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Disclaimer: Characters belong to J.K. Rowling. :]

A/N: Just wanted to say thank you for all your encouraging reviews! You are all so great, and all of your kind words always leave me smiling. Thanks to everyone who has faithfully stuck with this story since chapter 1. And for those who are just joining up, I hope you are enjoying the madness and insanity that is this story. :P *hugs to all!*

= = =

Amycus and Alecto refused to allow Hermione the right to go to the hospital wing after breakfast that morning. And so she sat in Filch’s class with her forehead resting on top of her desk, holding her injured arm as though if she let go of it, it might sever itself from her shoulder in one lifeless limb. She didn’t even look up to take notes during Filch’s lecture. It truly was a peculiar sight.

But to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t paying attention to Filch’s lecture either. My eyes were on Hermione, her brown bushy hair covering her face where she lay, wondering about the validity of her answer to Alecto’s question at breakfast.

“Now, what was your secret you so desperately wished to share with us?”

“I enjoyed last night.”

Last night was the night I kissed her. I recalled the way she struggled under my touch, as if the very thought of my lips on hers was the most atrocious thing she could ever possibly feel. And then I remembered how she’d surrendered to it.

I smirked at the recollection. Of course she’d enjoyed it; why wouldn’t she? I was a pretty damn good kisser. Why else would that Chang girl of kept coming back if I wasn’t? And Pansy too, but she didn’t really count. She’d kiss anyone. Crabbe said she even snogged him once, but I don’t think even her standards could be that low.

And then Filch’s low threatening voice sliced through my thoughts. “Fifty-three, if you don’t get your head off of that desk right now –”

“She’s in pain!” Did that just come out of my mouth? “Leave her be. She needs the hospital wing for her arm, if anything.”

“Then go,” said Filch. “Better that than having people slouching around in my class and not paying attention.”

Hermione lifted her head from the wooden surface of her desk, resting her chin on top of it to look at him, as if to check and make sure he was serious and she wasn’t hallucinating.

“May I bring her, sir?” I asked hopefully. “She doesn’t quite look like she can make it very well on her own.”

Filch smirked, showing his filthy yellow teeth as he did so. “What do I look like, an idiot? Last time I let you leave class to get the paintbrushes, you came back with nothing.”

Shit. How did I know that day was somehow going to be thrown back into my face? “I’ll bring her down there, and then come right back.” And then as an afterthought, I added, “Promise.”

Filch waved his hand at me. “Well, go on then, get!”

I scurried out of my chair and took hold of Hermione’s uninjured arm. “Hurry up, before I change my mind!” Filch called after us as we waddled toward the door.

Closing the door behind us, Hermione wriggled her arm out of my grip. “I can make it just fine on my own, thank you very much.”

“Fine.” I let go of her and let her walk on her own. Her steps were smaller and slower, but I suppose that didn’t matter to her. She’d choose to be in any amount of pain over asking for my help. “So about breakfast …”

“What about it?” she snapped.

“Well,” I said, a smug smirk on my face, “I heard what you said after – well, after that …”

“What are you talking about, Twenty-seven?”

God, I wished she’d quit calling me that. But I let it slide. “Apparently the Veritaserum is out of your system. But I heard what you said while you still had it in you – about last night.”

“Oh,” said Hermione, her smirk matching my own. “And let me guess – you thought I was referring to you and the way you kissed me without my consent?”

“Without your consent?” I laughed. “Hermione, you let me kiss you!”

“Don’t call me that,” she said sternly. “God, you’re so vain. How do you even know I was talking about you? You don’t know what else I could have done last night.”

We turned the corner. “Oh yeah? What else did you do then?”

“That is none of your business.”

“Mmhmm,” I said, unbelieving.

Hermione stopped in her tracks and pointed her finger in my face. “You know, you’ve really got some nerve! Holding me accountable for something I said under Ver – never mind.” And then she began walking again, mumbling something under her breath.

“What are you saying?”

But she just kept mumbling as she walked, her pace suddenly increasing to that of a speed walk. And then I heard her. “The M word does not exist; the M word does not exist …”

“What are you saying that for?” I asked, suddenly very concerned.

“Because it’s true.”

“What?” I bellowed, my voice louder than I intended it to be. “You can’t be serious! Don’t tell me they’ve got you brainwashed too!”

But she simply continued repeating over and over, “The M word does not exist.”

“Fine, you go and believe all their little lies. Then you can turn into a fucking robot, just like the rest of this fucked up school. But you want to know something?” I stopped walking and stood in front of her, preventing her from going anywhere. “It was me. I went into the dungeon on Saturday night. And if you knew what I saw … God, Hermione, if you only knew, you wouldn’t be saying that shit right now.”

“Twenty-seven.” I looked up and saw Snape standing in the door way to the hospital wing, dressed completely in black with his greasy jet black hair falling in front of his beady little eyes. “Do bring Fifty-three inside.”

It was the first time I’d spoken a word to Snape since the day Hermione and I had ended up here in this hell hole. “Professor, you work in the hospital wing now?”

Snape glared at me as if I should have known. “Who else do you think makes the medication for you undeserving and ungrateful students?”

He then had Hermione lie down on a white sheeted bed as he examined the burns on her arm. “Of all the students in this school, I never thought I would see you here for such an injury, Fifty-three.”

Hermione didn’t say anything. She was stock still as Snape rubbed an ointment over the mark, wincing every now and then because of the sting it caused. Snape simply appeared amused. Then, he looked up at me.

“You may leave, Twenty-seven. You’ve done your part. Now go back to your class.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, and left the hospital wing, still unable to believe everything that had come out of Hermione’s mouth. If she really truly believed all that rubbish, then perhaps she wasn’t as smart as I thought she was, after all.

= = =

The next day, Longbottom was promoted to the Advanced student status. So he packed his things and left with a brand new red ribbon slapped on his chest. I couldn’t help but find it ironic how back in the Slytherin dungeon, the bar above Longbottom’s body was higher than anyone else’s bar. It had to have something to do with becoming an Advanced student. Maybe when the bar became complete and reached the end, it meant that you could move forward …

And then I remembered that my bar wasn’t very far off from where his was.

Hermione passed me a note that day in class. Cautiously opening it under my desk where Filch wouldn’t see, I read the words in her curvy penmanship:

“What did you see?”

I smirked at my own brilliance. Her curiosity was eating her alive. This was the Hermione Granger I knew.

Now, the only problem was telling her. When could I find time to explain when the Carrows were constantly breathing down our necks? And even if I did manage to find a chance to get away with her, what could I possibly say? Somehow, “There are creatures in the dungeon that look exactly like us” didn’t seem like it would cut it. She’d probably just call me a nutter and never speak to me again.

No, if I was going to do this properly, there was only one way to go. I was going to have to show her.

That night we marched in a straight single file line to dinner. Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. And then my hand was on Hermione’s shoulder as we turned the corner, and being that we were both in the end, we easily slipped out of line without being seen.

“What are you doing?” she whispered, wide eyed and fearful.

“You asked what I saw. Do you want to know or not?”

“Of course I do, but I don’t fancy another visit from Alecto’s glove either!” She shuddered, and her hand instinctively went to her arm.

“And you call yourself a Gryffindor?” The look on her face made me smile a little on the inside.

“I am.”

I tilted my head at her. “I thought the M word does not exist?”

She shook her head. “Just shut up and tell me what the hell you’re talking about, Malfoy.”

Much better.

I took her hand in mine and we streaked down the corridors. I had to brush off the voice of my Father lecturing me about being careful not to get too close to a Mudblood. “They’re all filthy, diseased, animals,” he’d say. But at this point, I could care less if Hermione was carrying some gross and incurable disease, because as far as I was concerned, there was no way I could live in this school as the only sane one. Or was I the sane one? Maybe everyone else was sane and I was just going crazy …

“It’s locked.” Hermione stopped in front of the door to the dungeon, dropping her hands to her knees to catch her breath.

“No shit, Sherlock,” I said, fingering the newly arranged bolts and chains covering the door.

Hermione’s fingertips disappeared in her long main of curly hair until she pulled out a small silver hairpin and brought it toward the door. “I don’t know if this will work, but I’ve seen enough Muggle movies to –”

“Shh!” I clapped my hand over her mouth, silencing her at once. “Listen. Someone’s coming.”

Hermione nodded and we both darted down the dark corridor until we reached the end and turned the corner. I peered around the wall to see the white haired grey eyed man I had seen here a few times before appear from behind the door. He sang a catchy tune as he strode down the hall:

“Severus Snape is a wonderful man,
Even though he’s late
He’s the best in the land!”

“Strange,” Hermione whispered from behind me, so close to my ear I could feel her breath tickle the back of my neck.

But I wasn’t thinking about her closeness or the wack-job’s crazy song. As soon as he was out of sight, I only had one mission in mind. With my eyes on the slowly closing door, I bolted down the corridor and dove to the ground, thrusting my arm between the door and the wall before it could slam shut. I hissed and let out a grunt at the strength of the door as it crushed my arm, and then felt Hermione by my side lifting me up by my free arm.

“Draco, you idiot! You could have broken your arm! What were you thinking?” she scolded, and then, as an afterthought added, “Although … I will admit, that was pretty brilliant.”

“Yeah, yeah, just get down there before he comes back,” I grumbled with a firm grip on my crushed arm.

“Wow,” said Hermione in fascinated awe as we reached the bottom step and observed the green and silver Slytherin common room. She was staring at the ceiling, with the chandeliers hanging from chains. “When Harry and Ron said it was creepy down here, I didn’t think –”

Potter? How would he know what it’s like down here?”

Hermione’s whole face flushed scarlet. “I er … I meant … it was a joke?” she said with a shrug.

I narrowed my eyes infinitesimally at her. “Whatever, Granger. Don’t go mental on me now. You haven’t even been to the dorms yet.”

And then we were standing outside the door to the boy’s dormitories. I held my hand firmly on the handle. “Ready?” Hermione nodded and I slowly began to twist it open.

“Let me out!”

My whole body jumped out of my skin as my head swiveled around in the direction of the exclamation. Hermione’s head had also done a one-eighty, and now she was staring at me with wide fearful eyes.

“Let me out, let me out! Please!”

“It’s from my dream,” I mused aloud.

“It’s coming from over there.” Hermione pointed in the direction of the girls’ dormitory as her feet began to move. I grabbed her shoulder and yanked her back immediately.

“What are you doing!” I all but shrieked.

“Someone needs help!” she said, struggling to free herself from my death grip. My clasp did not slacken on her arm.

"Draco! Let go of me! We have to help --"

"You can't just barge in there! You don't know what's back there ..."

"I know someone just screamed, and that's enough for me!" and she jerked her arm out of my hands in one final tug, sprinting down the hall to the girl's dormitories.

I stood still in my place staring after her for a long moment. Damn her. Damn her and her ... Gryffindorishness. Chivalry is for gits. Gits like Potter.

And then a flood of voices chorused at once: "Hermione!"

What the hell? And then I was sprinting down the hall and to the girl's dorms, excusing the fact that now I was acting like a bloody Gryffindor to my curiosity. I hadn't even opened the door when I heard the voices. They all seemed to meld together into one, but I could pick out a few phrases among the sea of them.

"You've got to get us out of here!"

"How did you find us?"

"Please ... please ..."

I burst into the room. There was what looked like a large jail cell with long steel bars on all four sides. Cramped inside were students ... the Advanced students.

"Let me out! Let me out!" Longbottom whined in practically a sob.

"Draco! Draco, man you have to do something," said Blaise.

And then another figure pushed his way to the front of the crowd of nearly a hundred students. "Hermione," Potter said, sticking his arms through the bars. Hermione ran to him and jumped into his arms, though their bodies were separated by steel.

"How is this possible?" Hermione asked, her voice muffled in the material of the dirty old rags Potter was wearing. "I just saw you at lunch, sitting at the table with all of the Advanced students!"

"HERMIONE!" Weasley was plowing his way through the crowd, his red hair overgrown and messily flopping around his face, elbowing people in the ribs and stumbling over his own feet like the idiot he is. "HERMIONE!"

"Ron!" she shouted and grabbed onto his arm as well so she was holding onto her two best friends.

"They've got us trapped, Hermione ... They told us we were going to be Advanced students, and then we ended up here."

"Get out," Potter warned, his cheeks unnaturally hollowed out and his yellow-tinted eyes sunken in. "Save yourself and leave this school before they get you too."

"I can't just leave you here!" she protested.

"Hold it!" I shouted above the chaos, and it seemed that everyone noticed I was there for the first time that night. "What the bloody hell is going on here? How can you be up here when I swear I just saw you and your ugly faces in the Great Hall at lunch?"

Hermione shook her head. "It doesn't make any sense ... I don’t understand."

And then my eyes widened in understanding. "Oh my God."


"I should have known." I was laughing by this point. "I know what they're doing."

"What?" Hermione demanded. The students behind the cell were watching me intently, waiting, all the hundred pairs of eyes on me, desperate for answers. Even Potter was watching me with a glint of hope shimmering in his hazy eyes.

And suddenly all the pieces of the puzzle seemed to fit together. I smirked at my own sheer brilliance. The Advanced students, the boy's dorms -- why didn't I see it before?

"Hogwarts is cloning the students."

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