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Ron’s heart was pounding again as he arrived at the cliff-side Vault with Lupin and his other mates. The room was in disarray. His other fellow Aurors were either critically injured or too tired to move. His eyes darted around, looking for Hermione. The signal had been sent a few minutes after the battle had begun, sent by Lee’s wand.

“ Hermione! “ he grabbed an Auror in bandages. “ Where is she? “

The male Auror shook his head, his eyes clearly distracted. “ I don’t- I don’t know- “

Lupin was looking anxious. His wand kept flicking at the metal crates. The other Aurors at Hogwarts were called in to help, dispatching only a few to the other purported areas that the Deatheaters could gather in.

Ron headed for another bend filled with tumbled down metal boxes. Then he saw her, and his heart lightened up. “ Hermione, “ he said softly.

Hermione didn’t look up. She kept staring at her shoes as she sat in a tight ball, her hair in a mess, her lower lip bleeding, and her arms with scratches all over.

Ron sat down beside her. “ Hermione- what happened? “ he asked her, gently, suddenly afraid to even reach out his hand to touch her.

She looked into his eyes and Ron had never seen such sadder eyes than what he was seeing now. She was crying, crying quietly and she was trembling all over. “ Ron- “ she choked. And she shook her head and placed her head on her knees.

“ You saw him…” he finally said, still quiet. It wasn’t a question. He felt it. Knew it.

Hermione didn’t give any recognition to his comprehension. She was still haunted by his words, his touch, his kiss, the pain- of course she saw him…and some part of her wished she didn’t- but some part of her wanted to see him again, too.

“ Are you hurt? “ he asked her.

She shook her head slowly.

“ Well, your lower lip is bloody as hell. “

“ I’m fine. “

Ron held up her face and flicked his wand over her lip. It instantly healed. “ Well, that’s better. You look just like your old self, well except for the other bruises and cuts, “ he told her in a strangely optimistic voice.

“ Thank you, “ she replied quietly. She knew Ron was trying to cheer her up, but it didn’t sound right at all. Nothing sounded right.

Ron sighed and stood up. He reached out for her. “ Get up, “ he told her as his hand waited for her in midair. She took his hand, to which Ron breathed in with a silent thanks. “ Let’s get out of here. “

She nodded, almost blankly.

There was an angry cry- more like frustrated… and Ron took Hermione’s hand and ran for the voice. He saw Lupin’s face quite pale as the rest of the Aurors looked pale or aggravated too.

“ We’ve lost it, “ he murmured, placing his hands over his face. “#063184…Voldemort’s…”

Hermione bit her lower lip as Ron’s hand clutched hers tighter than ever. His face looked bothered. Ron didn’t know…she had held it before Draco took it…before Draco had said that hex…she had failed her mission, she had been defeated in battle…mixed feelings surfaced, feelings of helplessness, incompetence, anger, hurt…

“ We’ll get it back, “ Jordan Lee snapped, his left arm swelling. His eyes looked strangely red, like he had been crying…

Lupin eyed him. “ No, you rest. We’ll get it back. The rest of you have to rest, too. I want you all to go to St. Mungo’s and have yourselves checked. “

Susan Bones was crying still, as another female Auror comforted her, patting her back and muttering little spells to deal with her superficial wounds.

Hermione’s knees buckled as the full weight of what she had failed to do, fell on her. She had failed to protect the box! Voldemort’s box! Why! How could she have allowed that to happen! How stupid could she get! Draco-! Why! Should she tell Ron? Should she! Hermione sank to the floor.

Ron quickly held her as she paled further. “ Hermione-? Are you- What’s wrong, Hermione? “ he was asking her. It seemed like she was a million miles away. “ Hermione…” He felt worried, again.

She looked up to him and shook her head. Lupin looked at her and saw her face so pale, like she had seen death in the face, or Voldemort even.

“ Ron, “ Lupin began. “ Take her to St. Mungo’s. We’ll patch things up here. “

Hermione shook her head. “ No! I’m helping! “ She tried to stand but felt her knees cave in again. She almost fell, but Ron caught her for the second time.

“ You’ll help after we’re done at St. Mungo’s and when Lupin allows it, “ Ron told her. “ Also when your knees are stronger. “

“ I’m fine, “ she muttered.

Ron sighed. “ Hermione- not again. “

Finally, Hermione relented. “ Fine- I’ll go…” her voice trailed off and she gave a little frown. How could she explain it to them? That she had lost her willpower because Draco had been right in front of her?

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Draco was alone in his room, sitting on a bulky cushioned chair. He was staring out into the moors, a mist was drifting through, the air was bitter and the ambiance seemed dismal. He had not slept that night, still unable to get over the events, still unable to get over fate’s taunting- that he had to see Hermione in the one place he did not expect, that he had to battle with her, curse her…his hands were clasped in front of him, as his elbows rested on the armrests. He did not frown, but he felt vacant inside, despite thinking of so many things. Did he feel pain? Or was he impervious to it now?

A knock came on his door. His mother came in with a cheery face, her golden hair bouncing luxuriously against her dark blue dress, but he did not reciprocate her hearty ‘good morning’. She approached him and looked at his face.

Narcissa’s heart felt anxious, upset…Draco was hurting…all for what? “ Draco, “ she began gently. He did not respond. She wanted to touch her son, but he seemed inaccessible, like Lucius was before…

He finally opened his mouth, but still he did not look at her. “ I’d like to be alone for now, mother. “

Narcissa shuddered and held in her breath. She let out a tiny nod, unable to resist, she touched his shoulder gently, but he was unyielding. “ I- I’ll see you later then…”

He did not reply once more, not even a single nod.

Narcissa closed the door, her heart pounding as she leaned against Draco’s door. She suddenly wanted to cry, wanted to hit things, throw things- hex someone…Draco was fading away from her, fading into someone else, he was- and she choked, trying to refuse the thought away…he was starting to resemble his father…Narcissa shakily placed a hand over her red lips, trying to control herself from crying. Oh Merlin…he wasn’t really turning into Lucius now was he? Draco was different! Draco was not Lucius! But Narcissa couldn’t shake off the thought of it. She knew where this was heading, and had so desperately wanted to turn to Lupin for help, even to her niece, Nymphadora. It wasn’t going to be easy. If she moved, they could kill Draco, if Draco made a wrong decision; she knew her life was at stake- Blaise had made sure. They made sure. Her son’s so called Slytherin ‘friends’ were actually biding their time, to see either Draco or her dead. And she began to sob quietly, sinking to the cold manor floor.

Draco looked at the dark ten foot oak door for a second. “ I’m sorry, mother, “ he whispered to himself. He knew she was still at the door, hurting for him, crying for him. He held his wand. He looked at it, held the rough and smooth areas slowly with his fingers sliding down. This was his wand- his strength, the controller of his fate…the wand he had used to hurt Hermione because he had to. He wanted to forget the night, obliviate the night from his memory. But he could not stop thinking about what he had done, what he had said.



~

“ Draco, why? “ she asked in a broken voice.

Draco paused and grabbed her arms suddenly, almost violently. The box dropped on the floor, but he didn’t give a damn. He shoved her into a corner, obscured by the metal crates. He stared into her hazel eyes, his gray ones were burning into hers. He saw the love, the hurt, the desperation….” Hermione- “ he choked. Then he kissed her, crushing her fragile lips with the force of his own. He pulled back quickly. “ I’m sorry- stay away. You have to live. This was my decision. You have to live! Do you hear me! “

“ I don’t understand- why, Draco? Why? I could have helped- “

“ No, you don’t understand! “ he told her. “ You have to live! Too much is at stake- I’m trying to get out of this- but my decision- I’m- “ he paused and shook his head. “ I want you alive! “

He held her face almost roughly. . “ I love you, you hear me? I love you! “

~



Memories no matter how painful always stayed. Memories of his father surfaced. Had his father been loving? He had given him everything he wanted. Everything galleons could buy…at a price. For what Lucius demanded was unbending loyalty, that Draco inherit his obsession for their pure bloodedness, inherit his obsession to serve Lord Voldemort till the day he died. Did Lucius love him as his son? Or was he merely a plaything, a failed experiment to see how far he would go to follow the footsteps of his father? Did Lucius love Narcissa? He had thought so before and had seen only one picture- but he sufficed it was enough to be love a long time ago, when Narcissa was smiling beautifully in a long black dress and he was holding her arm in such a gentlemanly fashion. He had seen a hint of a smile, almost sincere, play on his father’s lips.

He had last seen this picture when he was seven years old and by accident. He was a curious boy, after having gone tired of reading the books his father had made him read in the library, he began to go a little adventurous. He knew there were a lot of things he had not yet discovered, secret passageways, secret rooms- and he stumbled into one. It was a different room, a very feminine room, with light pink and white interiors, although there were dark curtains concealing the sunlight. It was dusty, cobwebs were everywhere. But his attention was drawn to a little drawer near the bedside. The drawer was something he hadn’t seen yet, in his seven years. It was painted in white and had gold handles. He opened the first drawer, and saw a picture. A moving picture, of course; of his parents. And he smiled. He hadn’t seen his father look that pleasant. Sure, Lucius smiled, but young Draco had always felt it wasn’t enough. It was more of a sneer…but his father was smiling with his mother in this picture! And he felt happy, until he heard a voice.



~

“ Draco! “ someone called out.

Draco hastily wanted to close the drawer, but he wanted to keep the picture too. He was torn. He held the picture when someone breezed in. He froze in place, keeping the picture behind him.

Narcissa stood with pursed lips. “ I’ve been looking for you. You found this room, I see. “She looked a little sad upon looking around the room. She looked at his hands, strangely folded to his back. “ What are you hiding? “

Draco slowly showed her the picture. His eyes narrowed a little, a childish defiance taking over his eyes.

She took it from him and held it for a long time. Her eyes seemed to narrow and then they seemed to mist over. “ It’s- “ she began. She flicked the image behind her using one hand and held Draco’s hand tightly. “ Let’s go. Supper time. “

“ Can I keep it? “ he asked in a small voice.

Narcissa’s look softened. Then she hastily shook her head. “ No- you cannot. It’s…it’s not yours. “

“ But you’re my mummy…and that’s daddy…”

“ I know- but…oh Draco, how can I explain this to you? “ And she said no more as she bent down to hug him tight, something Draco had never experienced in his seven years of life on earth.

~




He eyed the door once more. His mother was still there. He knew his mother still missed Lucius once in awhile, when he would catch her in silence, sitting in a tea room or the library, reading some book or looking at some painting.

What if ‘daddy’ didn’t die during his incarceration in Azkaban? What if daddy still lived? Would he, Draco Malfoy, have loved Hermione, learned to live like a muggle or engage in dark magic earlier than he would have expected? Turn his back on a heart, Harry’s heart, which loved muggles? How could he save himself from the mess? Save his mother, save his friends, save Hermione….there was an easy way. He could kill himself…but it would be such a cowardly act. No Malfoy would take his own life, if it wasn’t for some noble reason…like for Lord Voldemort.

Was he really becoming like his father? He hadn’t been paying attention, but now- now that he was alone…they came to him, taunted his mind, memories of his father- should he still be proud of their pure bloodedness? Their legacy in the wizarding world? He had no use for his heritage in the muggle world, the muggle world accepted him, without asking much questions on his background, without delving into his true past. He had been living all right in the muggle world, because there was freedom in it, there was no need to be high and mighty because there was equality, despite the muggles’ many flaws. His father would have probably killed him for even using a muggle car or buying a muggle house, in a muggle suburb. But his father would have really killed him if he found out about his muggle love interest; something his father would likely think of as embarrassing, something more fatal than dragon pox or an Avada Kedavra.

Draco was hurting. He was hurting far more than when he had suffered his heart ailment. His mind felt troubled and messy, something he never liked… something he had prevented for years from happening- something he could not prevent now.

Hermione….

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Theodore Nott was alone, resting for the moment. The night had gone well, just what they all wanted. Just what Draco had wanted…? Voldemort would have been proud of them. Voldemort would have probably forgiven his father and him if he had seen that. Lord Voldemort’s wand was being reconstructed by none other than Daphne Greengrass.

He was grateful for the solitude, having had to endure a few nasty cuts and bruises and a pounding headache. He was sipping quietly a glass of wine, when he heard a tiny pop from behind him. He spun around and saw…

“ Daphne, what are you doing here? “ he asked her with a raised eyebrow.

Daphne looked tired and angry and…there was a distinct nasty mark of red across her right cheek. She shook her head and immediately sat down to the nearest chair.

“ Blaise, “ Nott said, through gritted teeth.

She shook her head and couldn’t believe tears were coming out of her eyes. “ It’s not- I- “ she stopped and shook her head again and stared hard at the gray floor.

“ Why? “ he asked, resisting the urge to approach her. He was holding his goblet tighter now, without him noticing it.

Daphne shook her head and shuddered. “ It’s not important...”

“ Tell me, “ his voice was dangerously low.

“ It was just- nothing…”

Nott sighed heavily and sat across her, still holding his goblet. His eyes narrowed on the floor. “ Did you say something to him that aggravated him? “

She shook her head. “ No, “ she began.

“ On what grounds would he hurt you, then? “ he questioned with a frown.

“ I don’t know, “ she said quietly.

“ Stop lying to me, “ Nott told her with another frown. “ Tell me what happened. Everything. “

“ You, “ she began again. “ You wouldn’t understand me…”

He gave a short laugh. “ Not understand you? Daphne, I understand you well enough. Your feminine wiles and all…what else do I not understand? “

She shook her head and shuddered for a second. “ Nott- what if someone told you she wanted you…as your slave…your plaything?”

“ Sounds kinky, “ he laughed quietly.

She shook her head. His jokes were not working this time. She felt too afraid. Too confused…too vulnerable. She felt…

“ What happened this time? “ he asked. “ Did you say something that might have angered him, Daphne? “ He took a breath and tried to control his frowns.

She shook her head. “ I didn’t say much- “ she twisted a part of her handkerchief.

“ Knowing you- “

“ I did not say anything to him! I did what he wanted- that was all…apparently- apparently it was not enough. “

Nott shrugged. “ What would you like to drink? “

She shook her head.

“ Why didn’t you go to Draco? “ he asked, his eyes narrowing.

She shook her head again. “ I could not. Draco is handling too much already- “

“ And you think I’m not? “

“ No! “ her voice raised. She bit her lower lip. She had to control herself. Oh, how she felt alone! How she wanted her father alive right now to save her from her feelings of helplessness…why was she here anyway? It’s not like Theodore Nott would-

“ You’ve taken into thoughtfulness that Draco is the horcrux…how kind of you, Daphne. I always knew you had a soft spot for Draco Malfoy…”

Her cheeks reddened, her ears burned. “ It’s not what you think…not for that kind of reason. “

“ What other reason can you give? I’m just your little breath of fresh air, then? Don’t you think that Blaise can come here anytime and hurt you again? Don’t you think he can do that? What do you think I can do? Fight him off till the death just to avoid another mark on your face? “

She was taken aback. She bit her lower lip again. Theodore Nott stood up and without warning; he held her face and looked at the slap mark Blaise had given her. It was slowly getting bruised already. She shook and Nott felt it in his hand. He looked into her eyes and saw the pain and the fear…and something else he could not place.

She pushed his hand away and began to weep. Weep like a young woman. Weep like a lady. Tears flowed freely and she could not stop them.

Theodore Nott just stared at her face, unable to do anything. How do you comfort a woman? How do you stop her from crying? And he resisted an urge that began to form in his mind as he handed her tissue from a flamboyant box beside her.

She took one without looking at him. “ Nott…how did we come to this? “

He shrugged and sighed. “ It just had to come to us, “ he replied simply. “ This was my chosen fate- if I had something else in store…where would I be now? The owner of a lonely house with twenty rooms all to my own? You- you as the owner of a manor without anyone else around to share it with? Or Blaise with his trophy room, surrounded by dead creatures and whisky? “

She nodded. “ Sometimes…I dream that…I was not born into this kind of world…but I’m pureblooded and I should be proud…my father drummed it into my head. Sometimes…I dream to escape from what I chose- I dream of the Master rewarding us with pain instead of life and riches beyond our magic…”

“ We can dream, but those dreams are still not our reality. “

“ I know, “ she said desolately.

“ Blaise- “ Nott began as he looked on the floor for a moment. “ He likes you. “

She looked up to him, with a little gasp, her eyes widened as well. “ How would you- “

“ The way I see it, “ Nott continued. “ The way he stares at you when you don’t notice, the way he’s angry when you look at Draco with praise or admiration- “

“ Draco? I would not- “

“ Just those little moments. “

She grew hushed. It was no use explaining. Theodore Nott was always ahead of her, despite her not wanting it.

“ Here’s some coffee, “ he said. A saucer floated in front of her with a cup of coffee on it. She stared at it for awhile. “ That didn’t come from Blaise’s stocks. Drink it up or I’ll be forced to call in the rest of them to make fun of you. “

She smiled as she grabbed the saucer. She took a sip and looked back at Nott again. “ I never knew you could be nice. “

“ Nice? “ he raised an eyebrow. “ Merlin…are there no nice Slytherins at all? Everybody’s shocked or surprised when a Slytherin is supposedly nice. Is that some sort of mantra for everyone who’s been in Slytherin? “

She shook her head with a smile. “ I suddenly feel totally humiliated at calling you nice. My bad. “

He laughed. “ At least you’re smiling now. Whether your bad or not. “ He flicked his wand at her direction and muttered a spell. The bruise slowly disappeared.

“ Nott- “ she began. But she stopped. Something made her stop. She had to stop herself.

“ What? “ he asked. “ The coffee’s too bitter? “

She shook her head. “ No…it’s….forget it. “

Nott smiled a little. “ Alright, I will. “

“ You’re so- too-! “ she couldn’t place the words, a sudden burst of annoyance and something else came to her like a meteorite.

“ You’re too easily aggravated, “ Nott said mildly. “ If I were you, I’d finish the coffee and get a bit of rest for our next soiree. “

She nodded and stood up, placing the cup and saucer carefully on a little table beside her. She took out her wand. And she paused in midair. “ Nott- can I….can I stay here for a moment? Just sleep here? “

If he was surprised, he showed no sign of it. He nodded calmly. “ Of course. Would you need anything else? A blanket or something? A little stuffed animal? “

She smiled and shook her head. “ No…the couch is fine. “

“ Then I’ll leave you for a little rest, “ he said as he gave a nod.

A second later, Nott was gone and Daphne slipped down to the couch and with a smile on her face and with a wonderful assurance of being safe, she slept.

Theodore Nott stood outside the door for a while, trying to prevent himself from going inside to look at her sleeping. He wanted to see how she slept. He could not resist the temptation, so he went in. She was sleeping peacefully, one hand at the right side of her cheek. She gave little frowns that made him smile.

She looked nice asleep. There was no sarcasm there, only a person dreaming of something, only a person at rest for a moment from the dog eat dog world. She wasn’t a threatening witch; she was a woman in respite. He hovered over her for a moment and he gave one last smile and left quietly as she dreamed on of someone she loved.

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Nott was alone in his library once more, content after watching Daphne sleep for a moment. All of a sudden, the fires in his grate turned brighter and bigger. And out of the fire, Pansy Parkinson stepped out, covered in expensive furs and jewelry.

“ Pansy? “ he said in surprise.

“ May I sit down? “ she asked.

He nodded. “ What brings you…” She looked pale and tired…like she had not slept well the night before.

“ I have something to ask of you, “ she began hesitantly.

“ If this is about Draco- “ he began. Nott’s mind rang alarm bells. Something big, perhaps?

“ No! “ her voice raised high. “ This is- this is not about him. It is about someone else. It is about my husband…”

“ Marko? “ Nott’s brows rose. “ Pansy Sarovic, what the bloody hell is this about? “

She lowered her head. She was twisting on her gloved hands now, biting her lip, looking at the fire. She took a deep breath. “ Nott…I am- we’re going to be parents. “

Nott smiled. “ Well, that’s good news, “ and he smirked. Big news indeed! Daddy Marko and Mummy Pansy...he would have loved to see the look on Marko's face if-

“ Is it? Not at this time…I know…I know that I’m not included in your plans…whatever they are…but please…just…” she tried to find her words. “ I can’t have a child in- Marko’s…I’ve come to the realization that this marriage…”

Nott held out a hand to stop her. “ I know. “

“ Will you? I want to have the child…but- “ she cried.

Nott stared. The first time in his life, he had seen Pansy cry not for herself, but for someone else, for the unborn child she was carrying…and she had not told her husband….

Would Nott understand? She would see no more of Draco. She knew it was fruitless. This was the way life worked; this was the way love worked.

“ I will, “ Nott promised. And he hoped he would keep it. He had been playing the ‘savior’ too many times now…and he hoped he would pull through with his promises and their requests.

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A/N: so how was that for chappie 33? Can you believe it! I'm almost done! Almost! To summarize this chappie, Draco didn't kill Hermione (duh), Nott realizes he actually loves Daphne now, Pansy's going to become a mum, Draco's decided his fate once and for all...etc. hehe. not so bad for you? i hope not!

Do wait for the next chapter. This story is almost at its end. Any suggestions or critique? Just press that review button below!

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