Narrow slivers of light pooled across worn stone in the highest most tower of the castle, but night's shadow reigned supreme. It called in hollow whispers to the slender figure hidden within its chill embrace. The girl was seated precariously by the open window ledge, though she seemed unfazed by its height.
Her thoughts were now adrift.
Fingers moved in soothing circles across the century old stone as the girl gazed at the liquid light of the moon. It fell in partial slants across her open features, curling in tendrils with her hair, reflecting in her wide and turbulent gaze.
She revelled in this stolen moment of still tranquillity, drinking in the calming silence she so craved in the light of day.
She uncurled her legs as her shifting thoughts travelled to matters she dared not ponder in moments except these, when she was all alone.
And Hermione Granger had much to think about.
She thought of her friends who were no longer with her, but who instead faced unfathomable perils beyond the haven castle walls. She thought how much she hated being here when they were not. Yet such thoughts, she knew, would cause her only pain.
Hermione was perfectly aware of the reasoning behind her continued presence in the hallowed grounds; she understood completely and yet it did very little to ease that hollow part of her which yearned in silence for their comforting presence.
As puerile a notion as it was, she felt certain that she would have been more secure if she were by their side, no matter the dangers she would face. She would be with Harry and with Ron. And they felt as much like home to her as two people could hope to be.
It was not weak of her to miss them in this way, and yet she felt guilt for her selfish thoughts. After all, she was not completely alone, not the way they were. She had this familiar place from which draw comfort. And she had her other friends.
Her gaze followed the circular movement of her fingers that danced across the stone as she reflected upon the week since her arrival on the scarlet engine.
The time had passed slowly, and she was caught only in the maelstrom of study and expectation. Though this was nothing new. If she were being truly honest, she would admit that she drew some level of comfort in the daily routine. It helped her think at times that the world in which she lived was a simpler place. But it was not. Ron and Harry's absence was testament to that.
The only other significant change in her circumstances was the benefit of a private dormitory. According to the Headmistress this was a tradition that had not been employed in over 200 years as the moral code of students had gradually... loosened. She thought it remiss of scholars to not mention something so significant in their writing of the revered pages of Hogwarts: A History.
Hermione was not silly though. She understood exactly why the newly inducted Headmistress had seen fit to reinstate such tradition. It was because of her, and all the many things she was expected to accomplish this year that had nothing to do with school work. Space and privacy were things to be coveted when one had spent six years in shared quarters.
However in her case the additional space was intended as a way to help her prepare for the unknown things she would face when war came upon them. She did not know how near or far the prospect was. But she did know that the Order had left her with a mission, and they intended to use every advantage they could to help her complete it.
Her finger lifted to trace the curves of a narrow band that hung from a simple chain around her neck.
Hermione knew that though she could not help Harry in his current venture, she would do everything within her power to help him when the time to act arrived. She would be no burden on her friends.
In the meantime all she could do was focus on her current duties, a seemingly endless list. Her appointment as Head Girl was the crux of the issue. All through her schooling she had aspired to such a position; but she now recognised the title would do her little good in the path she was sure to take.
And yet it was exactly the thing that she hoped would help her with the task that eclipsed all others of importance for her this year - the one that would involve the study of a whole different subject matter.
A frustrated sound mixed with the hush of her breath as she thought of the boy who was to cause her so much grief in the coming year. She had pondered her situation for endless hours and was still at a loss as to how she was supposed to properly observe him, which was exactly what the Order expected her to do.
She did not think they could have given the task to a less ideal person. To say that her prior dealings with the boy had been volatile would be an understatement, and yet despite their mutual dislike, she could honestly say she knew very little about him.
Hermione knew of his background, which she rather thought spoke for itself, and his behaviour at Hogwarts. Yet there was no way to ascertain how much of that was a show for the amusement of his housemates, for the benefit of his reputation rather than the truth of who he was.
And in the past year her suspicions of the former had increased almost without her knowing so.
To Hermione he was an unknown quantity, a mystery. But not the kind one loves to sink their teeth into.
Malfoy was the kind of mysterious someone to be avoided at all costs.
And he was precisely the last person she wanted to be spending her year thinking about, but her arguments had been fairly futile. She could not deny that as the son of notorious Death Eater, Lucius Malfoy, and nephew to one Bellatrix Lestrange, he could be a veritable minefield of information.
And if by any chance he were to inadvertently let something slip, it was Hermione's responsibility to soak it all in.
Shifting her weight again, Hermione acknowledged for the first time, how truly exhausted she was. With a final wistful glance at the shadowed view from her ledge, she pulled her tired legs against her stomach to stretch the knotted muscles they held.
Her hand brushed back some of the rebellious curls that fell across her line of sight, as she collected her effects. The marauder's map and the invisibility cloak - both bequeathed to her by Harry at the insistence that she put them to good use - had thus far only helped her to escape to this quiet place to think.
In bringing them tonight, she could not have known how significantly they would alter her world.
As had become her custom, she carefully unfolded the worn parchment to scan its contents for the caretaker and his feline companion. Finding the path to her quarters unhindered, she was in the act of folding the map closed when a suspicious movement caught her eye.
Her breath paused for the slightest of seconds as she eyed a dot speeding through the entrance hall - just the dot she had been ordered to follow. Draco Malfoy himself.
Her mind whirled and her heart hammered a heavy rhythm in her chest as she considered the implications. Pressing her form against the chilled stone, she covertly peeked her head out of the shadows to track his steps.
Far below the place where she was hidden, a shadow crept silently out of the castle doors. Even without the aid of the map she knew she would have recognised him. His unnaturally blond hair and pale skin shone unearthly silver in the moonlight.
There was a ghostly sort of beauty to him as he slid further into shadow.
Hermione paused only for a beat before pulling the flimsy fabric of the cloak over her form. With as much stealth as she was capable of, she ran through the door, down the staircase and passed the corridor that housed her quarters. She ran further from the unquestionable safe haven and through the remaining twists and turns in the castle halls until she stumbled into the biting cold air that breathed upon her cheeks.
She clutched at her chest, drawing ragged and beautiful gusts of air through her lungs as she glanced back down at the curling parchment. She almost stopped breathing at the sight.
Two small dots had joined her quarry at the edge of the Forbidden Forest - two dots that made her hurry forward.
Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange.
She glided passed the black, crystalline lake, willing the rustle of wind in the trees to conceal the sound of her footsteps amidst the dewy grass. She eventually came to a halt near a large tree at the forest edge, close enough for their words to carry but not so near that they should hear the unsteady catching of her breath.
"- you have to be careful, Draco. It's not safe here and you know that. If anyone finds out... don't let anyone find out," Narcissa breathed anxiously.
Draco Malfoy opened his mouth to say something rather indignant but was interrupted by his Aunt.
"Be safe?" The dark haired woman all but screeched. "Cissy, we did not risk this trip to warn him of his safety! If that were the priority he would not be here and you know that. Certainly, Draco must take care not to be caught. After all, how is he to gather information for the Dark Lord if he is? But he cannot remain huddled in his room just to ease your maternal instincts. He will be of no value to the Dark Lord if that were the case."
With this last assertion she grabbed his left arm and roughly pulled back the sleeve of his robe. Despite the density of the foliage above, a sliver of moonlight was enough to reveal the dark tattoo imprinted on his pale skin.
Ice clutched at her insides and caused Hermione to gasp in ill-concealed shock. Out of instinct she grabbed at the delicate chain around her neck - too tightly it seemed, for the link crumbled like dust allowing the ring to fall silently to the ground.
Fuck. The word reverberated through her brain as she watched the blond boy's head snap upwards; his eyes narrowed right at her. It was a cold sort of a stare that welded her in place, one that a boy his age should not possess.
"You both need to go. Now. There's no good in you both getting caught here. GO!" He had only whispered the directive but the voice brooked no argument from either woman.
Hermione too read the warning in his words, and as he spoke she moved as quietly and as speedily as she could in the direction of the castle. Once she was far enough away to risk the sound of footsteps, she ran.
Adrenaline sang in her blood and pounded in her eardrums so she could hear no other sounds. There was only one truth in her present situation: she had to get back to the Head's corridor first. After what she had witnessed, she could not even contemplate the outcome if Malfoy discovered her.
As she careened down the last intersection and into her corridor, she almost collided face first with a wall. Breathing properly for the first time since seeing Malfoy's mark, she looked down the corridor to ensure that it was empty. According to the map he was still walking back to the castle, rather slowly in fact.
It was a disconcerting thought.
Gasping for the cool relief of air, she whispered in hushed tones the password to the portrait guarding the entryway. And surveying her common room she heaved a sigh of relief before trudging up to her bedroom - glad, not for the first time, that the Heads each had their own private living quarters.
Sheathed in the protective shadow of darkness, Draco Malfoy stood at the periphery of the forest. The scene was still and silent now that he had bid his companions adieu. But the absence of noise gave him little comfort.
Tension lingered in the breadth of the boy's shoulders as he scrutinised the space where - unbeknownst to him - the Head Girl had stood mere moments before. Despite the stillness he gripped his wand more tightly. Or perhaps it was because of it.
As he scanned the area for the final time, he wondered whether the sound he was so sure he had heard had been a product of his paranoid imagination. He had all but decided that this was entirely plausible when a glint of silver nestled among the autumn leaves caught his eye.
His gaze narrowed and the realisation that he had been correct was not a pleasant one. Draco reached slim and pale fingers for the cool metal and on closer inspection discovered it to be a ring that was threaded onto a fine silver chain. The band of the ring consisted of three narrow strands of silver intertwined.
He smoothed his thumb over the unforgiving metal before noticing an inscription on the inside of the band. The words had been engraved in cursive, and though they were foreign he made a rough translation.
Dall'oscurità viene la luce.
His fingers clenched around the metal and his eyes closed as he fought to calm his raggedly drawn breath. He sought clarity though none would come.
As he opened his eyes, a dark realisation lingered in their depths.
Someone had been there. Someone knew his secret.
Although latin would have been a more ideal language to use, I unfortunately don't speak it lol. Hence my use of Italian. Dall'oscurità viene la luce means from the darkness comes light.
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