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A/N: Merry Christmas, dear-ones. ^_^ And to make it all very weird... this is not the end. Again. I'm just going to write until it comes to the point that says: "END". That hasn't happened yet. Too much story left. *grumble, grumble*


Nightmare Game, Part Three


I don't claim to understand her
But hand in hand I am with her
Bright and clear and with a future
You can come and join us if you dare
-Levellers: Too Real




Somewhat lazily, Draco put his current reading material, Which Witch: History of Powerful Hags, on the bedside table, staring at the thick fabric that was separating him from the girl he happened to have fallen in love with. He hadn't quite come to terms with the fact yet. He was still mulling it over in his head. Chewing on it actually. At least he was willing to think about it. He was still here, wasn't he? Hadn't run away, hadn't escaped. He wasn't screaming either. He was mostly just reading to Hermione.

After long negotiations, she had promised to give him three months. He had exactly three months to convince her that she could survive the consequences of Voldemort's heinous torture. She would find herself again. She would be able to live on as the most brilliant witch of their time. He would make sure of that.

The sun peeked from behind the curtains, the rays blinding him for a second. He covered his eyes with his left arm, relaxing against the back of his chair. It had been two weeks since Hermione had let him talk to her for the first time. She still didn't speak that much, and sometimes he wondered if she was even awake at all. But Mary kept telling him that whatever he was doing, it was working. Colour had returned to her cheeks, and her eyes were less empty now. Of course, Draco hadn't seen this himself. She still refused to meet him eye to eye.

"You know, Weasley would like to see you," Draco finally said, slowly letting his left arm fall back to his lap. "Maybe you could try to meet him like this, behind the curtain. It might even help." He stretched his arms and legs with a cat-like grace, almost purring in the afternoon sun. Spring was here. It warmed him inside out.

She stayed quiet like always, only her soft breathing telling him that she was actually there.

Draco stood, walking to the other side of her bed, sliding his hand against the curtain. "Everyone misses you." Pressuring her would do no good, but sometimes he just felt so impatient. Why couldn't she just be all right already? It was so frustrating to sit beside her, never seeing her... He wanted her to be okay. She should be. Everything was fine. She was safe. Why was she so stubborn? Why couldn't she just let go of the pain?

"Draco, don't," she whispered. "I don't remember them well. I can't... see them like this."

He leaned his forehead against the curtain, sighing. "I'm sorry." He should remember that she wasn't like him. She had always been sane; he had mostly been able to function like a normal person. If someone pushed him over the edge, the fall wasn't that long. He was always standing in the shadows anyway. "I'm sorry, Hermione."

She was quiet again, but at least this time he knew she was listening. "What would you like me to do?" He hadn't tried transferring his feelings to her after that one time. He had thought about it, but truth be told, it had shaken him badly. Of course he had been injured at the time. The exhaustion could have easily been just that, but somehow he knew that he had given his strength to Hermione; he had transferred that to her as well.

She didn't answer, and after awhile he started to believe that she had fallen asleep. Curiosity took him over and he pulled at the curtain, lifting it slowly, carefully, ready to let go if she showed any sign of panic. Nothing happened.

His heart jumped to his throat; it was as though he was doing something forbidden. She lay on top of the blanket, her brown hair messy against the pillow. She wore her school robes which made him smile suddenly. He had expected her to wear a pyjama, something that would make her look as fragile as she felt. Maybe she needed an armor against the world.

Draco wanted to touch her face, wanted to push a lock of hair off her cheek. She didn't look like she was ill. She looked just like he remembered her. With great effort he let the curtain fall down again. If she had opened her eyes, Merlin knew what would have happened. He couldn't be so irresponsible. Her recovery was in his hands now.

He heard the door creek and turned to look at Mary smiling at him, walking quietly towards them. "How is she?" she whispered, watching his face like she was looking for answers from the curve of his mouth or the glint in his eyes. She had an amazing ability to know when something had shifted from normal to... something new. She saw through him again.

Draco decided not to try and hide his recklessness. "She looks just fine."

Hermione's intelligence could be seen in her mother's eyes as she continued to stare at him, sitting down slowly, still smiling. Instead of scolding him, she said, "She does, doesn't she? It's a recent change."

Right then, out of the blue, Dobby the house-elf popped in, scaring Mary and angering Draco. "M-master Malfoy," he stammered quickly. "Headma... Master Dumbledore is wanting to see you at the War Room." He looked at Mary with his big elf eyes. "I is sorry. I is terrible house-elf." He grabbed Mary's hand and kissed it courtly, bowing to her. "I is sorry." Then he was gone.

Mary stared. "What was that?"

"Your daughter loves them." Draco heard himself say and felt mortified. He just couldn't keep his mouth shut, ever. "I mean, they're house-elves. They... kind of keep the households moving. Cooking, cleaning, laundry... That sort of stuff."

"Oh... Oh, the food?"

He nodded.

"I want to thank them."

Draco looked at her, blinking - like mother, like daughter. He winced. Then, with effort, he pushed some rational words out of his mouth. "You'll find them in the kitchens. Could you... Could you ask someone else to take you there? I think I should go already. Dumbledore has been gone for so long. The reason he's back... It has to be something big."

Mary stood, grabbing his hand. "You go. I'll find my way." For a short moment she looked as though she was about to kiss his cheek, but then she let him go, giving him a light push. "Go."

And then he ran. Dumbledore was back. It could mean only one thing. They were ready to fight back. He hoped that the others would be there as well. He had never been able to talk to the old wizard. He kind of disliked him still.

Panting, he stood before the vampire queen who was guarding the entrence of the War Room. He had to lean against the wall beside the painting, trying to regain his breath. He had run too fast. He wasn't in shape anymore because of all the sitting inside with Hermione and not participating in the practice sessions of the Dumbledore's Army. He tasted copper in his mouth, his throat aching.

"Are you coming in?" the painting sneered. "I'm not fond of little boys panting all over me."

Draco sighed. He couldn't stand vampires. They were so arrogant. "Paradox of peace," he finally said to the painting, annoyed but less out of breath.

Everyone turned to look at him when he entered the room. He found it strange and somewhat unnerving. He wasn't accustomed to being the center of all attention. That was Potter's job. Then his mind registered something his eyes had noticed a moment earlier. Fear nailed him to the ground, his eyes locking with a pair of grey ones. "What are you doing here?" he wanted to snarl, but nothing came out. He could only stare.

Dumbledore stood, leaning over the round table, seemingly worried about him. "He's here to help us."

Nobody could possibly believe such a lie. Nobody could be stupid enough to trust Lucius Malfoy. Draco still couldn't move, nothing in him seemed to work. He was paralysed.

His father raised an eyebrow, watching him with keen eyes. "You look awful. Who's responsible for my son's condition?" He turned to look at Dumbledore. "Would you care to explain?"

Draco stared at his father with utter disbelief. How dared he come here now, acting as though nothing had happened? He would never let him walk over him again. "Shut up," he said coldly, knowing that the words would make his father frown, knowing that he disliked bad manners especially when his son was concerned. "Why is he here?" Draco looked at Amadeus. He needed someone on his side. Everyone else seemed to believe that it was perfectly normal to have his insanely evil father there with them.

Why weren't Harry and Ron there? They would have been as outraged as he was. He needed someone sane. Anyone.

"Draco, he turned," Amadeus said carefully. Draco realised suddenly that Amadeus was not a mere shadow of himself anymore; he was completely there, very much present like all the other professors. What the Hell was going on? "We found him. He... defied the orders of Voldemort and was almost tortured to death. He let me invade his mind. He's telling the truth. The reasons you will hear from him."

It was just... not possible. His father had wanted to kill him, Hermione, everyone. He had asked Voldemort to destroy him. This was not happening. He shut his eyes, trying to focus on something that would keep him anchored to reality. His father was a Death Eater, for crying out loud. And then, a distant wistful voice in the back of his mind said, so is Snape.

He turned around, ready to leave the room, when Dumbledore stopped him. "He has given us valuable information. He's here to talk to you now."

He spun around, spitting out, "I don't care. He can rot in Hell." Then he marched out of the War Room, not looking back. He would rot in Hell before he would talk to that bastard. He stomped down the stairs, smashing some of the paintings on the way. They had no idea what they had done trusting that devil. They didn't know what he could do. They hadn't seen.

Draco started to run, his insides wanting to come out. He ran into the boys' lavatory at the second floor. He threw up on the sink, not having enough time to open any of the doors of the stalls. He felt sick. He felt like everything in his life had been torn away from him. There was nothing solid left. Nothing at all. He stared at himself from the mirror, remembering the time when he had first realised he was in fact a blood traitor. He had threatened to kill Hermione that day.

Was he truly his father's son?

He left the lavatory, leaving the mess for the house-elves to clean. Where could he go? Who would understand him? Did he really have friends? Was Harry his friend now? He didn't know. Hermione wasn't in any condition to even listen to him. Vincent? He had no idea where to turn to. He was spiraling out of control, his vision darkening, his thoughts going in circles. He had to find someone, something, anything. He leaned on the wall, walking slowly towards the Gryffindor Tower. Was he really going to do this?

"Harry, there's someone to see you," Neville Longbottom yelled, his eyes never leaving Malfoy. It was strange enough that they had seen Harry with the Slytherin. It was even stranger that he was here now, looking like Hell, his robes wrinkled and his hair a sticky mess at the nape of his neck.

Harry came down the stairs of their dorm, slightly startled by the sight of Malfoy inside their common room. He didn't fit in there at all, the green and silver of his robes making him distinctively different from any of the Gryffindors. "Malfoy?" He had to ask even though he knew the boy wouldn't come to the Lion's Den unless it was something very important.

Malfoy didn't say a word, he just stood there, staring at him. He looked like he had really gone to Hell and barely fought his way back. Then, without an explanation, he turned around and walked away. Harry followed.

"Malfoy, wait."

Draco didn't stop. He had made a mistake; clearly he had misjudged the situation. Potter was not his friend. He was just a marvelously good person who cared about everyone equally - even his rivals and enemies. Harry was a Gryffindor, brave and stupid. He would give a chance to Lucius as well.

"Will you stop being an idiot?" Harry yelled, throwing his copy of Advanced Potions at Draco. The book went past his head, hitting the wall hard.

"Are you bloody insane?" Draco yelled back, turning around in a spur of motion. Of course he had made a mistake. Potter was just a bloodthirsty maniac.

Forcing himself to calm down, Harry asked, "What for... Why'd you come here?"

That startled Draco. He was a Slytherin, always seeing the worst in people, always expecting a fight. Should he start believing in people instead? Had they changed enough? Could they start over from the beginning, from that first handshake that wrecked everything?

"You look awful, you know. What happened to your hair? It looks like something slimy died there." Harry's eyes were smiling although he was trying to keep a straight face.

"I threw up on it," Draco said flatly. It was just too much, all of it, too much pressure, too much hurt, too much sorrow, too much fear and doubt. Green eyes met grey, and they burst into laughter. They just couldn't take it anymore.

"Stop, stop... ouch, my stomach," Harry wailed, leaning to his knees. "Don't make me laugh."

And then, Draco knew. Harry would understand. He wouldn't accept Lucius' pardon. He wouldn't put Hermione in danger. "My father is here," he said between laughs. "He's here."

The laughter died, leaving the corridor airily silent. Harry stared at him, his green eyes questioning. "What?"

Draco fell on his knees, finally giving up, burying his face in his hands. "Even Amadeus thinks it's a good idea. He has given them useful information. Apparently he turned against the Dark Lord. It's evident that it has nothing to do with the fact that he was almost killed. He's most trustworthy, I'm sure."

"What? What? No, no, no. Even Dumbledore wouldn't trust that man twice. He knows." Harry pushed his palms against his eyes, trying to think. "Dumbledore is back? Why hasn't he told us?"

"I'm guessing he wanted to arrange the family reunion first."

"Draco, we can't allow him to stay. Hermione. He's after her. It's a trap."

"I know."

The boys looked at each other for a mere second and then started running towards the Hospital Wing. If she was in danger, if she would get hurt again... It was the only thing they could think of while rushing past students, paintings, even staff members, all looking at them with startled eyes.

They pushed the twin doors open, breathing hard, bringing chaos with them. What they saw made them both cold with rage. They worked together seamlessly, Draco jumping on top of the bed next to Hermione's and Harry running past the professors who seemed to believe that nothing out of ordinary was happening, that Lucius Malfoy wasn't pointing his wand at unconscious Hermione.

Harry grabbed the man from behind, tripping him easily, pushing him to the ground with too much force. At the same time, Draco took hold of Lucius' wand hand and pulled it back, forcing him to drop his wand. They had worked silently and so quickly that no one had had the chance to stop them. Only after Harry had trapped Lucius to the ground with a knee on the man's throat and a wand pointing at his left eye Dumbledore stepped forward, looking grim. "May I ask, why are you threatening the man who is here to help your beloved friend?" He spoke with a soft voice that seemed to slice the air like a sharpened axe.

Lying on his back, feeling uncomfortable and unappreciated, Lucius started to laugh. His son was still twisting his arm, and the Potter boy seemed to know exactly what he was doing, seemed to have grown a bit, almost poking his eye out with the tip of his wand. How very demeaning.

Harry looked at Dumbledore, growling. "It's a trick. Can't you see it? He's going to hurt her." He let his eyes travel from professor to professor, wondering why McGonagall, Amadeus and Snape hadn't protested in anyway. Why had they all believed this lie?

"You take him," Dumbledore said to Snape, who then took hold of Harry's arms and pulled him off Malfoy Senior. Harry struggled, looking at them all with wild eyes. Something was definitely wrong. He tried to bite Snape and then kicked him in the knee, but Snape held on with all the hatred he had ever mustered for Harry Potter.

Amadeus took hold of Draco's shoulder and tried to pull him away from his father. "You too. Release him." Draco tried to protest, but Amadeus grabbed both his wrists, twisting his arms behind his back. "Let him do this. Trust me. He's on our side now. The reasons are completely selfish, but he's here to help, to prove that he's going to work for Dumbledore from now on. He believes Harry is going to win the war. It's complicated. Please, trust us."

"Why should I?" Draco hissed through his teeth. "It's your fault she's like that. You said Voldemort couldn't control my body, couldn't find out that I'm hiding inside my mind. Why should this be any different? You don't know him. He kills children. He doesn't care. He's as rotten as the Dark Lord. He... will kill her."

Lucius came to stand in front of Draco, eyeing him from head to toe, sneering. "I didn't know you know so much." A strange look in his eyes, he took hold of Draco's jaw, turning his head from side to side. "You're thinner. You should eat more. Otherwise your mother will worry."

Draco wanted to scream, wanted to bite the hand that had fed him all these years. It was difficult to face his father after all that had happened. What made it even worse were his words; they made everything personal, painful. Lucius knew too well how to make him feel small.

After examining his face, Lucius left Draco to Amadeus' care and went back to Hermione's side. "There is a reason for all this," he said as he pointed his wand at her right temple. "You see, it's almost too late to restore her mind. That is why your dear professors have been acting... harshly." He paused for a moment and then continued with that nonchalant tone of voice that seemed to say that he couldn't have cared less what would happen to any of them, least of all Hermione, the Mudblood. "It's very simple actually. In less than four hours she will melt into nothingness unless I return this to her. Exsolvo." A white light emerged from the tip of his wand, forming a shape of a mirror. "I stole this from my Master. He will not be pleased with me." Lucius chuckled softly, towering over Hermione's tiny form.

"What is that?" Draco asked Amadeus, needing to know that it wouldn't hurt Hermione. He wasn't sure about trusting the professors again, but if it was true, if Hermione was about to die, he wasn't going to stand in their way.

Amadeus looked at Dumbledore and when the old wizard nodded, he released Draco, explaining, "It is said that the human mind is born from reflecting the self on the other. Without the ability to mirror yourself, the mind becomes blank. Voldemort stole that from Hermione. Your father... He's giving it back to her."

With a smooth flick of Lucius' wand, the mirror-shape vanished and the light encircled Hermione's head. For a short moment there, it looked as though she had a halo.

"Close the curtains now," Dumbledore said immediately after the white light disappeared. "She might be whole again, but it doesn't mean that she's yet capable of facing us all."

Harry pulled himself free from Snape's grip, stepping closer to Draco. "What now?"

"We'll wait," Lucius Malfoy answered, slightly worried expression on his face for the first time that day. If the spell didn't work, he would end up in the prison cell again. That was not an option, not under any circumstances.

With a cheerful chatter, Mary and Oliver stepped into the hospital, oblivious to everything that had been happening there earlier. They held hands, Oliver carrying a huge cake in a magical container, obviously a souvenir from the kitchens. Even in a situation like this, Draco was able to wonder how it would feel like to love someone after twenty years of marriage. The thought was distracting and he pushed it away deep inside him under the category of unthinkable thoughts, many of them concerning Hermione.

Mary's eyes travelled from Dumbledore to Lucius to Draco, her soft features suddenly hardening. She reminded Draco of the Mary he had first met. She was on a brink of panicking again, probably thinking that Hermione's condition had worsened.

Before Dumbledore could even greet them, Draco walked to Mary, pulling her right hand between his own. "She's all right. The same, I think. We hope to restore her mind, though. My... father," he paused there, almost unable to say the word aloud, "is here to help."

"Your father?" Mary looked at the tall man with blond hair and grey eyes, his features strikingly similar to Draco's. "He looks stern," Mary whispered to Draco's ear, and Draco couldn't help but smile. She truly was a wonderful person.

"He is," Draco whispered back, not knowing what to do or say next. He didn't want to introduce the Grangers to his father, the Death Eater.

Dumbledore came to save him, taking Mary and Oliver to Madam Pomfrey's office with the rest of the grown-ups. Harry and Draco stayed behind even though Dumbledore seemed to want them to join the others. Nothing could make them leave Hermione now. She might feel better or she might feel worse; they didn't know. It was necessary to find out that they hadn't made the wrong decision trusting the adults again.

"D'you think she'll...?" Harry asked after awhile, staring at his feet, not wanting to face his own fears in Malfoy's eyes.

Draco shushed him, listening. Hermione's breathing was uneven; she was awake. "You there?" he said, touching the curtain affectionately.

She inhaled sharply. "Wha... ?" Her voice gave in, but she tried again. "What... happened?"

Harry's head jerked up. "Hermione? Are you all right?" He hadn't seen her in so many weeks; only Draco had had her permission to enter the room when she was awake. Harry hadn't been jealous, though, not after seeing how broken Draco seemed every time he exited the hospital. It was straining him, and he never even complained. That was Gryffindor courage. Harry just wanted Hermione to be theirs again, normal, strong, healthy. He wanted her back, needed her back. It wasn't the same without her. She was their knowledge-girl after all. She was the one who always knew what to do. Without her, they were lost.

"Is Ron here?" she asked quietly. It was the first time she mentioned him on her own. Draco had tried to bring that up several times but she always refused to see him, refused to even talk about him. "Is he?"

"I'll go get him," Harry said, already moving towards the exit. "You'll see him soon."

After Harry was gone, Draco started wondering if perhaps everything he had done over the past months had been worthless. Maybe she couldn't have survived without the Mirror, no matter what he did. He had given her strength, he had gone to her mind everyday for months searching for her, healing her, he had read to her, had stood by her side even when it had been unbearable. Had it all been in vain? He had hoped that he could be the one to save her, and now it seemed that his Muggle-hating father had managed to do just that. Had he suffered for nothing? He felt so tired. It was so unfair that Lucius was able save her in just mere minutes while he had struggled to keep her connected to the world with all means necessary... for months.

"Draco?" Hermione said with her raspy voice.

"What?" He hadn't meant it to sound so sharp. It wasn't her fault. She was the only one here with no fault at all. She was a fighter. She had survived all these months on her own, without the ability to reflect, to feel empathy, to understand how others see her... she had been completely alone.

She didn't say anything after that.

Sighing, Draco sat down on the same chair he had occupied earlier that day. He took Which Witch: History of Powerful Hags from the bedside table and started reading it aloud. He didn't want to talk to Hermione now, not in this state of mind when he could snap at her again. He felt frustrated. It wasn't right to take it out on her.

"Is she... Can I see her?" Ron asked from behind Draco, startling him. He and Harry had come in silently, and Draco hadn't noticed a thing. It bothered him. People could sneak up on him so easily nowadays.

"She asked for you. I guess that means she's ready." Draco didn't like it at all. Hermione was his; he didn't want to share her with anyone. He did realise, though, that his thoughts were getting far too obsessive. He went to stand beside the window behind Hermione's bed, giving Ron some space. They deserved this, they really did.

Ron approached her bed with tentative steps, his face a mask of concentration. "Hermione?"

They could hear the quiet intake of breath and the sob following that. "Ron, is that really you?" Her voice held so much fear and love in it that it was almost impossible to listen to her words. "Ron?"

Wiping his eyes with the back of his hand, Ron grouched next to the bed. "Yeah. I'm okay."

"I... I saw you die." She swallowed the last word, making it almost inaudible.

"I know." He paused. "I didn't."

"You didn't." She pulled at the curtain, revealing her hand. Ron took it between his, kissing their interlocked fingers. "You didn't," she repeated, crying now, not trying to hide the sounds of it. "You didn't."



To be continued after holidays...

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