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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. ^_^

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