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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. ^_^

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