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CHAPTER 10

Hermione rushed to the door in a heartbeat. She listened for sound but all was silent so she quickly stepped inside. Where could the men have disappeared to so soon? Her immediate intension was to find Draco as soon as possible. He wouldn’t even know what was happening. An image rushed into her mind of Draco lying in bed, eyes closed, limbs spread and smothered with blood. Fear caused Hermione’s body to shake uncontrollably but she didn’t let herself panic.

She took the quickest path that lead to the beast’s chamber. Hopefully the party of determined men would not be on the right track, after all the castle was massive with many passages and links. But they would be heading upward.

Hermione found a torch of fire in the hall she passed through. This was a good sign. She grabbed it, using it to find her way through the darkness. She rounded a corner and her heart almost missed a beat as a terrifying clamour from bellow crashed through the early morning stillness.

Shouts of men arose along with the clattering of metal utensils. Hermione realised the sound was coming from the kitchen. Oh no, it must be the house elves! What should she do? Go help them or search for the beast? But what if the beast was with them?

Feeling completely torn, Hermione decided to continue on her way up to the chamber. If Draco was there sleeping he would need to be warned. If he weren’t, well she would return as quickly as her legs would take her.

Fortunately her instincts were correct. After anxiously pounding on the door to the beast’s room and a quick call for him to recognise her, the door swung open to reveal wide, horrified eyes.

Draco grabbed her arm and looked at her with wide, disbelieving eyes. ‘Why are you here? You need to go!’

Hermione hardly gave herself time to catch her breath. ‘You need to come with me. There are men attacking the castle and they plan on killing you! Oh Draco, I’m too late and it’s all my fault!’

‘What!’ He looked mildly surprised. ‘Yes I know about the men but what are you saying about this being your fault?’

She was almost in tears now. ‘Viktor found out about you because I can’t keep my mouth shut. I didn’t think he would go crazy and come and attack you. I don’t even know how he found his way here! But it’s all my fault, I had to tell you.’

She said it all in a rush while trying to stop the tears but they streamed down her face uncontrollably. Draco didn’t blame her at all, he knew it wasn’t her fault and he told her so. ‘It’s ok. Stop crying.’

He wiped the tears away but his expression immediately changed from compassion to alarm. ‘We have to get moving. You shouldn’t have come. If they are after me they will get you as well.’

‘I wouldn’t have left you…’

‘No time for talking, go to the west wing and use the old passages there. It will lead you to the back route and into the garden. From there you can get away from here without being seen.’

Hermione gazed into his face with exasperation. ‘You can’t mean that I’d leave you here alone after coming all this way!’

‘That’s exactly what I mean,’ the beast replied sternly.

Hermione felt a spark of frustration. ‘Your coming with me now. Don’t even try to protest.’

‘I’m not leaving this place. What would be the use?’

‘I don’t suggest we leave Draco,’ Hermione said slowly. ‘At least not yet. For now we have to help the house elves.’

Draco was startled. ‘What do you mean? What happened to them?’

‘I heard fighting in the kitchens and it can only be them.’

‘I told them to escape!’ He grabbed her hand and began racing downstairs. Hermione was surprised but didn’t question the beast’s knowledge of the attack. They were now close enough to hear the battle that was taking place in the kitchen. Squeaks and shouts combined in the melee to reveal that the elves were indeed endangered. Surprisingly, Hermione detected a cry of pain from a man. Were the elves fighting back?

Out of nowhere a heavy body leaped onto Hermione and Draco, sending them clamouring to the ground. The beast leaped to his feet, avoiding the blow of their new attacker. He was a wild looking man with a sharp kitchen knife. He took no notice of Hermione; instead his eyes startled at the sight of Draco. It seems he wasn’t expecting an enormous beast to be living in the castle. Apparently Hermione had not been the only one ignorant of Draco’s situation.

He gave a cry of help before taking another swing at Draco, who easily avoided it. ‘Run, damn you, run!’ Draco shouted to Hermione.

‘No!’ Even when he thrust her away from him she did not flee.

Two more men rounded a corner and stumbled as they saw the scene. Hermione was blinded by their torches and a spasm of panic squirmed into her soul.

Suddenly fuelled by determination, Hermione leaped forward. A torch was as good as any weapon in the circumstances, and she had one at the ready. She thrust it into the face of one of the men who cried out in pain. Another man swung a dagger at her, causing her to lose grip of the torch. As it fell the oil it spilt carried blue flames, which clung greedily to the man’s clothes.

‘Fire!’ Another shouted.

As another group of angered men charged around a corner toward them Draco grabbed Hermione’s arm and dragged her away with him. He moved so swiftly she was hard able to keep up with him.

Soon they reached the southern stair but Draco didn’t slacken his pace. Unfortunately, two more men rushed at them fiercely determined to kill Draco. They assaulted him two on one and he had absolutely no weapon of defence. Hermione shouted in panic. Without much thought, she grabbed a small table from nowhere and flung it at the men. It hit one square in the back.

He turned with anger and charged at her, faltering slightly at the sight of her. ‘You’re a girl!’ He exclaimed in shock.

She stepped closer and in that instant retrieved a knife she wore strapped to her upper thigh. Her hands emerged from the slit in her under garment, armed with the naked blade.

Unfortunately she was not quick enough to utilise the weapon, as the attackers’ own knife was suddenly at her neck. Hermione feigned collapsing, startling the man. As he faltered, Hermione jumped up swiftly grabbing a piece of wood, which she used to knock her attacker out. Surprised at her ability to repel her assailants, Hermione sped off to defend Draco.

Hermione found Draco engaged in a fight. He was defending himself quite well except for a scratch in his cheek, which was bleeding a little. He turned to see Hermione approaching desperate to help ward off the attacker, he summoned all his strength and punched the assailant to the floor. ‘I thought you’d left! Oh and by the way, well done with the other fellow,’ He said upon noticing the unconscious man.

‘Draco look out!’ Hermione squealed. But it was too late. A hand grabbed him, turned him around, punching him back. Draco staggered to his feet unarmed and lunged at the man. Hermione was overwhelmed by a sense of fear and dread. Grasping her dagger she charged at the enemy and threw it at him. It missed. The man didn’t look too pleased with her and lashed out striking Draco on the head. Hermione screamed when she realised the blow had rendered him unconscious.

The man slapped her across the face with full strength sending Hermione onto the ground. The man began kicking her body then picked it up and threw her across the room. She shouted again in pain, her whole body throbbing. She rolled to her knees, amazed to find nothing was broken.

The man did not give up. He punched at her stomach sending her back to the floor. The blow winded her and she could hardly move. Looking up she saw the man raising his knife ready to stab her. She screamed, eyes closed.

But nothing happened. Suddenly a hand grasped hers and flung her upward onto furry shoulders. Draco had saved her and was now running back upstairs away from the beaten men in the corridor.

‘Where are we going?’ She gasped.

‘To the North Tower. They won’t find us there.’

‘You can let me down, I’m alright now.’

‘No,’ he said. ‘This way we’ll get there quicker.’

Hermione felt a sting of defiance. Did he think she was useless? Hadn’t she already knocked a man out?

Draco seemed to sense her frustration because he added, ‘I’m glad you stayed. You fought well, impressive for a muggle born.’ There was a hint of cheekiness in his voice that made Hermione forget her anger.

After some time they reached the entrance to the North Tower and Draco let her down. He was panting profusely and Hermione let him know she could climb the stairs herself. He consented.

‘What about the elves?’ Hermione asked suddenly.

There was a pained expression in the beast’s grey eyes but he replied, ‘they must manage on their own. My duty is to protect you.’

Hermione felt both moved and guilty. Her heart went out to the elves and hoped that they were alright. Over two hundred steps later and they reached the top of the tower. It was a circular room that was evidently used for storage. However, it was surrounded by large windows almost level with the floor. Hermione dared not look down and stayed somewhere in the middle.

They stared at each other for moments in silence. Both had thoughts whizzing through their minds and were somewhat in shock.

‘I hadn’t planned to fight.’ Draco admitted.

‘You were just going to let them kill you?’ Hermione was bewildered.

‘Why not? I’m going to die anyway,’ he said with a defeated tone.

Hermione paused for a moment. The mystery of the castle and the beast was still in the back of her mind. She realised that Draco had been cursed into a beastly creature but why? What did she not know?

‘Draco, what do you mean? What is this curse and how did you get it?’ Her eyes pleaded for an explanation.

Draco sighed heavily but realised it was time to tell her everything. ‘It all started with the rumours from the Ministry. Though it was true that I had power and all the dark magic needed to build up a large force, I was lazy. In my heart I didn’t really want to lead the path my father set for me so I bided my time. However, my associates still went on muggle killing sprees and I was blamed for it.’

He paused for a moment, the horrid memories flooding his mind. Hermione prodded him on with a quick ‘yes?’

‘So then one night I had a visit from an old man. I was cruel to him and tried to send him away though there was a terrible storm outside. It was the biggest mistake of my life.’ Draco looked straight into Hermione’s eyes.

‘The man was Dumbledore.’ He stated.

‘He cursed you?’ Hermione gasped.

‘Yes, and he had a right to. I was transformed into this monstrous being and forced to live a dark life without magic and only my servants for company.’

Hermione couldn’t believe her ears. ‘But you are not bad! Surely there is a way to break the spell. Dumbledore would not have cursed you without any hope of your redeeming yourself.’

‘You’re right. There is a way.’ Draco paused, a spark of hope in his heart. It was not too late, there was still a petal left. But suddenly he let the thought go as he realised that Hermione could never love him.

‘What is it?’ Hermione asked expectantly, eyes shining with hope.

‘No, I’m wrong. It’s too late now anyway.’

‘What do you mean?’

Draco avoided eye contact. ‘When Dumbledore cursed me he also left a rose. It symbolises the time I have left to live.’

Hermione cut in, ‘Like the moving clock on the elf’s chest!’

Draco was surprised. ‘Yes, that too.’

Hermione suddenly grew very cold. She remembered overhearing the discussion between the elves many nights back.

‘But…there is only two petals left now. We is not knowing what time is left.’ The elf had said.

‘How many petals are left Draco?’ She hardly wanted to know the answer.

‘Only…one’

‘But you’ve changed! Surely that would be enough to transform you back to your old self and save you.’ She exclaimed.

‘It is not. There is something else.’ He faltered. He could not tell her. It wouldn’t make a difference.

‘Draco, you have to tell me now. How long before you die and what can I do to prevent it!’ Hermione was starting to panic again by the look on the beast’s face.

‘Any minute.’

Hermione trembled. ‘Draco I swear if you don’t ell me now I will- I’ll’

‘Kill me?’ He offered.

‘No!’ He eyes widened with shock. ‘Don’t even say it.’

She rushed to Draco and began shaking him. ‘Tell me!’

Draco was startled and seeing that he could not get her off of him, he surrendered. ‘Alright already, I’ll tell you.’

Hermione sat back and he took in a deep breath. ‘Someone has to fall-’

‘Herm-own-ninny!’

Hermione and Draco jumped in fright. From the ajar door stepped a very dangerous looking Viktor Krum, sword ready in hand.

‘Viktor!’ Hermione gasped.

‘Viktor Krum?’ Draco spat. ‘You’re the one trying to kill me?’

‘Yes, and vith good reason!’ Viktor looked venomously from Hermione to the beast.

‘Viktor, you must listen to me and stop this ridiculous attack! Draco is not who you think he is.’ Hermione tried to reason.

Viktor bellowed with insane laughter. ‘You are correct Herm-own-ninny! He isn’t even human! He is an evil beast and I have come to rid of him once and for all. And look at what he has done to you. He has put a spell over your eyes so you cannot see his true nature. Don’t vorry my love, I will rescue you from his clutches!’

‘Viktor, stop!’

‘It’s ok Hermione,’ Draco snapped. ‘I can deal with this lunatic.’

‘No!’

Hermione tried to shield Draco but was quickly thrust out of the way. Thus the fight commenced between the two men. Draco towered over him but was unarmed. Hermione couldn’t handle it. Viktor was swinging his sword; Draco was punching blows and thrusting his claws. They were fairly even, both good fighters.

Glancing around the room Hermione found nothing that could be used as a weapon. When she saw Draco get cut across the arm and blood seep to the ground, her heart almost failed her. Was this the end for him? Would he die before the last rose fell?

Hermione wasn’t going to sit there and watch him die. She rushed forward and leaped onto Viktor’s back. He cried in dismay but managed to hurl her off without looking back.

Draco looked over at her with concern and in that moment didn’t see Viktor’s expression of triumph.

‘Draco!’ Hermione shouted the warning but it was too late. Draco’s eyes widened as he felt the sword plunge into his flesh. He staggered backward, clutching his stomach. Viktor leaped and shouted with glee. Hermione’s eyes clouded with tears. She tried to rush over to him but Viktor snatched her arm and slapped he face with anger.

‘You still go to him? I am your hero Herm-own-ninny, I saved you now and you still choose him?’ Viktor was fuming.

‘I never chose you Viktor. You’ve always been a bastard but I didn’t think you could stoop this low!’ Tears were freely flowing down her cheeks now.

Viktor’s hold tightened and she screamed from the pain. ‘Let me go!’

‘Never,’ he growled.

Hermione was desperate to get to Draco. He lay silent on the floor, a pool of blood circling him. He’s dead, he’s dead! Her mind repeated.

Hermione snatched her hand away from Viktor but he quickly grabbed it again and forced her to the edge of the room. Completely desperate now Hermione did the only thing she could think of. She kissed Viktor. She kissed him hard and long, feeling the tension of his grip slowly release.

His hair blew with the wind that came through from the window behind him. His face scrunched up into an arrogant grin. ‘See? I knew you vould come around.’

Hermione smiled sadly into his face and then pushed him as hard as possible.

Bewilderment fluttered momently on Viktor’s face, if he didn’t see the kiss coming he sure as hell didn’t see this. Bewilderment soon turned into panic as he began to fall all the way from the top of the North Tower to the ground smashing through the stone pavement below. This was not quite the impression he had hoped to make. Hermione turned her head unable to watch his fall. She heard his scream of terror and the sickening thud as Viktor’s body hit the ground. Suddenly everything was silent.

Hermione was instantly by Draco’s side, not caring for the blood that was now staining her gown.

‘Draco!’ She shouted at him. ‘Draco can you hear me?’

There was no movement, no glow of life left within him. ‘Please don’t die, please don’t die!’ She cried because she knew there was no hope. She cried because she had not confessed her love to him. She cried because she had come too late and this was entirely her fault.

At that moment, the door flew open again. This time Harry and Ron appeared with flushed faces. Their expressions were first that of disgust and shock at the sight of Draco’s body but quickly changed into grave, almost sad expressions because they realised they had come too late.

Hermione hardly noticed them in her distress. She rocked backward and forward, cradling Draco’s head as if it were a delicate baby.

After a short minute of silence, Harry placed his hand on her shoulder and said softly, ‘We’ve cleaned the rest up and most of the elves are safe. I read your letter and came immediately. I’m sorry we were late.’

And he was sorry. Though he didn’t know what had come to pass over the last few weeks between Hermione and Draco, he believed her story that Draco had a good heart. He felt no animosity toward the fellow, especially now that he was dead.

Ron came around Hermione’s other side, his eyes mirroring the sadness of Harry’s. ‘You must really love him,’ he whispered.

Hermione cried out loud. ‘I do love him! I love him more than you could ever imagine. Do you hear me Draco? I love you.’

The three of them sat in silent surprise as one last breath of air was released from Draco’s body. At the same time, on a table beside the window in Draco’s chamber, the final petal on the rose drifted slowly to the ground.

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