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"Before I knew it, your father and I had been married for a couple months. Your father got a job at the Ministry in the foreign relations office, and I spent most of my time while he was away studying materials Dumbledore gave me--most of them involved either the Old Magic or fighting--, redecorating, and visiting with my friends. I didn't have to housework really, because we had a few house elves from my estate in Bulgaria.

Our days were pretty predictable. Your father would go to work, and I would go about my activities. When he came home we would have dinner together. If we both had the evening off, we might play chess but more often we just read or did work. Of course, one or both of us might leave at any time, but neither of us ever asked any questions. He knew that I was in the Order of the Phoenix and that I had business, and I knew that he was a Death Eater and went when he was summoned."

Hermione smiled slightly, pausing in her writing. Most women, when their husbands were out late at night, suspected another woman was to blame. She had never had to worry about that, though. She had known exactly what her husband was doing; running around with murderous hooligans spreading chaos and mayhem. Or learning to do it at least. She continued writing.

"It was about September when I got the hint that your father really didn't like what he had gotten into. And then, I decided to do something about it…."

With hands that were still trembling, Draco turned the water on, leaving a red imprint on the faucet handle. Merlin, what had he done? He heard soft footfalls outside the bathroom door. "It's just me Mother," he said as the figure of a woman walked into the open doorway.

"Draco? What are you doing here this time of the night…" his mother said, and then trailed off as she saw what he was doing.

"Well, I can't exactly wash this off at home; she might still be awake," he said turning the water on a little hotter. He didn't really need the water hotter--the blood was coming off at the previous temperature--but even so, his hands did not feel clean.

"I suppose not," his mother said, pulling her robe around her a little tighter as if she had suddenly gotten a chill. "Who was it?"

"No one I knew," he answered gruffly. Did that really matter, though? Wasn't killing, killing whether you knew the person or not? But once you pledged to Voldemort, you did as he said without balking. Anyone that balked died, and Draco did not want to die. Death was never pretty.

He shook his head, trying to put the mental images of that night out of his head. He had not struck the killing blow; he had helped, but he had not been the one to finally kill the man in the end. He held onto that thought, as tenuous as it was, while he continued to wash his hands not even noticing that the last spot of blood was now gone from them.

"You know," his mother started, "your father was also disturbed the first night he came home to wash the blood off his hands. It's natural to be uneasy at first, but after a while it didn't bother him."

He nodded, not sure if he had an answer for that. In his head, Draco knew that his father had killed before, but this was the first time that the thought really hit home. The man had gotten use to this! Finally noticing that his hands were clean, he started cleaning the blood from his wand, and then used his wand to remove the blood from his mask and robes. That particular spell had been one of the first he had been taught upon joining the Death Eaters. Merlin, he didn't want to get jaded enough that this no longer bothered him! What kind of a damned creature would he be then? But there was no way out.

When everything was clean, he put his mask in a pocket and changed his robes' color to a non-descriptive brown before leaving to apparate to his own home. When he got there, all the lights were out, so he used his wand to illuminate his way. He could not manage, however, to keep his wand steady; his hands still trembled.

After changing into his pajamas, Draco turned the light on his wand down to a soft glow as he went into the bedroom so it wouldn't wake Hermione. She was lying in the bed--apparently sound asleep--in a summer nightgown. It was a warm night, so only one sheet draped her distinctively feminine curves, her breasts slowly rising and falling as she breathed in and out. A strap of her nightgown had fallen down to reveal a pale shoulder, and her hair was everywhere--as usual--framing her face. She was beautiful. It was like being in the presence of an angel.

And it only made him feel even dirtier. He would wager everything he had, down to the last knut, that she would never have to wash blood off of her hands. The only way it would be even remotely possible was if she had to kill in the last defense of her life, or in the defense of the life of someone she cared deeply about. However, her hands remained lily-white while his…. He shouldn't even be allowed in the presence of such a creature. He might as well be staring at the moon, wishing to touch and be worthy of it, as far as Hermione was beyond his reach.

Sighing, Draco put the light of his wand out and got into bed, careful not to disturb Hermione as she slept. She must have felt something, though, because she muttered and rolled around, an arm coming to rest against his chest. But then her breathing resumed its pattern; she still slept. Draco was glad of that, because had she not been asleep, she would have felt him still shaking.

"He came home shaking like a leaf," Hermione said to the other Order members gathered around the table of Grimmauld Place's dining room the next evening.

"Not surprising," Snape said from beside her. Her mentor had actually proved himself useful, and for some reason was not so forbidding toward her as he had been during school. However, his attitude toward Harry hadn't changed. Snape continued, "The newbies are…broken in. They spend the first few months learning dark spells before they are sent out on field missions. At first they are sent on comparatively easy missions where they help run a target into the ground, but a senior Death Eater strikes the killing blow…the first few times. This is where young Malfoy currently is. After that, striking the killing blow is…well…a rite of passage. The last of a batch to achieve this rite of passage is severely punished. The only way around it is if the person distinguishes himself in another field enough that he isn't sent on missions normally. More to the point, however, was that last night was one of the milk runs. I didn't know about it, however, until I overheard the report about it."

"But we're all here," Arthur Weasley said after doing a quick headcount, "so who got killed?"

"A Ministry clerk that worked in the Magical Beasts department. Apparently he was refusing to provide information about something or rather. Anyway, he hasn't been reported missing yet. When he doesn't show up for work for a few days, someone will probably go to check on him and find the body. I don't know why they neglected to leave the Dark Mark and rearranged things to make it look like a suicide, " Snape said.

Hermione shivered, her mind only half concentrating on what was being said for the rest of the meeting, and said nothing. She was thinking too hard to comment on anything. When Snape had told her that the first thing she needed to learn to do was how to pretend to be asleep she had wondered why, but now she knew. It was a window to how Draco would behave when he thought that he didn't have to try to hide anything.

Most of the time he just watched her sleep, and through her eyelashes she had seen that he watched her face more than he watched the rest of her. Last night when the light in his wand seemed to shake, it had struck her as an anomaly that had needed to be investigated. So, after he had lain down, she had put an arm over him to see if he was shaking. It had been a while before he had stopped shaking.

'Well, I suppose that participating in a murder would shake anybody up,' Hermione thought to herself. It was one anomaly solved. But then why did she have the feeling that her husband did not want to be involved in that kind of activity? It couldn't be wishful thinking on her part, or could it? 'Admit it Hermione, you don't hate him,' that little annoying voice in her head said. 'Fine, I don't hate him, but I can't say that I love him either!' she mentally answered herself.

'Ok sister, but let's just say that your intuition is correct for a moment. What are you going to do to help your husband get out of the mess he's gotten himself into?' That thought came almost out of the blue, and Hermione didn't know how to answer it. Assuming that she wanted to do something, what could she do? She still had to be practical, though, in case she was wrong. This was something she couldn't afford to be mistaken about.

'Next question, if you can do something to help him and he turns against Voldemort, he won't be sent to prison as a Death Eater. You could never divorce him. Could you live with that?' Hermione wished that voice in her head would just shut up. If she could do something, that would be one possible result of her action. In addition to that, though, she knew that trying to give Draco a chance would be the right thing to do.

Of course, Hermione knew that her whole internal debate was only valid if she could find a way to help Draco. The only way anyone could betray Voldemort was if he was an Occlumens, and no one could get good enough in one session to hide the fact that he was receiving Occlumency lessons. There was no way that her husband could get Occlumency lessons without Voldemort finding out about it.

Well, she would think more about this later. Sighing, Hermione returned her full attention to the meeting only to realize that it was just finishing. She got up and went into the living room. Noticing a stack of books that Harry had left on the coffee table before the meeting, Hermione took a closer look at them, reflexively noting their titles. She saw that Harry's Occlumency book was included in the stack, and an idea hit her like a meteor striking the surface of the planet. This just might work!

Hermione picked up the book and turned around, noticing Harry standing behind her. "Harry," she asked, faking nonchalance, "do you mind if I borrow this book?"

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