what are you doing here at this hour?" her father asked. "You're not her boyfriend, are you?"

There was a certain amount of disdain in those words, and it made Draco tick. He wasn't good enough for their precious daughter? "What if I am?" he said, testing the ground, seeing the flare in her father's eyes.

"Don't, Oliver." Mary grabbed her husband's hand, guiding him to sit on one of the chairs that circled Hermione's bed. There were lots of chairs there. Many people came to sit beside her bed. Many missed her. She didn't even know how many people considered her as their friend.

Mary turned her attention back to Draco, her eyes less accusing, "I'm sorry. You seam like a nice man. We just heard about this. We were Apparated to Hogsmeade, and it just isn't the nicest way to travel." She seemed to get more and more hysterical with each word. "We're just tired. And nobody told us until now. She's so small, fragile. Hermione. She's not like that, you know. She's like a tiger... or a bull. Have you seen her like that? She's just so strong. We never really wanted to let her come here. Because of Christopher. And now look at her. She..."

She continued to babble, but Draco couldn't listen. It was just too much information. He didn't want to know these people or their motives. He just wanted to be alone with Hermione. But from now on, these people would be there as well. He couldn't be so open anymore. Even Ron and Harry were bearable, because they stayed quiet most of the time. They listened.

"Did you hear me?" Mary seemed to want to wave a hand in front of his eyes, but fortunately she didn't. It was just so much one could bear.

Draco stood abruptly, quickly explaining, "I have to go. Nice to meet... Madam Pomfrey will... ah, she's here." He escaped from the room before anyone could stop him. He could not deal with them now. He wasn't a patient person, and he had been sitting beside her bed every day since the attack. Day after day, he went to her mind, seeing nothing but shattered glass. He had endured everything, because he believed Hermione was still there somewhere. She was a smart girl. She knew how to hide. She had created a shelter for herself. He was sure of it. It didn't help that strange people came and questioned his right to be there, to be close to her, caring about her more than anyone else before.

Almost immediately after leaving the room, he ran into Harry, finding it surprisingly natural. He grabbed the other boy's elbow without a word and dragged him to an alcove hidden from curious eyes and ears.

"Release my arm and explain," Harry said quietly, neither commanding nor demanding, just asking.

Draco looked at him with wild eyes, coughing out funny words. "The vultures are here." He really hadn't meant to say that. They were just her parents; the fact that he hadn't liked them, didn't give him the right to badmouth them.

Harry looked confused, pushing his glasses up his nose. "The who? The what?" He had learned to expect weird things from Malfoy, but this time he seemed even less normal than most days.

"Her parents," Draco muttered. "Her father wanted to cut my head off." He started pacing the small space, brushing against Harry's shoulder every now and then.

"I'm sure he didn't." Harry hid a smile. Draco was rather paranoid at times. Maybe it was all the time spent with Death Eaters and Dark Lords.

"He did too." Draco stopped on his tracks, looking at Harry intently. "I can't talk to her anymore." He sounded so small, frightened even, asking Harry to push those awful people out of his life. Make things better.

"Malfoy, stop being an idiot. They're her parents. They love her. They won't stop you from seeing her." Harry watched him carefully, trying to see if the words had reached any part of his mind, if any comprehension could be seen in his eyes.

Draco turned his back on Harry, anger and frustration rising quickly in him. "I know! Okay? I know." He paused for a moment, taking deep breaths and then spoke softly. "This changes everything. They want to take her away. If they decide it's better for her to be somewhere else, they can make that choice. We have to do something." He rubbed his temples, trying to drive away the bounding headache. It was his constant companion now, because of his visits to Hermione's empty mind. It was suffocating, crushing, unbearable, but he did it anyway.

He could feel Harry touching his shoulder hesitantly. "They can't take her away. Voldemort will..." Harry couldn't finish the sentence, couldn't even say it aloud. She was in such a fragile condition. They had to believe in her recovery. They had to. "Headmistress McGonagall... She can explain everything to them." They had all learned to rely on the old Gryffindor lady, who had shown such spirit and power lately that people had been wondering why she hadn't become the Headmistress earlier. The school was working almost better than before, and the security of Hogwarts had become a matter of pride to her. The Hogwatch guarded the school night and day, and there was a cloak hiding the place from all eyes, including magical ones. She herself had searched and found all the secret passages of the school, blocking them with care so nobody could find them ever again. Even the Guardians of the Blue Room were under her command, expanding their magic to protect the whole school and not just the newest baby-rooms.

"Can she convince them?" Draco asked, clearly doubting that anything could be done to change the minds of worried parents.

"Let's go talk to her." This time Harry grabbed Draco's elbow and pulled the boy with him.

The fortunate part was that Minerva McGonagall was a woman with many talents, and she cared deeply about Hermione. Her rational words crushed through the thick skull of Mother-In-Pain, and the Grangers let their only daughter stay at Hogwarts - on one condition, they would live there with her. It was a reasonable request and could be easily arranged as long as they stayed out of the way of the students and the staff.

To Draco's horror, her mother insisted on him being their guide to the magical world because he was the first wizard student they had met, and because he seemed to care about their daughter quite a lot.

Her mother clinched to his arm, when he took her to visit some of the places that were necessary for their stay at Hogwarts. Luckily it was night time, and only the prefects and the Hogwatch were up, knowing quite well not to approach him unless someone's head was being pulled off. He might have been Head Boy, but at that moment, he would have pulled someone's head off if they had the courage to bother him. Mary seemed oblivious to all that went through his strained mind.

She hummed quietly, clearly uncomfortable with the sounds of the moving paintings and the ghosts that kept swishing by. "Who are they?" Mary pointed at the Grey Lady who moments later disappeared through a wall.

Bloody Hell, baby-sitting Muggle parents wasn't his idea of a nice evening. He was supposed to be reading the next chapter of Advanced Arithmancy to Hermione. Now he was stuck with a person who knew nothing about his world. He should just push her to the nearest cabinet and be done with it. What an annoying parent-like lady-person she was. And what was wrong with him? He couldn't even think of anything nasty about her. She was Hermione's mother and very worried about her daughter. She was in a strange world, lost and hopeless. Maybe he could relate to that.

"They're just ghosts. They can't harm you, and they wouldn't do that even if they could."

"Oh, all right." She seemed to get less agitated after that, loosening her grip on his arm a little. "Where are we going?" she asked next.

She was a talker. At least he knew now where Hermione had inherited her annoying ability to talk her way in and out of trouble. "The Great Hall, where you'll be having your meals. After that I'll show you around a little so you'll find your way back to your living quarters. The stairs keep moving so you must remember which corridor you're heading even if the stairs are not willing to take you there."

Mary looked at him sideways, her eyes clouded. She could mask her feelings quite well, and he found himself respecting her for that. Soon, he also realised how strange it was that she could stay quiet too. It kind of annoyed him.

Then after awhile, she coughed, avoiding his eyes but clearly wanting to share something with him. Her jaw set, she confessed, "I lied to you earlier." She spoke with a quiet voice that made her words seem all the more important. "She's not that strong. She's like that because she wants to show everyone that they don't have to worry about her. But she cries, you see. When she comes home, she cries. She tries to hide it, of course, but it's just one of those things a mother can see. She's very lonely sometimes. We've had to work hard to keep her brother in a good hospital and her studying... these things. We're not there often either. Nobody's there if she's not here. I think she's only happy when she's here."

Draco let her talk now that she did. Mary Granger felt guilty. Those were words he would never hear from his father. Somehow, he wanted to hear them now, no matter who was saying them.

"After Christopher... she's told you, hasn't she?" Draco nodded, keeping his eyes at the floor, feeling bashful for receiving her trust so easily. Were all Muggles this trusting? "Christopher's reaction to this world, your world... magic... made us so afraid that she might be just like him, that her blood might carry the same power, but everything went so differently with her. When she received her letter, she just said, 'Oh mother, I told you so.' like it wasn't a big deal. She studied like she has always studied, wanting to know more than any of you could ever know... so she wouldn't feel left out. She wants to belong here. And I'm so worried that it will kill her. Now, when she lies on that bed... almost gone... But she wants to be here. But I'm... will she be all right? Can you find her with that magical bond you share? Have I lost her, too?" The last words she whispered so quietly that Draco had to strain his ears to hear her. She was in so much pain, asking Draco to be the one to tell her that everything would be all right, asking him to be the strong one. How could he be that, when everything in his life was hanging on a thread? She might have been able to create a shelter for herself. Might. God damn it, might!

Draco stayed quiet for a long while, searching for the right words. It was possible that there were none so he just said, "We believe she can be saved." That was true. He hadn't said they could save her, hadn't promised anything. But they did believe it. Harry, Ron and him, they all did. It was the only way they could stay by her side. Only by believing such a hopeless thing, Draco could go look for her every day.

"How did you become friends?" Mary asked, smiling a sweet smile, reminding him of Hermione all of a sudden. Behind the glasses, her eyes looked a lot like Hermione's. "Are you two dating?" She seemed almost coy, asking such a thing.

At this point, Draco was very happy that Oliver hadn't wanted to accompany them, claiming that he was too tired for wandering around. How could he answer? Well, at first I wanted to kill your daughter, but she's so stubborn and annoying that she got under my skin. Maybe he could just say that they shared a few classes. It was true, too. Hermione was his partner in Ancient Magick. That bloody course was the reason he was here now, walking her mother around the school. It all led to Amadeus. He was to blame for everything. What a bastard. "We share a few classes and got to know each other pretty well this year. What comes to the second question, the answer is no."

Mary stared at him for a few seconds too long, making him feel uncomfortable. Then she said knowingly, "You don't like to talk much, do you?"

Startled by her straightforwardness, he quickly answered, "No, I guess I don't." He actually liked Mary. She was so simple in her manners, easily admitting she wasn't perfect.

"I don't mind. Let's just walk."

After awhile, Draco learned to accept Mary and Oliver's presence as well, although he still didn't like to talk to them. He felt awkward with her father, especially when he did magic, especially when he entered her mind. But to his great relief, Mary started taking her husband to mysterious errands every time Draco used the Colour of Magick to try and reach their child. Mary seemed to notice his mood changes even better than he did, and usually stayed out of his way, when he was too tired to even think. She brought snacks with her, rarely eating at the Great Hall. She claimed that all the nasty candles in the air made her head spin, but Draco was pretty sure that she was trying to make him eat. Professor Snape had already warned him, and so had Headmistress McGonagall. He spent too much of his time by her side, not living at all, not going out, not sleeping. It was making him a ghost. Harry and Ron were no better. They all felt responsible. They should have been able to keep her safe.

"Are you going to try it soon?" Ron asked as the three of them sat by her bed that night.

Draco nodded. He was getting really tired of the emptiness he met every time he touched her mind. He was starting to lose hope. It had been almost two months since he had last seen her, really seen her. Soon, he would start forgetting her expressions, the sound of her voice. It would all become so blurry.

He took her hand to his, not bothering to slip next to her. He could do it this way as well. It was easier. As the Colour of Magick took hold of him, he felt his head starting to spin like it normally didn't. This was new. Something inside her had shifted.

When he finally reached her mind, it wasn't shattered glass. It was a desert, still empty but less painful. She was somewhere to be found. A joy like he had never experienced before surged through him, making his steps light, making his heart beat faster. This was it. He could find her. They had been right.

He ran through the desert, the sand giving away underneath his feet, making it hard for him to stay balanced, making him sweat. He didn't care. He was going to find her. Climbing on top of a dune, he smelled the air, trying to decide which way to go next. There weren't many landmarks to guide his way, but it didn't really matter. She was there. He could sense her.

He knew that Harry and Ron were excited as well. He had never stayed this long inside her mind. They knew something was different. He smiled, knowing that they were leaning over Hermione, trying to see if her eyes were moving, trying to see any changes in her. Draco hoped that Mary would come back soon, too. She deserved to have some hope after all those agonizing days of watching Hermione's pale unchanging face. She deserved a glimpse of change.

Draco had to quiet his own mind to be able to follow the scent of hers. She was there. Her aura was there. She wasn't unharmed, though. She was unmoving, sitting on a rock by a lake. She wore a yellow dress and her feet were bear. Her eyes were closed, her hands resting against her knees. She was so still. He opened his eyes, knowing where to look. With determined steps, he started closing the distance between them.

Even when he knew where to look, it took him hours to find her, and when he finally did, he was so exhausted that he could barely extend his arm to touch her. Was she real? When his fingers brushed her bear shoulder, her eyes opened and she turned to face him. She was blind, her eyes almost white, and when she opened her mouth, he could see that her tongue was gone.

A rush of wind startled him, almost pushing him off balance, as though meaning to tell him: "You are not safe. One step further and you'll die." He didn't move his hand from her shoulder, though.

He could think of only one thing to say. It was something every child wanted to hear when they were experiencing pain. "Your mother is waiting for you," he tried to whisper, unable to break the complete silence of Hermione's mind.

He tried again.

After awhile, she nodded, clearly showing that she had understood him. Relief washed over him, but it didn't stop him from being overly careful. This was the first contact after two months. She was very fragile. She had stayed hidden for so long - and she was still hiding. There was nothing wrong with her senses. She had destroyed those herself.

"Will you take my hand?" He slid his hand down her arm, past her elbow, finally reaching her hand, mingling his fingers with hers. She shivered slightly, but didn't show any kind of recognition otherwise. He watched her carefully, noticing that her hair was frizzy and the skin under her eyes was very dark. She hadn't slept at all. "Are you ready?" It was useless to ask her anything; she wasn't in a responsive state of mind.

He was impatient and made a choice, taking her with him.

For the longest time, Draco wondered if perhaps that decision had been wrong. When he pulled out of the Colour of Magick, Hermione was screaming her lungs dry, tossing and turning wildly, her movements too fast for Ron and Harry. She managed to hit Harry, and she bit Ron's wrist, reaching bone and drawing blood. The entire time she kept her eyes closed.

Madam Pomfrey came running when she heard the ruckus. With a quick calming spell - then even a quicker binding spell when the first one didn't seem to work - she managed to quiet her down. Then she found a bottle of dreamless sleep potion, and poured it down Hermione's throat with such skill that it was no mystery why she was a nurse. Soon, the girl was sound asleep.

The nurse looked at the boys sternly, demanding an answer. "What happened?"

"I found her," Draco said quietly, watching Hermione's peaceful face. It didn't give away any sign of her earlier insanity. Had she lost her mind after all? It was her worst fear and now... It just couldn't be true after all they had been through. It wasn't fair.

"You did what? She... Hermione... We have to inform her family. Minerva... Oh, this is good news. She's not gone." Madam Pomfrey sounded so excited, but the boys were unaffected by her joy and hope. They looked grim. That wasn't their Hermione. That was someone else.

Life became harder after that.

Voldemort had started his rampage against the wizarding world, attacking the Ministry and Diagon Alley, half-destroying the civilized side of the magical community. Without leaders, it was hard to win a war. It was rumoured that the Minister for Magic was dead, but a few other Ministry officials had been able to escape. The Aurors declared their independency, announcing the public that they would take charge of the welfare of the whole wizarding community. It was almost as though the magical part of Great Britain was under marshal law. All magical villages and towns were under strict curfew laws and groups bigger than two were forbidden. The Daily Prophet continued to spit out propaganda, now under the surveillance of the Aurors. Many people were falsely accused of being Death Eaters or of fraternising with the enemy. It became a witch hunt, but this time, the hunters and the prey were supposed to be on the same side.

The Circle of Eight, as they had started to call themselves after Voldemort's attack, had heard nothing about Amadeus and Dumbledore for over a month. They all feared that something had gone terribly wrong. Snape and McGonagall held meetings with the children, knowing that Dumbledore wanted to include them. They knew that the old wizard had a plan that needed to be executed at some point, with or without him. The children were over seventeen now, and all of them had seen more than most people did in a lifetime. They deserved to be part of the Order of the Phoenix. They deserved to get all the necessary information. It didn't stop Headmistress McGonagall from thinking that they should have had happier childhoods.

To everyone's surprise and great relief, Hermione was showing remarkable signs of recovery. She was able to produce complete sentences, showing that her brain wasn't too damaged, and she even let her mother stay by her bed. The others could not approach her at all, though. She went practically crazy every time Draco even stood by the twin doors of the Hospital Wing. Her memories had been returned, but it didn't really help. She had seen Draco kill Ron. Draco had tortured her. Draco had attacked her with such violence and hatred that she still suffered the consequences. Everything about him made her insane with fear.

Now that Hermione was awake, Draco couldn't see her at all. That led him to a destructive path. His life had no meaning if he couldn't be a part of her life. He had changed because of her. He had become something he thought that she wanted. And now... now he was just complete waste of space. He was nothing without her.

School seemed useless. People seemed faceless, meaningless. Life felt unbearable - and it never got easier. Nothing was ever easy to him. He didn't notice the Slytherins who stood by his side, keeping everyone else out of his way. He didn't notice Harry who kept including him into their lives, reminding everyone that Draco was a good guy. He didn't notice that Professor Snape had started teaching him Occlumency among other things. He lived in his own miserable world where he was the worst of the worst, useless, bound to fail, stupid... worthless. He wanted to stop breathing.

Then one day, Harry reached the end of his patience and snapped.

After double Potions, the Boy-Who-Lived-To-Torment-Other-People approached Draco. Blaise and Vincent let him. It wasn't that Harry was scary or anything; he just happened to be what legends were made of. There was even a damn prophecy about him. He was the would-be-saviour of the wizarding world. He would confront the most horrifying wizard of their time one day. Draco did not feel intimidate by the anger of Potter the Four-Eyes. He most certainly did not.

Harry stopped inches away from Draco, staring him down. "You! Come with me!" That was a bloody command. Draco crossed his arms, staring back, not caring that people were watching them. He would do no such thing. He wasn't a pet. Nobody could push him around.

"Vincent?" Harry looked at the tall Slytherin boy for a short moment and then walked away, leaving Draco standing there, puzzled and breathing too hard. He had been ready to fight. What was this? Then, one of his best friends hauled him over his enormous shoulder and started walking to the same direction Harry had gone. What the bloody Hell was this? He realised he had squeaked it aloud. It was humiliating - but nobody was laughing. They all scrambled back to their business like nothing had happened.

Something was clearly happening. "Vincent, put me down." He wanted to kick himself for trusting Slytherins of all people. Of course they would betray him.

"No."

No? No? He felt slightly hysterical. He couldn't reach his wand and struggling would seem too girlish. It was just an absolutely horrifying situation.

"It's for your own good. You've been moping, not eating, not sleeping, harbouring destructive thoughts. He has started Dumbledore's Army again. You're going to join us."

What? When had Slytherins participated in any such actions? They had stopped Dumbledore's Army on their fifth year. That's what they were supposed to do. That's how the world moved. "What?" he squeaked again. How embarrassing.

"He invited us. Pansy is there, and Theodor, Blaise and Gregory of course... and some others, younger. There's almost as many of us as there’s other house members. And we thoroughly kick arse." Vincent seemed proud.

"And I'm hearing of this now, because...?"

Vincent laughed; the baboon had the courtesy to laugh at him. "Well, you've been rather self-obsessed lately. He tried to talk to you about a dozen times, but you aren't a very good listener when... something bothers you."

Draco felt mortified. His Slytherins had been sneaking behind his back to meet the enemy, to practice fighting skills with the enemy. It was just preposterous. The betrayal was much deeper than he had anticipated. "I will not participate in any stupid Gryffindor games," he said haughtily.

"Oh, you will when you see this."

Vincent set him down carefully, looking almost apologetic. "See."

Now he could remember why he missed Quidditch so much; it was the exhilarating speed and the atmosphere of competition. He missed winning. The Quidditch pitch was at use, people flying about, casting spells at each other. Everyone looked serious, menacing, like they meant business, like it was real. They lived war. Some of them could die. Some of them probably would. They knew it. Watching them, Draco could see that rules had been thrown out of the window. In the real world, there were no rules. Dueling was for pansies.

Suddenly he felt more alive than in months. He breathed in fresh air, stretching his muscles. How he'd missed the sounds of flying, the smell of old wood and leather, the sun in his eyes, almost blinding. This was what he needed. Vincent was right. He would participate in their little game. He summoned his broom, and was in the air moments after his fingers gripped the solid wood. Merlin, he loved flying.

It didn't take him long to figure out what was going on and how to join the game. There were a ground group and an air group. The air group had been divided into two subgroups: the ones that attacked the ground group and the ones that attacked one another in the air. He joined the ones that were fighting in the air. It seemed more natural. He was a Seeker after all.

Draco rammed against Susan Bones, knocking her off her broom, which he then grabbed and used to hit Ron with. The boy ducked and sent a nasty stupefying spell at him. It almost hit him, and he had to throw Susan's broom away so he could better balance himself. He flew above Ron, yelling, "Serpensortia!" All kinds of snakes started falling from the sky on top of Ron and some other DA members Draco didn't recognise. He was having fun.

Nobody was on anybody's side. Everyone was fighting against everyone, no duels and no watching your friend's back. Everyone was a prey. They had to learn to defend themselves against multiple opponents. Draco realised that he was pretty good at fighting everyone. He didn't particularly like anyone, and he cherished the possibility to use all that he had learned over the years, even tricky spells, the ones he had learned from his father. The Dark Arts. Then after fifteen minutes of constant vigilance, he almost sent a Cruciatus curse at Gregory, realising just in time that there was actually a limit. The hesitation caused him a few broken bones since both Gregory and Vincent Stupefied him at the same time, sending him flying through the air without his broom.

"Fuck," he muttered, climbing to his feet, holding his aching arm. He had landed on top his left arm, crushing it underneath him. He had probably strained his ankle as well.

"Why did you hesitate?" someone asked. He really didn't care who. His ears were ringing and he felt a bit sick so he sat on a nearby bench.

Harry towered over him, staring at him strangely. "Why did you hesitate?" He repeated.

He looked at Harry, tilting his head slightly, stubborn as Hell and not answering.

"Bloody Hell, Malfoy. What's wrong with you? You gave them the perfect opportunity to strike. You have to fight for real up there. This is not just a game. You can't think of your friends while fighting, not right now." Harry seemed frustrated, even angry.

"Oh, shut up, Potter. I was about to Crucio him. Would you have liked to see me do that?"

It was a good question, and it silenced the Boy Wonder quite efficiently. "Oh," he finally said. "Oh... that's a good thing then."

"Yeah, I think so, too." He was slightly surprised by how easily Harry had accepted his explanation. It was possible that he had expected a fight. It was too strange, this being friends business. It made him feel a little less Slytherin. "I do believe I'm finished for today," Draco said, tired and hungry. He could have eaten an elephant. He stood, starting to walk towards the castle slowly.

A moment later, Potter hollered after him, "Will you come back?"

"Maybe," he yelled, looking over his shoulder, receiving a grin for that. Maybe was not the truth, but it was all he could give now. His pride had experienced quite a few shocks lately. He had to find a way to regain it. He would go back when he felt at least a bit proud of himself. Now he was just a poor excuse of a wizard.

When he reached the castle, he realised that he had to go to the Hospital Wing. It was a horrible place now. Hermione was there, fearing him. What should he do? With extreme reluctance, he managed to stagger to the twin doors. He didn't want to open them, didn't want to see her, those eyes that looked nothing like hers. She was a stranger now, a person who was too broken to even recognise him. He just wished he had realised earlier how to save her. He would be dead now, but at least she would be safe, intact, complete.

He knocked, hoping that Madam Pomfrey would come to the door.

Brown eyes stared at him, blinking twice. "Draco? Oh, I'm so glad to see you. Come." Mary grabbed his right hand before he could protest and took him beside a bed that had curtains covering it. "She wants to see you. Oh... she asked me... she wants you to change your voice. Can you do that?"

His heart wanted to break out of his chest. He forgot his injuries completely and just stared at Mary, unable to say anything. He nodded, still staring. Mary hugged him briefly. "I'll leave you two alone," she whispered to his ear, and then tiptoed to Madam Pomfrey’s office.

He lowered his voice, altering it enough to make it unrecognisable. Then he sat down, feeling so scared that his hands were shaking. "Hermione?"

"It's you, isn't it? Are you all right?" Her voice sounded so small. Madam Pomfrey had told them that her entire throat had been covered with small wounds. The snake had almost killed her while coming out of her mouth. Draco felt furious for her, wanting to kill, maim, butcher… anything.

"I'm fine." It was unbelievable that he was able to speak at all. He was shaking so much, anger, fear and something even more primal mixing in him. "How are you?" Can you forgive me? Can I help you? Are you Hermione?

She stayed quiet for a long while, making him believe that it was over. She wouldn't talk more. He had lost her. Then even more quietly than before, she spoke. "No, I'm not. He... I... I can't live with this, Draco. I can't."

Right then, while sitting there, talking to her, feeling her nearby, he realised that she was asking his permission to die.

"He should have killed me. I can't... this is my mind. He took it. He took everything. I can't use it. I don't remember anything. I can't use it. I can't do anything. I can barely speak. I can't read. I... he took it away."

Like always, he didn't know what to say. He said something anyway. "Are you saying that it isn't unbelievable that you're still alive after confronting that monster?" Draco knew he had to find away to reach her. Now might be his only chance. She might not talk to him ever again. He had to make sure that she would never give up. "Hermione, you are stronger than this."

"No, I'm not," she shouted, hitting the curtain separating them. "You don't know how it's like. I can't sleep. I see him all the time, smiling at me. I feel dead. I feel empty. He stole me... I can't even look at you!"

He knew how she felt, partly at least. He had been through similar things. He had survived and so would she. "Give me your hand, please." He wasn't sure if it would work, but he wanted to try anyway. It was the only way to show her exactly what he meant.

Hesitantly, she lifted the curtain just enough for her hand to slip to the other side. She was shaking as well, just as scared. He took her hand to his and waited, letting the Colour of Magick guide him. He didn't enter her mind. Instead, he showed her how he saw her, sending her pure feelings, not words, not images, not anything that could be described. He just felt, letting her see why it was so important that she had survived and continued to survive. She was worth more. She was bigger than her problems. She was stronger, and even if she wasn't, she could borrow his strength. He would help her through it.

They stayed like that for a few minutes only, but it felt like a lifetime. Very slowly, Hermione pulled her hand back. Draco was exhausted, starting to feel the pain of his left arm again, the broken bones almost itching. Somebody had to heal him pretty soon or he would faint.

"Will you... come back tomorrow?" Hermione asked faintly, slipping to sleep. "Will you?"

"Of course," he said, his eyes closing, his arms falling limply against his sides.



To Be Continued Soon...

Chapter 19: Nightmare Game, Part Three
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A/N: Merry Christmas, dear-ones. ^_^ And to make it all very weird... this is not the end. Again. I'm just going to write until it comes to the point that says: "END". That hasn't happened yet. Too much story left. *grumble, grumble*


Nightmare Game, Part Three


I don't claim to understand her
But hand in hand I am with her
Bright and clear and with a future
You can come and join us if you dare
-Levellers: Too Real




Somewhat lazily, Draco put his current reading material, Which Witch: History of Powerful Hags, on the bedside table, staring at the thick fabric that was separating him from the girl he happened to have fallen in love with. He hadn't quite come to terms with the fact yet. He was still mulling it over in his head. Chewing on it actually. At least he was willing to think about it. He was still here, wasn't he? Hadn't run away, hadn't escaped. He wasn't screaming either. He was mostly just reading to Hermione.

After long negotiations, she had promised to give him three months. He had exactly three months to convince her that she could survive the consequences of Voldemort's heinous torture. She would find herself again. She would be able to live on as the most brilliant witch of their time. He would make sure of that.

The sun peeked from behind the curtains, the rays blinding him for a second. He covered his eyes with his left arm, relaxing against the back of his chair. It had been two weeks since Hermione had let him talk to her for the first time. She still didn't speak that much, and sometimes he wondered if she was even awake at all. But Mary kept telling him that whatever he was doing, it was working. Colour had returned to her cheeks, and her eyes were less empty now. Of course, Draco hadn't seen this himself. She still refused to meet him eye to eye.

"You know, Weasley would like to see you," Draco finally said, slowly letting his left arm fall back to his lap. "Maybe you could try to meet him like this, behind the curtain. It might even help." He stretched his arms and legs with a cat-like grace, almost purring in the afternoon sun. Spring was here. It warmed him inside out.

She stayed quiet like always, only her soft breathing telling him that she was actually there.

Draco stood, walking to the other side of her bed, sliding his hand against the curtain. "Everyone misses you." Pressuring her would do no good, but sometimes he just felt so impatient. Why couldn't she just be all right already? It was so frustrating to sit beside her, never seeing her... He wanted her to be okay. She should be. Everything was fine. She was safe. Why was she so stubborn? Why couldn't she just let go of the pain?

"Draco, don't," she whispered. "I don't remember them well. I can't... see them like this."

He leaned his forehead against the curtain, sighing. "I'm sorry." He should remember that she wasn't like him. She had always been sane; he had mostly been able to function like a normal person. If someone pushed him over the edge, the fall wasn't that long. He was always standing in the shadows anyway. "I'm sorry, Hermione."

She was quiet again, but at least this time he knew she was listening. "What would you like me to do?" He hadn't tried transferring his feelings to her after that one time. He had thought about it, but truth be told, it had shaken him badly. Of course he had been injured at the time. The exhaustion could have easily been just that, but somehow he knew that he had given his strength to Hermione; he had transferred that to her as well.

She didn't answer, and after awhile he started to believe that she had fallen asleep. Curiosity took him over and he pulled at the curtain, lifting it slowly, carefully, ready to let go if she showed any sign of panic. Nothing happened.

His heart jumped to his throat; it was as though he was doing something forbidden. She lay on top of the blanket, her brown hair messy against the pillow. She wore her school robes which made him smile suddenly. He had expected her to wear a pyjama, something that would make her look as fragile as she felt. Maybe she needed an armor against the world.

Draco wanted to touch her face, wanted to push a lock of hair off her cheek. She didn't look like she was ill. She looked just like he remembered her. With great effort he let the curtain fall down again. If she had opened her eyes, Merlin knew what would have happened. He couldn't be so irresponsible. Her recovery was in his hands now.

He heard the door creek and turned to look at Mary smiling at him, walking quietly towards them. "How is she?" she whispered, watching his face like she was looking for answers from the curve of his mouth or the glint in his eyes. She had an amazing ability to know when something had shifted from normal to... something new. She saw through him again.

Draco decided not to try and hide his recklessness. "She looks just fine."

Hermione's intelligence could be seen in her mother's eyes as she continued to stare at him, sitting down slowly, still smiling. Instead of scolding him, she said, "She does, doesn't she? It's a recent change."

Right then, out of the blue, Dobby the house-elf popped in, scaring Mary and angering Draco. "M-master Malfoy," he stammered quickly. "Headma... Master Dumbledore is wanting to see you at the War Room." He looked at Mary with his big elf eyes. "I is sorry. I is terrible house-elf." He grabbed Mary's hand and kissed it courtly, bowing to her. "I is sorry." Then he was gone.

Mary stared. "What was that?"

"Your daughter loves them." Draco heard himself say and felt mortified. He just couldn't keep his mouth shut, ever. "I mean, they're house-elves. They... kind of keep the households moving. Cooking, cleaning, laundry... That sort of stuff."

"Oh... Oh, the food?"

He nodded.

"I want to thank them."

Draco looked at her, blinking - like mother, like daughter. He winced. Then, with effort, he pushed some rational words out of his mouth. "You'll find them in the kitchens. Could you... Could you ask someone else to take you there? I think I should go already. Dumbledore has been gone for so long. The reason he's back... It has to be something big."

Mary stood, grabbing his hand. "You go. I'll find my way." For a short moment she looked as though she was about to kiss his cheek, but then she let him go, giving him a light push. "Go."

And then he ran. Dumbledore was back. It could mean only one thing. They were ready to fight back. He hoped that the others would be there as well. He had never been able to talk to the old wizard. He kind of disliked him still.

Panting, he stood before the vampire queen who was guarding the entrence of the War Room. He had to lean against the wall beside the painting, trying to regain his breath. He had run too fast. He wasn't in shape anymore because of all the sitting inside with Hermione and not participating in the practice sessions of the Dumbledore's Army. He tasted copper in his mouth, his throat aching.

"Are you coming in?" the painting sneered. "I'm not fond of little boys panting all over me."

Draco sighed. He couldn't stand vampires. They were so arrogant. "Paradox of peace," he finally said to the painting, annoyed but less out of breath.

Everyone turned to look at him when he entered the room. He found it strange and somewhat unnerving. He wasn't accustomed to being the center of all attention. That was Potter's job. Then his mind registered something his eyes had noticed a moment earlier. Fear nailed him to the ground, his eyes locking with a pair of grey ones. "What are you doing here?" he wanted to snarl, but nothing came out. He could only stare.

Dumbledore stood, leaning over the round table, seemingly worried about him. "He's here to help us."

Nobody could possibly believe such a lie. Nobody could be stupid enough to trust Lucius Malfoy. Draco still couldn't move, nothing in him seemed to work. He was paralysed.

His father raised an eyebrow, watching him with keen eyes. "You look awful. Who's responsible for my son's condition?" He turned to look at Dumbledore. "Would you care to explain?"

Draco stared at his father with utter disbelief. How dared he come here now, acting as though nothing had happened? He would never let him walk over him again. "Shut up," he said coldly, knowing that the words would make his father frown, knowing that he disliked bad manners especially when his son was concerned. "Why is he here?" Draco looked at Amadeus. He needed someone on his side. Everyone else seemed to believe that it was perfectly normal to have his insanely evil father there with them.

Why weren't Harry and Ron there? They would have been as outraged as he was. He needed someone sane. Anyone.

"Draco, he turned," Amadeus said carefully. Draco realised suddenly that Amadeus was not a mere shadow of himself anymore; he was completely there, very much present like all the other professors. What the Hell was going on? "We found him. He... defied the orders of Voldemort and was almost tortured to death. He let me invade his mind. He's telling the truth. The reasons you will hear from him."

It was just... not possible. His father had wanted to kill him, Hermione, everyone. He had asked Voldemort to destroy him. This was not happening. He shut his eyes, trying to focus on something that would keep him anchored to reality. His father was a Death Eater, for crying out loud. And then, a distant wistful voice in the back of his mind said, so is Snape.

He turned around, ready to leave the room, when Dumbledore stopped him. "He has given us valuable information. He's here to talk to you now."

He spun around, spitting out, "I don't care. He can rot in Hell." Then he marched out of the War Room, not looking back. He would rot in Hell before he would talk to that bastard. He stomped down the stairs, smashing some of the paintings on the way. They had no idea what they had done trusting that devil. They didn't know what he could do. They hadn't seen.

Draco started to run, his insides wanting to come out. He ran into the boys' lavatory at the second floor. He threw up on the sink, not having enough time to open any of the doors of the stalls. He felt sick. He felt like everything in his life had been torn away from him. There was nothing solid left. Nothing at all. He stared at himself from the mirror, remembering the time when he had first realised he was in fact a blood traitor. He had threatened to kill Hermione that day.

Was he truly his father's son?

He left the lavatory, leaving the mess for the house-elves to clean. Where could he go? Who would understand him? Did he really have friends? Was Harry his friend now? He didn't know. Hermione wasn't in any condition to even listen to him. Vincent? He had no idea where to turn to. He was spiraling out of control, his vision darkening, his thoughts going in circles. He had to find someone, something, anything. He leaned on the wall, walking slowly towards the Gryffindor Tower. Was he really going to do this?

"Harry, there's someone to see you," Neville Longbottom yelled, his eyes never leaving Malfoy. It was strange enough that they had seen Harry with the Slytherin. It was even stranger that he was here now, looking like Hell, his robes wrinkled and his hair a sticky mess at the nape of his neck.

Harry came down the stairs of their dorm, slightly startled by the sight of Malfoy inside their common room. He didn't fit in there at all, the green and silver of his robes making him distinctively different from any of the Gryffindors. "Malfoy?" He had to ask even though he knew the boy wouldn't come to the Lion's Den unless it was something very important.

Malfoy didn't say a word, he just stood there, staring at him. He looked like he had really gone to Hell and barely fought his way back. Then, without an explanation, he turned around and walked away. Harry followed.

"Malfoy, wait."

Draco didn't stop. He had made a mistake; clearly he had misjudged the situation. Potter was not his friend. He was just a marvelously good person who cared about everyone equally - even his rivals and enemies. Harry was a Gryffindor, brave and stupid. He would give a chance to Lucius as well.

"Will you stop being an idiot?" Harry yelled, throwing his copy of Advanced Potions at Draco. The book went past his head, hitting the wall hard.

"Are you bloody insane?" Draco yelled back, turning around in a spur of motion. Of course he had made a mistake. Potter was just a bloodthirsty maniac.

Forcing himself to calm down, Harry asked, "What for... Why'd you come here?"

That startled Draco. He was a Slytherin, always seeing the worst in people, always expecting a fight. Should he start believing in people instead? Had they changed enough? Could they start over from the beginning, from that first handshake that wrecked everything?

"You look awful, you know. What happened to your hair? It looks like something slimy died there." Harry's eyes were smiling although he was trying to keep a straight face.

"I threw up on it," Draco said flatly. It was just too much, all of it, too much pressure, too much hurt, too much sorrow, too much fear and doubt. Green eyes met grey, and they burst into laughter. They just couldn't take it anymore.

"Stop, stop... ouch, my stomach," Harry wailed, leaning to his knees. "Don't make me laugh."

And then, Draco knew. Harry would understand. He wouldn't accept Lucius' pardon. He wouldn't put Hermione in danger. "My father is here," he said between laughs. "He's here."

The laughter died, leaving the corridor airily silent. Harry stared at him, his green eyes questioning. "What?"

Draco fell on his knees, finally giving up, burying his face in his hands. "Even Amadeus thinks it's a good idea. He has given them useful information. Apparently he turned against the Dark Lord. It's evident that it has nothing to do with the fact that he was almost killed. He's most trustworthy, I'm sure."

"What? What? No, no, no. Even Dumbledore wouldn't trust that man twice. He knows." Harry pushed his palms against his eyes, trying to think. "Dumbledore is back? Why hasn't he told us?"

"I'm guessing he wanted to arrange the family reunion first."

"Draco, we can't allow him to stay. Hermione. He's after her. It's a trap."

"I know."

The boys looked at each other for a mere second and then started running towards the Hospital Wing. If she was in danger, if she would get hurt again... It was the only thing they could think of while rushing past students, paintings, even staff members, all looking at them with startled eyes.

They pushed the twin doors open, breathing hard, bringing chaos with them. What they saw made them both cold with rage. They worked together seamlessly, Draco jumping on top of the bed next to Hermione's and Harry running past the professors who seemed to believe that nothing out of ordinary was happening, that Lucius Malfoy wasn't pointing his wand at unconscious Hermione.

Harry grabbed the man from behind, tripping him easily, pushing him to the ground with too much force. At the same time, Draco took hold of Lucius' wand hand and pulled it back, forcing him to drop his wand. They had worked silently and so quickly that no one had had the chance to stop them. Only after Harry had trapped Lucius to the ground with a knee on the man's throat and a wand pointing at his left eye Dumbledore stepped forward, looking grim. "May I ask, why are you threatening the man who is here to help your beloved friend?" He spoke with a soft voice that seemed to slice the air like a sharpened axe.

Lying on his back, feeling uncomfortable and unappreciated, Lucius started to laugh. His son was still twisting his arm, and the Potter boy seemed to know exactly what he was doing, seemed to have grown a bit, almost poking his eye out with the tip of his wand. How very demeaning.

Harry looked at Dumbledore, growling. "It's a trick. Can't you see it? He's going to hurt her." He let his eyes travel from professor to professor, wondering why McGonagall, Amadeus and Snape hadn't protested in anyway. Why had they all believed this lie?

"You take him," Dumbledore said to Snape, who then took hold of Harry's arms and pulled him off Malfoy Senior. Harry struggled, looking at them all with wild eyes. Something was definitely wrong. He tried to bite Snape and then kicked him in the knee, but Snape held on with all the hatred he had ever mustered for Harry Potter.

Amadeus took hold of Draco's shoulder and tried to pull him away from his father. "You too. Release him." Draco tried to protest, but Amadeus grabbed both his wrists, twisting his arms behind his back. "Let him do this. Trust me. He's on our side now. The reasons are completely selfish, but he's here to help, to prove that he's going to work for Dumbledore from now on. He believes Harry is going to win the war. It's complicated. Please, trust us."

"Why should I?" Draco hissed through his teeth. "It's your fault she's like that. You said Voldemort couldn't control my body, couldn't find out that I'm hiding inside my mind. Why should this be any different? You don't know him. He kills children. He doesn't care. He's as rotten as the Dark Lord. He... will kill her."

Lucius came to stand in front of Draco, eyeing him from head to toe, sneering. "I didn't know you know so much." A strange look in his eyes, he took hold of Draco's jaw, turning his head from side to side. "You're thinner. You should eat more. Otherwise your mother will worry."

Draco wanted to scream, wanted to bite the hand that had fed him all these years. It was difficult to face his father after all that had happened. What made it even worse were his words; they made everything personal, painful. Lucius knew too well how to make him feel small.

After examining his face, Lucius left Draco to Amadeus' care and went back to Hermione's side. "There is a reason for all this," he said as he pointed his wand at her right temple. "You see, it's almost too late to restore her mind. That is why your dear professors have been acting... harshly." He paused for a moment and then continued with that nonchalant tone of voice that seemed to say that he couldn't have cared less what would happen to any of them, least of all Hermione, the Mudblood. "It's very simple actually. In less than four hours she will melt into nothingness unless I return this to her. Exsolvo." A white light emerged from the tip of his wand, forming a shape of a mirror. "I stole this from my Master. He will not be pleased with me." Lucius chuckled softly, towering over Hermione's tiny form.

"What is that?" Draco asked Amadeus, needing to know that it wouldn't hurt Hermione. He wasn't sure about trusting the professors again, but if it was true, if Hermione was about to die, he wasn't going to stand in their way.

Amadeus looked at Dumbledore and when the old wizard nodded, he released Draco, explaining, "It is said that the human mind is born from reflecting the self on the other. Without the ability to mirror yourself, the mind becomes blank. Voldemort stole that from Hermione. Your father... He's giving it back to her."

With a smooth flick of Lucius' wand, the mirror-shape vanished and the light encircled Hermione's head. For a short moment there, it looked as though she had a halo.

"Close the curtains now," Dumbledore said immediately after the white light disappeared. "She might be whole again, but it doesn't mean that she's yet capable of facing us all."

Harry pulled himself free from Snape's grip, stepping closer to Draco. "What now?"

"We'll wait," Lucius Malfoy answered, slightly worried expression on his face for the first time that day. If the spell didn't work, he would end up in the prison cell again. That was not an option, not under any circumstances.

With a cheerful chatter, Mary and Oliver stepped into the hospital, oblivious to everything that had been happening there earlier. They held hands, Oliver carrying a huge cake in a magical container, obviously a souvenir from the kitchens. Even in a situation like this, Draco was able to wonder how it would feel like to love someone after twenty years of marriage. The thought was distracting and he pushed it away deep inside him under the category of unthinkable thoughts, many of them concerning Hermione.

Mary's eyes travelled from Dumbledore to Lucius to Draco, her soft features suddenly hardening. She reminded Draco of the Mary he had first met. She was on a brink of panicking again, probably thinking that Hermione's condition had worsened.

Before Dumbledore could even greet them, Draco walked to Mary, pulling her right hand between his own. "She's all right. The same, I think. We hope to restore her mind, though. My... father," he paused there, almost unable to say the word aloud, "is here to help."

"Your father?" Mary looked at the tall man with blond hair and grey eyes, his features strikingly similar to Draco's. "He looks stern," Mary whispered to Draco's ear, and Draco couldn't help but smile. She truly was a wonderful person.

"He is," Draco whispered back, not knowing what to do or say next. He didn't want to introduce the Grangers to his father, the Death Eater.

Dumbledore came to save him, taking Mary and Oliver to Madam Pomfrey's office with the rest of the grown-ups. Harry and Draco stayed behind even though Dumbledore seemed to want them to join the others. Nothing could make them leave Hermione now. She might feel better or she might feel worse; they didn't know. It was necessary to find out that they hadn't made the wrong decision trusting the adults again.

"D'you think she'll...?" Harry asked after awhile, staring at his feet, not wanting to face his own fears in Malfoy's eyes.

Draco shushed him, listening. Hermione's breathing was uneven; she was awake. "You there?" he said, touching the curtain affectionately.

She inhaled sharply. "Wha... ?" Her voice gave in, but she tried again. "What... happened?"

Harry's head jerked up. "Hermione? Are you all right?" He hadn't seen her in so many weeks; only Draco had had her permission to enter the room when she was awake. Harry hadn't been jealous, though, not after seeing how broken Draco seemed every time he exited the hospital. It was straining him, and he never even complained. That was Gryffindor courage. Harry just wanted Hermione to be theirs again, normal, strong, healthy. He wanted her back, needed her back. It wasn't the same without her. She was their knowledge-girl after all. She was the one who always knew what to do. Without her, they were lost.

"Is Ron here?" she asked quietly. It was the first time she mentioned him on her own. Draco had tried to bring that up several times but she always refused to see him, refused to even talk about him. "Is he?"

"I'll go get him," Harry said, already moving towards the exit. "You'll see him soon."

After Harry was gone, Draco started wondering if perhaps everything he had done over the past months had been worthless. Maybe she couldn't have survived without the Mirror, no matter what he did. He had given her strength, he had gone to her mind everyday for months searching for her, healing her, he had read to her, had stood by her side even when it had been unbearable. Had it all been in vain? He had hoped that he could be the one to save her, and now it seemed that his Muggle-hating father had managed to do just that. Had he suffered for nothing? He felt so tired. It was so unfair that Lucius was able save her in just mere minutes while he had struggled to keep her connected to the world with all means necessary... for months.

"Draco?" Hermione said with her raspy voice.

"What?" He hadn't meant it to sound so sharp. It wasn't her fault. She was the only one here with no fault at all. She was a fighter. She had survived all these months on her own, without the ability to reflect, to feel empathy, to understand how others see her... she had been completely alone.

She didn't say anything after that.

Sighing, Draco sat down on the same chair he had occupied earlier that day. He took Which Witch: History of Powerful Hags from the bedside table and started reading it aloud. He didn't want to talk to Hermione now, not in this state of mind when he could snap at her again. He felt frustrated. It wasn't right to take it out on her.

"Is she... Can I see her?" Ron asked from behind Draco, startling him. He and Harry had come in silently, and Draco hadn't noticed a thing. It bothered him. People could sneak up on him so easily nowadays.

"She asked for you. I guess that means she's ready." Draco didn't like it at all. Hermione was his; he didn't want to share her with anyone. He did realise, though, that his thoughts were getting far too obsessive. He went to stand beside the window behind Hermione's bed, giving Ron some space. They deserved this, they really did.

Ron approached her bed with tentative steps, his face a mask of concentration. "Hermione?"

They could hear the quiet intake of breath and the sob following that. "Ron, is that really you?" Her voice held so much fear and love in it that it was almost impossible to listen to her words. "Ron?"

Wiping his eyes with the back of his hand, Ron grouched next to the bed. "Yeah. I'm okay."

"I... I saw you die." She swallowed the last word, making it almost inaudible.

"I know." He paused. "I didn't."

"You didn't." She pulled at the curtain, revealing her hand. Ron took it between his, kissing their interlocked fingers. "You didn't," she repeated, crying now, not trying to hide the sounds of it. "You didn't."



To be continued after holidays...

Chapter 20: The Serpent's Son, Part One
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A/N: Here it is, after two years I'm back. The next chapter should be the last, but I have a thesis to write so it won't come out quickly enough. I will post it as soon as I'm able to work on it again. A big part of it is written already though. Enjoy!



The Serpent's Son, Part One


Hope is a lover's staff; walk hence with that,
And manage it against despairing thoughts.
-William Shakespeare



That night, Draco guarded Hermione's dreams.

He had asked Harry and Ron to leave, almost begging for them to understand how he felt. He had been polite, and fortunately, they had obliged. Ron had been emotionally exhausted after seeing Hermione, and all he wanted was to sleep. Harry had had his fare share of the exhaustion as well. They were drained, all of them. They couldn't even imagine what Hermione was going through.

Draco had pulled aside the curtain that was covering her bed, not caring that she might wake up. It was bloody time for her to stop fearing him. He wasn't the one who had hurt her. She had been able to listen to his real voice for awhile now. His face shouldn't be that different.

"You, dear girl, are giving us a hard time," he said quietly, watching her peaceful face. She had fallen asleep right after Ron, Harry, and the adults had left.

A part of him wanted to leave as well, wanted to go to sleep, wanted to forget everything and just rest for a million years. He had been through so much. It was unbelievable even to himself that he was still standing on his own two feet, almost all parts of his mind attached.

He was actually getting stronger.

"I miss you." Draco knew he was being soft, but he couldn't help it. Seeing his father had been horrible, but seeing him save Hermione had been otherworldly. Nobody in his right mind could believe that Lucius Malfoy was good, but Draco felt tempted. He wanted it. He wanted his father back. And he needed Hermione's advice on the matter, her strange ability to calm him, her strength, her courage, every aspect of her being.

It was easy to talk to her now that she wasn't listening. "I'm kind of hoping that you'll remember everything I’ve done for you. I want you to know that I've been here." He paused, stroking her wrist gently. "I know it's not good or proper to want something like that. I should be doing this out of the goodness of my heart, but... I'm not sure if there is such a thing somewhere inside me."

He had changed sides, he had worked against the Dark Lord, he had chosen to follow Harry's lead. What more was there? Was he supposed to become something pure? He couldn't do that. He wasn't built that way. But somehow he felt inadequate, as though he was playing a part that didn't really fit him.

Pulling his chair closer to the bed, Draco rested his forehead against the soft mattress, letting his arms hang freely, almost touching the ground with his knuckles. "I'm tired, you know. I don't want any of this. I want a very dead Dark Lord, a manor that is not burned to the ground, and a mother who actually remembers who I am. I would also like to have a father who won't plot my untimely death every time I turn my back on him. Could that be possible?" He sighed, shifting a little, leaning his cheek against her arm. "I hate this life."

He loved her scent. It was so subtle and soothing, and he just couldn't resist it anymore. Tentatively, he climbed on the bed next to her, wrapping himself around her. He missed touching, he missed being held, he missed feeling safe, he missed himself on happier times. Things had been so clear before. He buried his face into her hair, breathing quietly. "I can't do this anymore, not without you," he muttered. "You have no choice. You have to get better. You have to be strong. Please."

He lay still for a while, certain that he would not fall asleep, not while Mary could come back and find him like that, or while Hermione could wake up and shatter into million tiny pieces because of all the fear she had for him. Really, it was impossible.

It was the first time in months he didn't dream at all.

"Draco, wake up. Draco, you're killing my arm. Wake up."

"Mmm..."

"Move, please."

Draco opened one eye, trying to get through his muffled brain that there was someone warm beside him, breathing to his ear. It was a girl. He didn't get to sleep with girls that often. Where was he anyway? "What?" he mumbled, feeling safe and wanting to inch closer to the source of it all.

"My arm."

"Oh..." Draco sat up, suddenly remembering that there was indeed a very sick girl in bed with him. He had been careless, too tired to act like a normal person. "I'm sorry." He tried to get off the bed, but Hermione took hold of his arm. When he turned to look at her she let go of him, but didn't lower her gaze. She didn't say it, but he knew anyway: she was afraid that it wouldn't last, but while it still felt all right, she wanted him to be there.

He lay down slowly, staring into her eyes. "You're okay with this?"

She nodded, a ghost of a smile tugging at her lips. "Could you... please... Could you just talk?" She turned her back on him, shivering. They had managed to get rid of the blanket, but he only had to stretch a bit to reach it on the floor. He covered them with it, pulling Hermione gently against his chest, ready to let go if she protested in anyway.

What could he possibly say? He had used all his words while she was recovering. "I've missed you," he said, tasting the words, deciding that they were truthful. He thought of other things to say, but everything felt meaningless. He just wanted to be close to her. "Harry's started the DA again, and even Slytherins are participating. Oh, and Dumbledore said that he's finally going to tell us what this pairing magick is all about. Tomorrow... if you're strong enough."

He continued to talk, his words useless and even a bit pitiful, but Hermione didn't seem to mind. She lay there in his arms, relaxed and warm, more normal than he could have ever hoped for. After a while she fell asleep and he soon followed, hugging her tightly, his body a protective shield against the outside world.

Mary stopped in her tracks when she entered their private world, quietly watching them sleep, not all together surprised. A soft smile spread on her face, her eyes following the relaxed lines of their entwined bodies. It was the first time in months she felt like everything would be all right, that this craziness wouldn't continue always and maybe one day, she could see Hermione happy with her own family.

Knowing that her daughter was loved, she left, closing the door behind her carefully.

The next day, Draco followed Harry and Ron to the War Room, feeling awfully gloomy and uncomfortable. They had left Hermione to the Hospital Wing with her parents because she was still too weak to participate in strategy meetings, but Draco dearly wished she was there. That way it would have been easier for him to face his father again.

“Good, you are here,” Dumbledore said when they entered the round tower room, gesturing for them to sit down.

They were gathered together again, Dumbledore's trusted ones: two Death Eaters, one criminal, one elderly Headmistress, the Boy-Who-Lived and two very different seventh year students. They would most definitely win the war.

Draco sat as far from Lucius as possible and then turned to look at Dumbledore, not caring that he could still see his father in his peripheral vision. Harry sat next to Draco, tapping his forearm lightly. “Don’t stress over him,” he whispered quickly and then turned his attention to the old wizard as well. Ron took the seat next to Harry just before Dumbledore started.

“There are many things that need to be solved today, but let’s start from the most pressing news. You probably want to know how our journey went and what we found out. To make a long story short, we have managed to convince the Ancient Clans, including Amadeus’ own, that it would be a very bad idea for them to join forces with Voldemort. The other three Clans are not willing to help us, but they will not interfere either. Amadeus… Well, he has promised his full support.”

They all stared at the young wizard, who was now white haired, very solid, and smiling like a crazy person. “What?” he said. “I can change my mind if I want to.”

Dumbledore coughed, shaking his head a little. He would regret this deal one day. “I would also like to welcome Lucius Malfoy to the Order of the Phoenix. He has promised to support us till the very end. Of course this promise has been weighted, and he has already given us valuable information about the Death Eaters and Voldemort’s possible plans. He has also restored the missing part of Ms Granger’s mind. This is not all he has done, though.” He gave Lucius a small nod, asking him to continue from there.

Lucius Malfoy stood, straightening his robes, and then started walking slowly around the table, stopping when he reached Draco’s chair. He stepped in between Draco and Harry, placing his hand on Draco’s shoulder. “I have promised to take a vow which I cannot break.” His tone was stone-cold, and he squeezed Draco’s shoulder hard, almost making him wince. “You may want know why I am doing this, but I have no intention of explaining myself to you now. The only thing you should know, the one thing that defines this whole war for me… I may be many things, but there are limits for my willingness to follow other people. We are a very old Pureblood family. This is not what our ancestors would have wanted.”

“You’ve killed people,” Harry spat out before he could stop himself.

“That is exactly why you need me.”

Harry stared at him in shock, wanting to strike, to jump up and attack, anything but sit still and accept it all.

Lucius smiled, the expression almost cruel on his otherwise stoic face. “You have no idea how powerful he is - but you will once you have seen him through my eyes.”

“Mr Malfoy has offered to give us some of his memories,” Dumbledore clarified, locking eyes with Harry, making sure that he wouldn’t do anything irrational.

“Yes,” Lucius said, his smile spreading to reveal his teeth, “I will show you what he has demanded from us. I think you will find it most educating if a little unpleasant.”

Draco felt sick. He had chosen his seat for a reason: he did not want to be anywhere near his father. The man had a crushing presence, the kind that made him want to crawl out of sight and hide. The hand on his shoulder burned, but he couldn’t get rid of it without making a scene.

“Why do we accept this?” Headmistress McGonagall asked, sounding a little helpless. “How did you even find him?”

Dumbledore took off his spectacles, laying them on the table, sighing. “Minerva, we need this. It is not something we can be proud of, but... This is war. We almost lost the last one. Without Harry, we would have. I want to make sure that he does not have to do it alone this time. I am sorry that we cannot choose our battles more carefully or our allies, for that matter. He,” he gestured towards Lucius, “was nearly killed because of his family, because he wanted to visit his wife, because Voldemort does not care how long someone has stood by his side. We care. We will give him a chance. We will not judge him now, not before he has had the chance to show us how useful he can be. Please, trust us. We are not doing this lightly.”

“I feel so welcome.” Lucius sneered, letting go of Draco and walking back to his earlier seat next to Professor Snape. “If I could choose I would not be here, but unfortunately this is the best option at the moment. The Chosen One... the boy will win. He has won before. He will win again.”

Draco dared not to look at his father. He was sure the cold grey eyes were fixed on Harry, measuring, demanding. That look had followed him as long as he could remember.

A curious expression on his face, Snape asked, “How can you be so sure?”

“Because the odds are on his side. He has won every year so far. He may die saving us, but he will save everyone.”

“He’s not going to die!” Ron yelled, standing, grabbing the edge of the table. “Don’t say that!”

“Everybody dies,” Lucius said, amused.

Dumbledore motioned Ron to sit down. “We are not going to fight. I understand your concerns. I understand that it is never easy to trust someone who has hurt you in the past. I know. We will use every precaution we can think of. You do not have to spend any more time with him than is necessary, especially you Ron. I know it is hard for you to forget what happened to your sister.”

Ron was shaking with fury, but he sat down and nodded. The acknowledgement of his discomfort and distrust was enough to calm him so he could think rationally. Lucius had saved Hermione. That had to mean something.

After that the focus of the meeting turned to Voldemort and the war itself. Voldemort’s actions so far had been simple: dived and conquer. He had turned the Aurors against the people. He had destroyed the Ministry of Magic. The wizarding world was leaderless - or had been until Dumbledore had taken the Aurors under his command. He acted from the shadows, still trying to prevent the world from knowing that he was alive, but nothing was more important now than gaining some leverage in the war, not even their fake deaths and how Voldemort might react to that knowledge. They were very careful, though, making sure that Professor Snape wouldn't lose his position as a spy. Even in Hogwarts, Amadeus and Dumbledore hid their presence by Glamouring themselves into house-elves while walking among the students and staff members.

The image of the two very powerful wizards having huge ears and very small bodies managed to make Draco, Ron and Harry snicker, but they quickly fell silent when Professor Snape gave them an evil look.

Dumbledore also revealed that Order spies were trying to predict Voldemort's next move, but for the time being he had been ominously quiet. Lucius Malfoy had given away their hideout, and the Aurors had raided it only to find it empty. But the Death Eaters had left hastily, leaving behind books, maps, potions, spell instructions: things that might be crucial for learning more about their plans.

"It is possible that Voldemort is planning an attack against the school," Dumbledore concluded. "The rumours indicate such, and we must believe that our deaths have given him a false sense of security. He wants to destroy Hogwarts. This place holds too many bad memories for him."

"What more can we do?" Headmistress McGonagall asked. "The school is as ready as it can be, I've made sure of that."

"And I want to thank you for that," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling for the first time that day. "You have done marvelous job here. I am very pleased that you even managed to get the Guardians of the Blue Room to work for you. You must reveal your secret one day."

The Headmistress bowed her head, pleased but unwilling to let it show. They were ready, and it was all because of her.

Dumbledore smiled then, addressing them all, "I think we need a small break before we start going through our list of problems." He looked at them, receiving accepting nods and baffled looks, but he knew he was right. They had a lot to do, and they couldn't do it all at once. "Feel free to stay here or go outside, but please be here in half an hour."

Before he left he had a brief whispered conversation with the Headmistress, and then he was gone.

The room fell silent after that.

Amadeus was the first to leave after Dumbledore, and then the others stood as well, stretching their legs, moving around a bit.

Harry turned to Draco, asking, "You want to come with us?"

Draco wasn't sure if he was being polite or if he actually wanted Draco to accompany them, but it was nice nevertheless. He smiled and said no anyway because there was something he wanted to do. The boys left, and he went to stand by one of the arched windows. He waited, and surely his father approached him.

"Have you heard of your mother?" Lucius asked, trying to put a hand an his shoulder again, but Draco sidestepped and managed to avoid it. Lucius looked at his hand for a moment and then clenched it into a fist, lowering it to his side.

It would have been so easy to follow the old patterns, to become the obedient son again. He had worshipped the ground under his father's feet, but the man had betrayed him.

Draco would never let that happen again.

"No, I haven't," he said, not turning to face his father.

"Would you like to come with me to see her?" Lucius said quietly, making it sound more like a command than a request.

Draco felt tempted, everything about his family made him want to scream: I want you back!, but it was just impossible. He couldn’t let them affect him this way after everything that they had put him through.

"Father," he said, finally looking at him. "Don't. Don't try to pretend that nothing happened, that you didn't abandon me. I remember everything." He turned to leave, but his father grabbed his wrist.

"Draco."

Draco pulled his hand free, mouth curling, and walked away without another word. He wouldn't be his father's puppet anymore. The Soul Ripper had nearly killed him, and he could still feel Voldemort's cold words gripping his insides: "He asked me to... destroy you before I leave your healthy young body."

Lucius Malfoy may have switched sides, but Draco wasn’t willing to forgive him, not now and not ever. Draco knew that his father enjoyed corruption and power, enjoyed manipulating the less intelligent, but he didn't want to serve anyone. That was his soul reason to accept Dumbledore's offer. Harry didn't ask anyone to serve him; he only needed help.

It made him want to smash things, the fact that his father could still make him feel so small and weak. He was fuming when Dumbledore and the others returned and when the meeting continued. He didn't want to spend any time with his father, and he was rather relieved to hear what Dumbledore had to say next.

The old wizard cleared his throat. "Severus, could you please escort Mr Malfoy... Senior to the other room. Do the usual precautions." They maybe trusted him when they needed him, but he would never be present in any of the strategy meetings.

As Professor Snape took Lucius away, Dumbledore started. "We have an urgent matter to discuss. The Dark Mark. Remember Maximillian Metzger, the Death Eater we captured last autumn after the attack?"

"The one who was killed?" McGonagall asked.

"Yes." He paused. "We now have two former Death Eaters on our side, and both of them bear the Mark that could get them killed. If Voldemort finds out that he didn't kill Lucius Malfoy, he will kill him through the Mark. The same will happen to Severus if Voldemort ever starts to doubt the information he receives from his spy. It is possible that he has heard rumours about Amadeus and myself being alive. It is possible that even though we have acted very carefully someone might have recognised us, someone not friendly. That is a serious threat to Severus."

Harry sat down between Ron and Draco, watching Dumbledore carefully. "How can we ensure their safety then?" He couldn't believe that they were trying to protect the same person who had tried to get Ginny killed, who had attacked them at the Ministry, who definitely wasn't good in any known way.

It was strange how their side seemed to get darker with each new recruit.

"We've been studying that ever since the incident with Metzger, but nothing useful has come up," Amadeus said. "This kind of magic isn't common at all. With Snape we can't even carve the Mark out magically because he's still a spy."

Snape returned, taking a seat next to McGonagall, scowling. He looked even more sour than before. "The man is intolerable," he muttered. Harry couldn't have agreed more, and the thought was just horrific. He actually shared an opinion with Snape. He felt impure.

"There is a way to solve this, though." Dumbledore's eyes locked with Draco's. "We need to find the Book of Dreams."

Draco stared at the old wizard, fighting the urge to look behind him to see if there was someone else Dumbledore was looking at. He didn't know anything about the Book of Dreams. Hadn't that been made clear the last time they talked about this? "Why are you looking at me?"

"Because you have it."

Draco stood, stumbling away from the table. "I don't... I'm... I don't have anything."

"But you do." Dumbledore stood as well, walking slowly towards Draco. "We visited an intriguing old lady at Amadeus' village, and she showed us you. You have it. Where is it?"

The old goot had gone mad. He looked frightening as though he was thinking that Draco had betrayed them somehow. He hadn't. How could he prove that? "You can search my things. I don't have any... Wait... It might be." Draco began to pace, thinking hard, trying to remember. "She said she got it from the Restricted Section of the library. Didn't you say that the book came within the boxes. What was his name? Grave-something."

Dumbledore relaxed visibly. "Mr Graveriver, yes."

"You're not serious? It's that book? You showed it to us," Harry said in disbelief.

Draco felt ashamed. He had had the book the whole time. They could have used it. They could have destroyed it. Anything. Now it was just lying on the bedside table in his private Slytherin Head Boy room, being totally useless. "I'll go get it," he said hastily as he ran towards the door.

"Harry, go with him," Dumbledore said, sitting down.

Ron looked hurt. "What about me?"

"You too."

The three boys stormed out the door, running through the empty corridors, excited of the sudden chance to do something meaningful, something that would solve at least a few of their problems.

It didn't take them long to find their way back. Draco was holding the book triumphantly above his head. "Here." He gave it to Dumbledore who motioned all of them to gather around him. He opened it slowly only to find all the pages annoyingly blank.

Harry growled in frustration. "What's that? My dreams don't contain wordless books."

"No. This can't be." Draco grabbed the book, frowning. "The last time I looked at it, it was full of dark spells."

"Well, now it isn't," Ron said flatly.

"Great observation skills you have there," Draco mocked, giving the book to Amadeus.

Ron just glared at him.

Amadeus examined the book carefully. "I believe it's not enough that you merely look at the pages, you need to want to see something." He turned to look at Draco. "What did you need at the time?"

Draco blushed behind his ears. "I needed something that would keep my mind occupied while Hermione slept in my bed, something that would prove that I wasn't a blood traitor. I wrote all the spells down, copied the book because it was hers. I didn't know that it showed something else to her than it did to me."

Ron's glare burned holes into the back of Draco's neck. Hermione sleeping in his bed? He wanted to strangle the other boy, but Harry grabbed his arm, shaking his head. They knew already. There was something going on between the two, and Malfoy wasn't playing a game. He had proved it countless of times while trying to save Hermione over the months. He was serious about her. Ron pulled his arm free, but didn't try to kill the blond boy. He would accept it someday.

"What about you? What did you see then?" Draco asked Harry, a curious expression on his face.

It was Harry's turn to blush. "Nothing important."

Draco smirked. It had to be something good, something he could use to taunt the other boy with. "Come on, you can tell me."

Harry shot a warning glare at Draco. Don't push it.

Dumbledore coughed. Sometimes he felt so old. "We need to concentrate on the matter at hand," he said. "My suggestion is that we all read the Book of Dreams one at the time, keeping in mind that we really want to see the solution for the Dark Mark problem. Maybe we can overcome all the other urges inside us. Mr Weasley, please start."

Ron took the book and sat down on his usual seat, opening the book, expecting to see a spell that would stop Voldemort from killing Lucius Malfoy and Severus Snape. In reality, that wasn't high on his list of dreams. How to become the richest man in England? How to find true love? How to be happy? How to hex Draco Malfoy in ten thousand ways without killing him? Oh, it was useless. No matter how hard he concentrated, he just couldn't get the right one out.

"It's not working," he muttered, handing the book to Harry.

Harry held the book only for a few seconds and then gave it to Draco. "Mine is broken," he just said, staring at the cracked surface of the table. His face was flushed again.

"We're seventeen-year-old boys after all," Draco whispered knowingly, smirking. When he opened the book it said: To be worthy is to accept oneself. Nothing else. It didn't change, even though he opened and closed it many times, trying very hard to concentrate on the Mark. He gave up and levitated the book to Professor McGonagall who sat on the other side of the table.

She tried very hard, too, but finally let go of the book, pushing it to Amadeus. "You try."

Amadeus burst into laughter and then threw the book to Dumbledore, who almost didn't catch it. Young people these days. He opened it tentatively, fearing that none of them would find the answer there. The book was tricky. It was impossible to control it. Master Dumbledore, just buy new socks. That shouldn't be too difficult. Dumbledore pushed his chair back and stood, walking to Professor Snape briskly. "Please make sure you'll get the answer out of this sarcastic little book." He sounded rather irritated.

All of them stared at the Potions Master as he opened the Book of Dreams. His greasy hair almost covered his face when he leaned over the book, reading out loud: "The Dark Mark is a claim, both heart and soul of the servant belong to the Master. To break the heart and to destroy the soul - that is the key to freedom."

The silence that followed was maddening. How could they do that without killing the two former Death Eaters? It was an impossible riddle.

Draco leaned forward, looking at Snape intently. “What does it mean?” he asked, voicing the question they all harboured.

Snape looked thoughtful. “Hmm… To break the heart… Maybe it's not literal at all. Voldemort has said that the skull represents death and the snake destruction; maybe they are the heart and the soul of the riddle. What do you think, Albus?”

“It is possible,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “We need to work on this.”

To Draco's amusement, Harry actually raised his right hand as though in a classroom, his left one clutching the edge of the round table hard, his knuckles turning white.

"Yes, Harry." Dumbledore looked at him over his half-moon spectacles.

“Sir,” Harry said, standing, “can we go? We want to spend time with Hermione. We're useless here since we know nothing about the Dark Mark. She needs us more."

Draco wanted to laugh. Harry clearly wanted to avoid all the troublesome research they were supposed to do. Amadeus had finally managed to deliver all the books of his private collection to the Library of Hogwarts as he had promised Madam Pince. Among those books, there might be some references to the Book of Dreams and how to make it work more efficiently. They had done nothing but studied over the months Hermione had been sick, studied and stayed beside her bed. Now they finally had the chance to talk to her, see her for real.

Dumbledore knew that the children were tired of the war and it hadn't even begun yet. There were so many things they still needed to face - and he was supposed to give them the means to do that. He sighed. They deserved their time off.

"Go. We will do this."

The three boys left the room quietly, trying to hide the fact that they were very excited. The day was warm, summer almost at their door. They wanted to go outside, to show Hermione that the world hadn't changed that much while she was gone.

They found Hermione sitting on a windowsill, reading. Nobody else was in sight. She lifted her gaze when she heard them come in, closing the book and placing it on her lap. "Hello boys," she said, not quite sounding like herself yet, but it was better than this morning when she had mostly been quiet, listening to them talk, watching her hands and trying not to wince every time someone spoke too loudly.

“How are you?” Harry asked as they took their places close by her, Ron sitting on her bed, Draco leaning against the wall next to Hermione and Harry himself dragging a chair closer, turning it around and straddling its back, leaning his forearms against it.

“I’m fine. I’ll get better,” she said quietly. There was still a haunted look in her eyes, but she was strong, stubborn. She would survive. Draco remembered the three-month-deal they had made earlier that year and smiled to himself. She hadn’t mentioned it once. She didn’t want to die anymore.

Ron shifted restlessly, taking hold of one of the bedpost. “D’you maybe want to go outside? Has Pomfrey said anything about you leaving the Hospital Wing? Is it okay?”

Hermione smiled. “Yes, it’s okay. She just said that there has to be someone with me every time I go somewhere, and mostly even if I don’t. She’s worried. Everybody is.” She mumbled the last words, clearly not too fond of the fact that everyone was fussing over her.

“Shall we go then?” Draco asked, extending his hand to Hermione.

She looked baffled, her eyes widening, but she took his hand anyway, jumping off the windowsill, leaving her book behind. He didn’t let go of her, just led her out of the twin doors, knowing that both Ron and Harry stared at them in disbelief. It would take them some time to get used to Draco actually being comfortable enough to show his affection publicly. He managed to smother the smirk that threatened to spread on his face. He felt gleeful, finally free of his father's influence.

They spent the whole day outside enjoying the sun, playing Snitch-hunting, lying on a checkered blanket reading and chatting, letting Hermione get used to everything. People stopped by, asking her questions, wanting to know how she was doing and if she would participate in the NEWTs. They had sat by her bed, too, had come to see her, had missed her. She didn't even know how much everyone had cared for her well being. It should have probably made her feel overwhelmed, but instead she felt like she actually belonged somewhere. She wasn't just Harry's best friend, the Muggle witch. She was also herself, Hermione Granger, someone people liked.

"I can do this," she whispered to Draco when they finally gathered their things and started getting back. The sun was setting, colouring the castle with bright red and yellow. Hermione couldn't remember when she had last seen a sunset. "I'm going to be okay."

Draco smiled, whispering in her ear, tickling her a little, "I know."


TBC..

Chapter 21: The Serpent's Son, Part Two
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The Serpent’s Son, Part Two


Hold the light given unto you
Find the love to unfold
In this broken world we choose
Shine by Vienna Teng



The rain made Draco feel wretched. His black silk shirt was already clinging to his skin, and his hair was flat against his cheeks and neck, showing just how easy it was to make anyone look like a wet rat. Draco wiped his mouth and eyes with the back of his hand, trembling from the cold.

He tried not to be angry.

Hermione had sneaked out without anyone realising it, disappearing like a ghost from their strategy meeting, the first one she had participated since Lucius had restored her mind.

It had been only three weeks, but it felt longer. She was still struggling.

There were only a few places where she would go, and he knew all of them. He would find her. And as though guessing how violently frustrated he was, she came in sight. She was crouching by the lake, holding a huge black umbrella, staring into the darkness. She looked like a small, miserable mushroom.

"Hermione." His voice was low and raw, trying to reach a note that would tell her that she shouldn't be afraid of him. He wasn't able to convince himself, though. He wanted to strangle her for scaring them all.

She didn't turn to face him nor did she stand up, but her words were clear and strong. "You should've stayed. I'm... fine."

He let out a sigh of relief as he walked slowly towards her. Everything was all right. "I didn't want to. I don't like to be in the same room with him... with Father," he said, stopping a few feet away from her, glancing at her, hugging himself for warmth.

"I know. You could've stayed anyway."

Why should he? He didn't know anything about how to seal the Dark Mark, and he couldn't even be helpful with the Book of Dreams.

Besides, Draco didn't want any of that. He wanted this.

"You'll catch a cold," Hermione said from under her umbrella.

He gave her a small smile, slightly pleased by her concern. "I'll manage."

It took her a long while to say anything after that, and he didn't try to make empty conversation just to break the silence. He knew her, the way she moved. It was easier to let her lead.

Draco didn't care that his teeth were clattering, or that his fingers had started to feel numb long before he had found Hermione. He wasn't even wearing his robes, the cold sneaking beneath his thin shirt and trousers. At least Hermione had been wise enough to take her cloak with her.

"Do you..." Hermione paused, pulling at the grass with her free hand. "Can we win?"

He remembered the time when Harry had used that very same tone, right there in that very same spot, asking if Hermione would survive. He hadn't quite reassured Harry then. There was definitely something wrong with these people, these Gryffindors, asking him all these strange questions he had no answers for.

"Of course," he finally said, his voice carrying a hint of cheerful sarcasm. "Don't you know that Good always conquers Evil, and the Prince always gets the Princess?"

Hermione looked up, her eyes glinting. "What about the Wizard?" she asked. "Does he always get the Witch?"

"Always."

She lowered her gaze quickly, but it didn't stop him from catching her expression. She had smiled, and there had been something playful in her eyes. Like before. He hadn't seen that in a long while.

"Draco?"

"Hmm?"

She stood, her hair escaping from behind her ears. She wiped it aside with nervous, lingering fingers . "Come under here," she said, lifting her umbrella a bit. "You'll get sick and then Harry will kill you. He needs you."

It was true, Draco knew. He had started helping Harry with the meetings of Dumbledore's Army, and it hadn't taken him long to realise that Harry really didn't have any people skills. The boy had nearly got himself killed when he had suggested that the Slytherins should practise dueling with the Hufflepuffs. Gregory had laughed, thinking that it was a joke. At that point, Blaise had decided that it would be wise to stun Theodor before he blew up. It hadn't been pretty after that. At least they had managed to get some real training then, fighting each other like crazed manticores.

It must have come as a surprise to some people that Draco was the people person and Harry the dumb muscle. Draco liked the arrangement.

But it wasn't Harry whose needs were Draco's concern now. He wanted to ask if she needed him as well. She was offering him her shelter, though. Maybe that meant something.

He took the umbrella from her hand and moved to stand close to her. She was so small, tiny even. She hadn't been outside much after Lucius' miracle cure. It had all been very gradual and slow, and Draco hated it. He wanted her to stop being fragile. It would make everything easier for all of them. The war was already there, the armies fighting each other. Soon, Hogwarts would be the next battle ground. Dumbledore had sent the younger children home, only sixth and seventh years were staying, their efforts crucial in the fight against madness and terror.

Draco felt like he was holding a card house, waiting for the moment when everything would fall apart. It was frustrating. They had Hermione back, but she was still just a shadow of her former self.

"Have you ever thought what would have happened if Peter Pettigrew hadn't betrayed Harry's parents?" Hermione spoke with a wistful voice, sounding distant but pleasant. "Would all this be Voldemort's now? Or could the first Order have won? Why do we have to be the ones to solve this old mess?"

"Hermione," Draco said, amused, "you tend to forget that I've been your friend for less than four months. I don't think about past things. I'm barely able to think about the present with all that's happened."

Again, she glanced at him, something resembling a smile tugging at her lips. "I do forget," she said, sounding a bit surprised. "You seem so permanent in my life now."

In a way, Draco could see why Hermione would ask such questions. Why she would be frustrated about history following them and demanding them to take care of things that were left behind by others. It shouldn't have been their fight at all. But it was possible that every generation felt the same way.

"I'm tired, too," he finally admitted. "I don't want any of this. None of us want this." He paused, breathing quietly, thinking. It wasn't easy to put things into words. "But that's never the way it goes. We get the kind of cards we get, and we'd better learn to play with them. Perhaps learn to cheat a bit as well. That's life."

Hermione hugged herself tightly, clearly pondering his words. "Have you tried to contact your mother?" she said quietly, leaning to his side a little.

"No." It was the word that ended all conversation. He didn't want to talk about his mother. He still missed her letters, gifts, words. She was gone now, somewhere beyond salvation.

Hermione leaned a bit closer still, placing her hand in the crook of his arm. "I think you should." The words were hushed now, holding too much emotion.

It was always she who managed to either balance him or push him over the edge. She was all the extremities of his life. She was everything, affecting him in ways that had never been possible before. It was hard to be that close to her and not react, her strawberry smell all over him, tingling his senses. He wanted to reach out and touch her jaw, that beautiful line, the soft skin. He wanted to, but didn't. Couldn't.

"Please don't push it." He had learned to say things aloud before they would spiral out of control. He was learning to be a normal person, someone who didn't have other people inside their head and didn't snap every time something annoying happened. He was trying. She seemed to notice that.

Hermione shrugged, a gesture of indifference, yet it seemed to say: "I understand."

Draco sighed. She was right, though. He should try to contact his mother. There was a possibility that she would come to her senses if she heard that her husband was all right and that her son was doing just fine. It didn't matter that the Manor was gone. It shouldn't matter. The flames didn't eat her sanity.

"Would you like to walk a bit?" She sounded almost breathless when she spoke. Did he still have that effect on her?

"Why not."

Out of habit, they found their way back to the castle, but Hermione didn't seem to want to go inside yet so they continued to walk further until they reached the old graveyard. The gravestones were covered with moss, the carvings almost unreadable.

"Are they all old staff members?" Hermione asked, sliding her had against one of the stones.

Draco shrugged. "I guess so."

She was quiet for a moment as though contemplating her next words, and then she shifted slightly, watching him directly. "Are you afraid to die, Draco?"

The question made him want to laugh. It was so ridiculous, coming from Hermione. She wasn't this kind of a person. She wasn't this scared little girl. She was a fighter. Yet, the answer was very simple, and she seemed to need it. "No. I'm afraid to live."

"Why?" Her eyes were wide, questioning.

"Hermione... listen. All I do is suffer. All I know is... this." He pulled his sleeve up, showing his mangled skin, the dark mark that wasn't really real. "I've never really experienced anything until this year with you. I've been a shell, a ghost. I've never had these... feelings. You changed me and however cliché that might sound, it's true. You transformed me. And I've only lived like this for a few months, and during those months, I've only been hurt. At the moment, I have no idea how to live."

"But... but... Draco, you seem like you can handle anything. You're helping Harry with the DA. You're a part of the War Room circle. You've helped me more than it's possible. If that's not good living, I don't know what is." She paused, hanging her head. "I've felt so weak beside you."

Draco stared at her, unable to speak. She couldn't be serious. There was nothing special about him. He was doing all that just to distract himself from thinking. He had almost lost Hermione. He had almost lost himself. Everything was in ruins. It was impossible for all of them to survive the war. It just wasn't their school anymore. It wasn't their childhood. It was just a grown-up world where nothing felt solid anymore.

He had no words for her.

As they walked back towards the castle, Draco thought about the past weeks, thought about Hermione and her unyielding will to push through her demons, back to the life she knew, back to the people she loved. Amadeus had said that they had Draco to thank for her quick recovery. He had kept her connected to her true self, sharing his strength when she most needed it. In a way, he had saved her even though it was Lucius Malfoy who had returned her ability to exist in the world.

"Would you like to practise wandless?" she asked, looking awfully sweet all of a sudden.

The professors hadn't allowed her to return to normal classes yet, but she had their permission to practise wandless magic with Draco. She had been reading like crazy, trying to catch up with everyone. The NEWTs were approaching, and she still didn't remember everything. The only thing that kept her mind at ease was the Colour of Magick. She enjoyed those practise sessions, and she was good. It didn't matter that she had been gone for months. For some reason, she was now stronger than ever.

Draco nodded, smiling. Hermione was actually better than him. At some point of his life, he might have hated that. Now, he merely felt eager to see her beating him again, pushing him to the edge and beyond, challenging. She didn't seem fragile then.

They arrived to the room that was reserved for the seventh-years only; anyone younger couldn't enter. Amadeus, the house-elf, was now helping Harry with the Ancient Magick classes, and this was their practise room for it. It was theirs at all times.

The room was almost full, everyone working on their wandless spells, trying to rule the Colour of Magick, to bend it to their will. It didn't matter that it was dark outside, that all the other students were getting ready for bed. The attack against the school had made them realise that they weren't safe anywhere.

The best way to survive was to know how.

Hermione set her umbrella against the wall, removed her cloak, and tied her hair with a blue ribbon. Then she took her wand out, drying Draco's cloths and hair. "Don't get sick, okay?" she said, that sweet expression still on her face. Her school robes were almost dry, but her shoes were muddy, leaving dirt all over the floor. She removed them, too, standing there, her red socks brilliant against the grey floor.

Draco smothered a grin, taking off his shoes and then beckoning her to follow him to the middle of the room. It was void of furniture, only seven torches lighting the room. Shadow and light played with them as they circled one another, waiting, trying to predict what the other would do.

Their way of learning to use the Colour of Magick differed from others. They used the magic against one another, fighting, carefully planning attacks, pushing the other further, demanding a quick response. Hermione hadn't known any wandless spells before they started training, but Draco had. Now the tables had turned. She was ruthless, quick-witted and creative. He had to follow her lead, every time.

Her expression still betrayed her, though. He knew when she was going to strike. He was able to avoid her stunning spell and send a quick fireball at her, but she easily stopped it with water. He had to shield himself now, because her eyes were cold and determined, her stance low. She would send something nasty at him. Even with his shield up, he couldn't stop the blow. It was as though a hammer had just struck him square in the stomach, sending him flying through the air. He landed hard on the floor, back aching, but he didn't have any time to lie there. Otherwise she would win, too fast, too easy.

Draco rolled further away from her, gathering his strength, trying to breathe. She had knocked him down. What was that spell? He tried to think, tried to remember spells, but nothing came to his mind. He tried the Jelly-Leg curse, but she just wiped it away, approaching quickly, almost running. But this time, everything was somehow different; she was different. He would win. She was letting anger control her, and that was never good. He stopped in his tracks, staring, letting his wickedness show on his face. He could break her defenses.

Without a warning, he launched himself at her, twisting her around in one quick motion and pulling her against his chest, whispering in her ear: "Petrificus Totalus." She went rigid in his arms, but the sheer fury in her eyes almost scared him stiff, too. Hermione didn't like losing. She had been a sore loser before, but now, she strived to win. Always.

He could feel her pushing against the binding magic. She was trying to break it. "Stop that. You know we're not that far yet." He breathed against her neck and hair, chest rising and lowering fast. "Will you behave if I let you go?"

The blinding rage eased within her, and Draco could feel her surrender even though her body couldn't move to show it in anyway. They were so close, minds almost melting, thoughts mingling. He ended the spell, and for the shortest moment, she leaned back, head resting against his shoulder. Then she pulled away, silently demanding him to let go, and he did, his movements slow and careful.

"That was... nice," she said, not looking at him. "I lost."

"You did."

She still didn't turn to face him. "Why?" It was a shallow breath, almost not a word at all.

Draco tried to read the way she held her head, the tired lines of her shoulders, the way she kept picking at the sleeve of her robes. What did she need? "You always pause when the rhythm changes. When I stopped, you still expected me to run. You weren't ready."

Hermione shifted nervously, uncomfortable and annoyed. Draco continued to talk, his eyes glued to the small figure in front of him. "I tricked you. It was a cloak; you saw me move slower than I actually did. You thought you had time for a counter-strike."

"Well..." she began, but then didn't finish.

"Would you like to practise other spells? Levitation? Transfiguration?"

"No!" she said harshly, and then with a softer tone added, "I'm tired, Draco. Just... let it be."

She moved gracefully across the room, ignoring the stares she received from the fellow students. They missed her, but didn't quite know how to respond to her. She was still a bit reserved although she appreciated their concern. Four months was a long time to be gone from a society as small as Hogwarts.

The Slytherins greeted Draco as he walked by, but he only nodded to them absentmindedly, his eyes following Hermione. She was unpredictable, demanding constant vigilance from her friends. She was rarely left alone, and today was Draco's watch day.

Hermione sat down on a bench by the door and reached for her shoes, her movements somehow slow and thoughtful. She stayed bent like that for awhile, drawing circles on the floor with a forefinger, her chin resting against her right knee. Draco sat next to her, not too close but not too far either. They had learned her limits over the past few weeks. She wanted closeness more than anything, but she couldn't accept it easily.

"Is the meeting ever going to end?" she asked, lifting her gaze. "I want to see Ron again."

There were times when she didn't let Ron out of her sight, when she wanted to hold on to his hand, keep him close so she could be sure that he was still alive. She sometimes woke up screaming, not calming down until Ron came to the Hospital Wing and assured her that everything was all right.

It frustrated Draco even though he tried very hard not to be so petty. Maybe he didn’t matter that much after all. Maybe something had died before it could even begin. He didn’t want to know; he didn’t want to ask..

“Dumbledore said that they’re close to cracking the riddle,” he finally commented. “I guess Amadeus managed to find something through the tests he’s been running. I don’t know. I don’t really care.”

Hermione watched him closely. “He’s been teaching me, you know.”

“What?” He thought he knew everything that concerned Hermione. Apparently he was wrong. It felt like a slap to his face.

She bowed her head, still drawing circles on the floor. “Meditation, concentration, all that. It’s what saved him so he thinks it might save me.”

“Oh.” That was good. Why did it feel so horrible then?

“He’s actually a nice person. I didn’t know. I thought… I judged him unfairly.” She was speaking quietly, more to herself than to him. “Did you know that Grindelwald was a friend of his father? All those years ago, when they were young, when Dumbledore was young… I can’t even imagine him being young.” Her eyes were full of mirth as she glanced at Draco. “He’s been telling stories to me, and I’m not entirely sure which ones to believe. I think he’s lying just to cover how crazy he’s been.”

“What did he tell you?” Draco asked despite himself.

“That they’re con artists, that they use Muggles for their own advantage, that they have people in the government as well… It’s just not very believable. But I take bits and pieces and try to form a complete puzzle.”

“I believe almost anything about him. Really. He’s insane.”

Hermione shook her head. “Not anymore. Something changed when they visited his homeland. I think he went through some kind of a ritual, something he didn’t do when his father died, when he became the clan leader. It put him together. Somehow. I think.”

“I just don’t understand why he changed his mind about helping us. Why should he help us?” Draco said, so he wouldn't think about Hermione not telling him that Amadeus was teaching her.

“Same reason why you’re helping us. Nothing’s carved in stone. You can choose whatever you want, whenever you want. It’s that simple.” She smiled, her expression almost coy when she turned to look at him. “Can we go somewhere private?” she then asked, her words soft and quiet.

Draco’s mind went completely blank. For a moment he couldn’t even remember how to form words. He didn’t want to ask any stupid questions, didn’t want to know what she meant. He just wanted.

He stood, waiting for her to take his hand, and when she did, he led the way out of the practise room. He could feel his hands shaking a little and hoped she wouldn’t notice.

“Have I ever told you that I love the view from up here?” she asked when they reached his room, the one reserved for Slytherin Head Boys. “When I was little I imagine being a princess held captive in a tower room.” She looked sheepish when she said that. “And I was always expecting a dragon to come save me from that tower. I think I had somehow misinterpreted the fairy tales.”

Draco laughed, walking behind her, looking over her shoulder at the view from the window. The rain had stopped, but the world was still grey. He loved the view anyway.

She turned around, tilting her head a bit, looking at him. “I’m pretty sure you feel the same way, otherwise I’m going to make a massive fool out of myself, but... I don’t care.” She took hold of his arms and raised on tiptoes, leaning close. “Just… kiss me, please,” she whispered, closing her eyes.

He could feel her shaking a little, like she was afraid, too. It should have probably felt like a dream, something that wasn’t happening, but it didn’t. Everything was very clear, sharp even. He could see her, feel her, and somehow that fear didn’t feel real anymore. He moved a little, angling his head just right, touching her lips lightly.

The sharp intake of breath told him that despite of her courage she had still expected rejection. He smiled against her mouth, deepening the kiss just because he could. It felt amazing to finally have the permission to touch her, to taste her. She felt perfect against him, her small frame fitting in his arms like it had always meant to be there. He wanted to laugh at that thought because nothing about them was meant to be. She was just stubborn enough to fight through all his defenses, to change their destinies.

She curled her hands against the silk of his shirt, clinging to him, pulling him closer, her mouth feverish against his own.

Draco loved her eagerness, loved the small ways in which she showed how much she wanted this, craved for this. And somehow he knew how to make her want it even more. He grabbed the back of her neck, fingers tangling in her hair, holding her still. The perfect control it gave him made him feel dizzy and short of breath, and he could feel her lean against him for support, shivering a little.

He moved, pushing her towards the bed, and when they reached it he lifted her easily in his arms and laid her on the bed, smiling down at her. He wanted to say something, anything that would reveal how long he had wanted this, how much he actually loved to see her like that, lying on top of his bed, eyes half-open, lips quivering.

She was beautiful, and he had no words.

Moving very slowly, he crawled on top of her, his eyes never leaving hers. He rested most of his weight on his hands on either side of her shoulders, straddling her hips. She moved beneath him, arching her back, touching his face, chest, arms, her hands searching, exploring, not afraid at all. He just watched her, unwilling to move because he wanted it to last forever. This was the one thing he didn't want to lose, the one thing he didn't want to mess up. The most important thing.

He kissed her again, letting go some of the control he had over himself, letting her scent and the little desperate sounds she was making affect him. It wasn't easy. He didn't know who he would be and how he would react if he didn't hold on to the reins of his mind. But he wanted her, he wanted to love her, he wanted to show her how precious she was to him, how much he had never loved anyone else but her.

Hermione pushed her chin down, forcing their mouths to separate. Draco kissed the tip of her nose, waiting for her words.

"Draco," she whispered, "I don't mind. I love you the way you are. I love the person you were and I love the person you're now. I love that little boy, too. I don't mind."

A part of him wanted to deny it, wanted to tell her that she was wrong, but he knew it was futile. She could read his mind even before the Colour of Magick. He would always be open to her in someways, parts of him clear in view no matter how much he tried to hide them.

He leaned his forehead against hers. "I know."

Hermione grasped the back of his neck, snaking her hand under his shirt. "Then have faith in me. I can take you."

Draco tried to calm his breathing, tried to calm his frantic mind, but couldn't. She was everything. He kissed her with the desperate mix of want and love and need that he held inside him. She was it. Everything.

He held her as close as possible, loving every inch of her being, showing what he couldn't say, giving away everything that he had inside. He knew it was too much, he knew Hermione could feel it, could taste it, could see it in his eyes, and it was too much, but she could still take it.

And they weren't perfect. They were broken, just mere shards of the people they could have been, but together, they were whole. In that moment, he knew that he could never love anyone else.

He found her hand, entwining their fingers, burying himself into her, all thoughts gone for now. She held her breath, eyes open and black with desire, and all he could do was kiss her.

When he could focus again he found it absolutely adorable that Hermione had fallen asleep, that she could feel so safe with him despite of everything. He stroked her hair and arm, lying on his side, watching her. She was sleeping on her stomach, a peaceful expression on her face. He wanted all that to be forever. He couldn't even imagine losing her. He would rather die than see that happening.

After what felt like half an hour, she stirred, looking at him, smiling. "Hi," she said, moving a little so she could hug him.

"I love you," he whispered against her neck and hair. "Please don't ever die." Draco hadn't meant to say it aloud, none of it, but especially the last part. It was obsessive and crazy and utterly humiliating.

Hermione laughed a little, her body shaking in his arms. "I'm Superwoman. Nothing can break me. I promise to become very old and grey and ugly. We shall see if you love me then."

Draco pulled her even closer, kissing her cheeks and nose and neck, biting her earlobe, before whispering, "I'll love you when you don't have any teeth left."

"Ewww!" She hit his chest playfully, and he rolled them over, moving to lie on top of her, kissing her.

"But really," he said, breathless again, "I don't want anyone else. Ever."

Hermione looked him in the eye, licking her lips before saying, "Are you... Do you want to spend the rest of your life with me? Is that... Are you telling... What?"

He kissed her again, sucking on her lower lip lightly, his full weight crushing her beneath him now. "Yes," he simply said, not explaining, not daring to do so.

"Really? For real?" She looked so surprised he wanted to mock her a little, but instead he bit her jaw and then kissed it gently.

"Yes."

"Are you... proposing?"

"If you say yes." He had to close his eyes because he didn't want to see the look in her eyes. Maybe she would say yes, but maybe she would just think that he was insane and they were too young and everything had just begun and... He stayed quiet. He didn't even dare to exhale.

"Draco?"

"Hmm..."

"I'm not sure if you understood it clearly, but when I said that I love you, I meant it." She touched his cheek tentatively. "Do you have any idea how easy it is to love you. You try so hard. That's enough. I want this. I don't want anything else either. I want you."

He blinked, his eyes burning. He buried his face in her neck, biting it, licking a trail from there to her ear. He wanted to say something, but didn't know what or how to say it. "I'm not a good person," he said quietly, trying not to fall apart.

"Yes, you are," she said vehemently. "You are. You chose. That's enough. You're enough."

"You sure?"

"I'm going to kick your bloody whiny arse if you don't shut up soon." She mimicked Snape's low drawl and even managed to snarl a bit like him. Draco laughed, loving her a little bit more.

"Okay. I will."

Hermione pushed at his shoulders then, trying to see his face. He let her push him off her and on his back as she moved on her side, watching him, drawing circles on his stomach. "Can I have a wedding?" she blurted out, and he could feel the happiness pump through his veins, filling him, making his heart beat faster. She wanted him.

"You can have anything," he said, catching her hand, stilling it against his stomach.

"Can I have this ring?" she asked next, showing him the magical ring circling her thumb, the one she had forgotten to return to him.

Draco smiled at her. "If you want it."

"Oh, I want it. I want you. Oh, can I tell everyone? Can I tell Harry and Ron? Can I tell my mother?" She was suddenly so excited her excitement burst through the Colour of Magick rendering him breathless and speechless. He had never made anyone so happy. "I love you. I've loved you forever. I can't even remember when I fell in love with you. Before the Guardians, I think. I saw you through the Colour of Magick. I could always see you, but you didn't want to see yourself. You... You are so dear to me." She hugged him tightly, pushing her right hand under him, wrapping her arms and legs around him. "Can I have you always? I want to keep you."

"You can keep me," he whispered, hoping that they would both survive the war, that they could have a normal life, that it would last and nothing could ever come between them. "You can keep me."



TBC...


A/N: There will be an epilogue for this story. After that it's finished. I do hope you enjoyed this chapter. To me it was very personal and I loved writing these two. The epilogue will be posted after the site accepts updates again.

Chapter 22: Epilogue
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Epilogue


Amadeus stood by the door of the Headmistress' office, watching Lucius Malfoy across the room, curious about how the man would react. His only son had just announced that he would marry a Muggle girl and end their family's pureblood line. They were perhaps young, but they were stubborn, too, and knew what they wanted. The war made things very simple. They had no such luxury as a certain tomorrow.

Lucius seemed calm on the surface, but Amadeus could feel the cold fury emanating from him. He could understand now why he had felt some kind of a connection with the Malfoy boy. He remembered the father he had once had, and the same cruel white rage he now sensed in Lucius Malfoy. The reasons were perhaps different, but the result was the same. There could never be peace in this family.

"I will not accept this," Lucius said, staring down at his son. "I will not tolerate your refusal to accept your responsibilities."

"It doesn't matter if you accept it or not," Draco spat out, hands clenched into fists at his sides.

Dumbledore quickly stepped in between Lucius and Draco, facing the older Malfoy. "They are old enough to choose for themselves. It was kind of them to inform us about their plans. That is all."

Lucius glared at the old wizard, arms crossed. "My son is my concern."

"Now I'm your son?" Draco mocked, stepping to the side, ignoring Dumbledore completely. "The only reason I'm even sharing this information with you is that I don't give a damn about your opinion. This is what I want, and that's why you should know. Just keep your archaic ideas to yourself. I don't care."

"Yes, you do," Lucius snarled, grabbing Draco's arm, hauling him forward violently.

Draco pushed him away with equal violence. "You gave up your right to interfere with my life! I don't want your opinion. You're not my father anymore."

Hermione moved to Draco's side, touching his shoulder softly, managing to calm him a little. "It's okay," she whispered. She leaned to his side, dark eyes fixed on Lucius. She had been expecting this, but still it felt dreadful to see it with her own eyes. Her own mother had hugged them and even her father had shaken Draco's hand, grudgingly perhaps but still.

"Is she pregnant?" Lucius asked suddenly, appalling everyone in the room. "I told you it is all right to use them. Why do you want to tie yourself to Muggle trash?"

Harry took hold of Draco's arms before he could attack his father, pulling him back, saying quietly, "He's not worth it." Draco fought against his hold, but Harry wouldn't let go. They were not there to fight.

Amadeus smiled because he had pretty good idea what was going on; why they had been informed about their plans to marry. "I could do it," he said to no one in particular.

Do what? Ron mouthed to the others, but Hermione beamed at Amadeus.

"Oh, I knew you would say that," she said happily, taking a few steps towards Amadeus and then turning around to watch Lucius again, unsure of what the man would do, but wanting to concentrate on happier matters.

Lucius moved forward, grabbing the front of Draco's robes. "Don't do this," he pleaded. "You have no idea what you're throwing away. You owe this to the wizarding kind. You owe this to our family."

To everyone's surprise, Draco pulled free of Harry's firm grip and charged at his father so fast nobody could do a thing to stop him. He pushed the older man against the wall, hands around his throat. "No! You have no idea what I'm gaining. You have no idea what this means to me. You have no idea about anything that has any value at all." He let go, turning his back on his father, the anger leaving him fast now that he had said what he had wanted and needed to say for so long.

Beside the wall, infront of the paintings of old Headmasters Lucius stood quietly, staring at his son with open malice. Then he straightened his robes in a ferocious manner and walked away, banging the door closed behind him.

"Can you wed us now?" Draco asked Amadeus, taking Hermione's hand, ignoring the pang of hurt that gripped his heart briefly. "Gregory and Vincent will be our witnesses. Harry is... He's my best man."

Ron looked furious, but he didn't say a thing. He had to accept the fact that he couldn't change the path Hermione's heart had chosen. This was her decision, and he would support her. One day, he might even like the blond bastard.

"Ron..." Draco turned to look at the redhead, "can be Hermione's maid of honour."

"Draco..." Hermione said, shocked. She was trying not to smile, though. "Don't."

"Well, my dressrobes make me kind of look like an old-fashioned lady," Ron said, smirking, a look in his eyes that promised years of torment. Draco was a part of their little group now. He would suffer for it.

"Where are Crabbe and Goyle, by the way?" Harry asked Draco.

"Preparing everything for the after-party, I guess. I don't really want to know. I'm afraid it's going to be terrible."

"Drinks?" Harry whispered so only Draco could hear him.

"You haven't been to Slytherin parties before. It's going to kill you in the morning."

Harry smiled. "I can handle my liquor."

"Not this kind," Draco said, grinning back at his friend.

They had been astonished by how well Harry and Ron had taken the news. Hermione was even a bit disappointed how unsurprised they had been. Had it been so clear all along that she would marry Draco Bellator Malfoy one day? It made her happy, though, that she could finally be herself around Draco, that she had the right to touch him, to talk to him about anything, to include him in any plans she might have. He was a part of her life; they were together in this now.

Dumbledore coughed, drawing everyone's attention to him. "We need to talk first."

"About what?" Draco asked. He wanted the wedding ceremony to be over and done with; this waiting was making him nervous. His hands were already slick with sweat.

"You have questions. We will answer them," Dumbledore simply said, watching his students with care. They had all grown a lot this past year.

"You would give us straight answers?" Harry sounded surprised.

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "Well..."

"Then could you please tell us what the pairing magic was for?" Hermione asked, looking at Dumbledore with keen eyes.

"Yes, of course. What about anything else?" He looked at Ron and Harry and then locked eyes with Draco. "Do you want to know anything?"

Draco stared at him for a moment and then smiled such a genuine smile that Hermione couldn't believe her eyes. She had seen that smile only in private. It was shining so brightly now.

"No, Sir. I know everything I need to know." Draco pulled Hermione closer. "I think I'm happy not knowing for a few more hours what I'm supposed to do in this war. Can you let us have that?"

Dumbledore nodded. "If that is what you want."

"Thank you," Draco said, moving towards the door, gesturing for Harry and Ron to follow them. "We'll have that talk later." He turned to face Amadeus before leaving. "Could you meet us by the lake in twenty minutes?"

When Amadeus bowed courtly and then nodded, Draco smiled at him, hugging Hermione, closing the door and the room full of people behind him.

"Why'd you decide that for us?" Ron asked when they descended the stairs of the Headmistress' office.

"That we don't want to know?"

Ron nodded.

"Because we know already. Because it's not fun. Because it means that the war is only a heart beat away," Draco explained, stopping at the end of the stairs, opening the door there.

"What do we know?" Hermione asked, puzzled. She was pretty sure nobody had told them anything about the pairing magic unless it had happened while she was gone.

Harry glanced at her, saying, "You're going to be some kind of an elite force, protecting me. At least that's what I'd do if I were Dumbledore."

"Seriously?" Ron and Hermione chorused, bewildered.

"That's what I'd do, too." Draco leaned against the wall in the corridor outside the office, still holding Hermione close to him. "The best of us can do quite amazing things without our wands. With our partners we can do even greater things. I don't think he could have made a better choice than this. You can't teach grown-ups the same things. They can't learn this. He chose us because our minds are still adaptable."

Hermione pulled herself free of Draco's embrace and started pacing the corridor. "But... but... We're children."

"So is Harry," Draco said. "And Dumbledore knows this. He can't survive on his own. Look at him; he doesn't even eat enough."

Harry laughed a funny little laugh, looking at Draco with curious eyes. "Thanks."

Draco grinned madly. "You're welcome."

"I would've wanted to ask questions, though." Ron sounded irritated. "I have questions. Lots of them."

"We all do," Harry agreed, "but I don't think they would give us straight answers, not even now. We just have to keep our eyes open. And I'm thinking of sneaking into the War Room and stealing the Book of Dreams. I want to learn to use it."

Hermione span around, staring at him sharply. "No! We should destroy it. If it got into wrong hands it could destroy you. We don't need it. We can win without it. And besides, it's very unpredictable."

"Let's not have this conversation now." Draco pushed himself away from the wall and moved to Hermione's side, taking her hand again. "We're... We're getting married. We need to get ready... and find Vincent and Gregory, too."

She tilted her head up, smiling at him sweetly. "I think I love you," she said quietly, staring into his eyes. "I think I do."

"Oh..." He had no idea how to respond to that. She had said it infront of her friends without any warning, making it all seem so very easy. How could she always do that? "I... think... I... really..."

Ron hit him in the arm and said, "Just shut it."

It was somehow odd that this was their life now. Harry was supposed to be a great leader, and they were all supposed to support him, but in the end, when they gathered together, when they met somewhere quiet and private, they were just friends, too young to have the responsibilities they carried and too old to stay safe in the warm homes of their supposedly loving parents. It had never been like that, would never be like that, but they all wanted to pretend for a little while that their lives were not so cold and demanding. This, the wedding, the party after it, was their way of saying that no matter what came later, they had already won.


THE END



A/N: I am very grateful for all of you. I would not have been able to finish this without your lovely comments, without knowing that there are new readers wanting to see this finished. The story is so much bigger than what I ever could have written. There are deleted scenes, and hundreds of tiny ideas that I never put on page. I know everything that has happened and what will happen; that's the way it is for me. And it was always more about friendship, love and acceptance than the fierce battle between Light and Dark. This is for you. This journey took me almost five years, and I've carried this with me all these years. It makes me sad and it makes me relieved. ^_^ Thank you. For everything.

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