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The room was silent but for the gentle thrum of inquisitive fingers which danced over the brocade covering of the sofa, and the crackling hearth which whispered dark thoughts into the ear of the boy who sat there. Long and slim fingers raked through the silken strands of hair as the boy clenched and unclenched his jaw. He was far too absorbed by his agitation to notice the chime of the grandfather clock which joined the musical assembly.

 

Draco Malfoy was busy reflecting upon his father’s latest correspondence. The letter lay open on the small lamp table to his right; the blackened wax seal had crumbled upon the parchment and litter the floor surrounding. He had been summoned to another interlude in the forest, this time to meet with his Aunt Bellatrix and his former Head of House, Severus Snape. To say that he was not looking forward to the meeting was an understatement. If he were being truthful, he was anxious, consumed by conflicting thoughts about all that lay before him.

 

He had no desire to die and yet was dimly aware of the possibility that he would. His fist closed in agitation and pounded unexpectedly against the plush fabric. He had made his decision a long time ago. Not that, he reflected, he had much of a choice. Even still he knew he would not have changed a thing were he to do it all over.  Only now he was beginning to see the repercussions of such decisions, the climax of this war was coming and soon it would be his time to participate. Would it be Potter and his merry band of morons or would it be the Dark Lord who reigned victorious? He could not even begin to conceive the possible outcomes.

 

In truth he had never really thought about the war and its aftermath. The whole notion had seemed abstract and distant, something to be anticipated but not experienced. A grim smile graced the curve of his lips. It had all been so easy when he was within the castle walls fighting internal wars. Wars which by rights he should have been in command of – but even then he was not. His anxieties had nothing to do with backing out, because he knew he would not. Not this time. He had so much to prove, and yet he could honestly say he was unsure of the outcome he wanted. One thing was certain, for the first time in his entire existence he would not get the desired result.

 

Draco finally glanced at the clock as it chimed its final warning and groaned in irritation. It seemed ridiculous, given all that was to come, to hold onto the façade of education and classes, as though they had some meaning. They could all be dead within the coming months and knowledge of runes and potions and astronomy would have no impact on the outcome. Raising his weary form from the comfort of his chair, Draco shrugged his robes over the breadth of his shoulders and departed for breakfast. It would be, he knew, a very long day.

 

 

****

 

Hermione Granger was uncomfortable. She was seated on one of the stiff backed chairs which had been conjured by the Headmistress in order to facilitate the latest Order meeting. She fidgeted with her hands as she glanced around the room, only to see the same expression of bemusement mirrored in her peers’ eyes. McGonagall had called a short meeting with the junior members of the Order of the Phoenix that evening, much to the dismay of all involved. They had been occurring with increasing frequency over the last few weeks, clearly building to a climax. It was a highly concerning realisation.

 

Hermione was rather surprised upon entering the Headmistress’s office to see Kingsley Shacklebolt there also. He had smiled warmly at her and gestured for her to join the others in sitting. After a few moments of muttered whisperings, McGonagall called for attention.

 

“Quiet, please. We have news and shall make this meeting as quick as we are able.”

 

Kingsley’s slow and deep voice resounded then in the small room. “We have received information,” he paused, “Everything we have worked for thus far will reach its pinnacle in the coming month or two. Weasley and Potter have been in contact with us and will be likely to join you at the safe house in a month or so.’

 

“The Burrow?” Ginny asked, clearly perplexed.

 

“Briefly, yes. Though you will then be moving on to another location for protection once the school term as ended for Christmas. There you will help the Order where you can and, more importantly, you will begin preparations for what is to come.”

 

Hermione’s eyes widened in surprise at this announcement, she covertly looked toward Seamus who appeared just as baffled as she was.

 

“Those of you who do not wish to take this final step please raise your hand. You must do this only if you are committed.” He looked almost beadily around at them. “It is a big ask, I know,” he said, his voice softening. He needn’t have worried; not one hand was raised.

 

“You will receive more information within the week.”

 

With that final proclamation, the students filed out of the room whispering frantically to one another. After bidding goodbye to her fellow Gryffindors, Hermione strolled aimlessly toward the corridor, home to her dormitory. She was lost entirely to her thoughts.

 

The gentle tap of her footsteps as they echoed off the vast walls soothed her weary mind. She gave herself those few stolen moments to muse over the abundance of thoughts which had taken to following her steps these last few weeks. She felt as though she had been laid bare for all to see. She was vulnerable and she was unsure as to whether that made her freer or more suffocated than she had ever felt before. The whole year had thrown her off her balance. She had made unexpected friends and had many unexpected experiences.

 

Her entire belief system had been thrown into turmoil. Everything she had thought she understood to be right and wrong had blended, leaving her to hover in their shadow. Hermione had always focussed a vast amount of her energy on other people’s lives. The happiness and security of her friends had always been a huge weight on her mind, but she had never begrudged any of them that time.

 

Without Harry and Ron with her this year there had been such an extraordinary internal focus for Hermione, such that she felt somewhat out of touch with who she had previously been. She didn’t know the intricacies of her friends’ lives now, as she had before. She had lived in part, for them and for school. And for what? Soon enough her schooling career would be complete, and her friends would intersperse wherever their lives took them. And she would be glad for them.

 

But what of her? She had hovered on the periphery of her own life for so long that she almost felt as though she had not known how to live it. She had played it safe, had never taken risks – she did not mean the risks of danger, like those she experienced with Harry – she had never experienced any emotional risks, had made no gambles. Yet in the eyes of the wizarding world she was an adult.

 

Why on earth had she waited so long to make a mistake? And now she appeared unable to stop making them. Whether it was because she now had the space to do so, she wasn’t sure. A very small part of her had felt less confined this year, freed from her friends’ opinions of her. She had left her comfort zone and had followed Draco Malfoy down his dark tunnel of shadow and sin. She could not regret it. As bizarre and frightening, as bewildering and disturbing as the whole situation had become, she felt she was different now because of it. She was more aware of herself and of every fibre in her being, than she had ever been before.

 

Malfoy had pushed her, scared her, hurt her and invaded her mind and being. Yet she could not hate him, not in the same way she once had. He was a bastard, she knew, but her strange enthralment of him was something quite beyond her control. There was an attraction. It was undeniable.

 

Hermione flushed slightly, increasing her pace as she recalled their interlude behind the shelves of the restricted section. She felt quite sure Malfoy had been just as thrown by her behaviour. She kissed him. Freely and without any concern for who they both were.

 

She had completely changed the dynamic of their relationship, if one could call it that. Hermione knew quite well that whatever would happen later in her life, it would trace back to that year, to that moment when one man had changed her irrevocably. Though perhaps it wasn’t him at all, she reflected. Perhaps it had been inside her all along and Malfoy had been the one to simply draw it out.

 

Either Ron or Seamus would have been the safe options. Instead she had inadvertently thrown herself into the path of a man who was singularly the most complex person she had ever met. But she saw him now, saw him in a way she never had before. Not as the weak little boy who taunted her or the intimidating wizard he was set to become. He was those things and more all hidden beneath a carefully cultivated façade.

 

He was raw and he was real. Yet she also knew that despite her altered perceptions and wild flights of fancy, she would never get to see him without his partial mask. He was Draco Malfoy and he lived in an entirely different world to her once they stepped beyond the castle gates. If and when Harry won this war – and she had to believe that would be the case – Malfoy would be cast into darkness. He would be killed or imprisoned for the decisions he had made. She knew well enough that there would be no satisfactory end to what had started.

 

****

 

The forest was still but for the rustle of dead leaves which tickled the ground underfoot. Draco Malfoy stood perfectly still, his disillusioned form pressed against the wide trunk of a tree. He waited.

 

Hearing movement not too far off, he was careful to control his natural impulse to point his wand. Bellatrix had amazingly agile reflexes and he had no desire to be on the receiving end of one of her hexes.

 

“Draco,” A familiar voice whispered in the heavy darkness.

 

Snapping his head around, Draco spotted the former Potions Master. Muttering under his breath, he felt a warm sensation lick his skin, which signalled his release from the charm.

 

“Here.”

 

“Ah, Draco. We’ll keep this quick.”

 

He waited expectantly as his aunt completed her survey of the area and bared her teeth in a smile. Snape took this as a signal to continue.

 

“The time has almost come. You will meet me here on the evening before the Christmas Break. We do not want you travelling via train. You will receive another letter from your father dictating the time and so on. Ensure you are prompt.”

 

Draco’s eyes flashed. “That soon?”

 

“Yes. Do you have an issue with these arrangements?” Bellatrix turned her intent gaze from the foliage to stare sharply at him.

 

“No. I was merely surprised. I’ll be ready.”

 

 “Will you?” Draco’s head snapped toward Snape; he was mildly perturbed by the curious gleam in his old teacher’s gaze.

 

Masking his thoughts from any intrusion he responded steadily, “Yes.”

 

Silence reigned for a long moment before the older man nodded his head, the dark curtain of his hair hiding his expression.

 

“I need to get back to the castle now.” He clenched his jaw before casting the disillusionment charm upon himself once more.

 

“And Draco… pack everything. You will not be returning.” The sentence was left to hang in the dense silence.

 

Without turning back he carefully picked his way across the front lawn and past the vast black shards which formed the great lake. Snape’s strange behaviour weighed heavily on his mind.

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