DISCLAIMER: I do not own Harry Potter. All characters, places, and things mentioned in this story are the property of J.K. Rowling.

OTHER INFO: Okay this is my first fanfiction :)  Please read and review.  Thank you :)

Chapter One : Doubts

Draco was walking slowly through the maze of hedges that spread around him in all directions. A weeping willow stood forlornly in center of the tall shrubs, its branches like a mossy fountain pouring from its thick trunk. It was surrounded by a large patch of acacias - his mother's favorite flower. She had insisted when the manor was built that the gardens be filled with them, and so they were.

Draco enjoyed getting lost in the maze; he loved the mystery and peacefulness of not knowing his location. Sometimes, especially when he was troubled, he would wander aimlessly in the gardens for hours until he happened upon the exit. That is what he did and had been doing since witnessing yet another prisoner fall victim to Voldemort's powerful wand. He had watched her suffer and die for the pureblood cause, just like all of the others that had been murdered in the same way.

He didn't know why it sickened him so; it didn't seem to disturb anyone else. In fact, they enjoyed the entertainment, but he couldn't make himself take pleasure in death - no matter how many times his father had wished him to.

"Draco, honey!" a voice called from the direction of the house. "Come inside?"

It was his mother, Narcissa, no doubt just closing an argument with his father about Draco sitting in on the Death Eater meetings. They always fought about that topic, and Draco always hoped his mother would win... But she never did.

"Draco!" she yelled softly.

"Coming..." he mumbled to himself as he shuffled in the direction of the sound, leading him to the garden's exit.

The bright lights lining the path to the gardens illuminated his face, blinding him for a moment. When the shock of light faded, he could decipher his mother's silhouette leaning out of the back door. He hadn't recognized how dark it was until now, the stars blinking ominously in the sky, as if warning him of something. Something felt dangerously out of place, and his heartbeat was erratic as he edged nearer to the house.

When he came to the door, his mother's eyes were bloodshot from crying, but she smiled falsely as she pulled him gently over the threshold, his eyes watching her curiously.

"Mother..." he said, shaking slightly. "What's wrong?"

She smiled at him again, her long blonde hair moving in waves as she shook her head jerkily. Then the grin snapped off her beautiful face as she turned to look down the dimly lit hall, where a door had slammed closed. Out of it emerged Draco's father, Lucius, clutching the walking stick that encased his wand. His arrogant gaze was locked on Draco as the glass pole tapped loudly on the hardwood with each step Lucius took. He halted in front of Draco, towering over him, as he stroked the handle of his stick.

"How long, I wonder, Draco," Lucius spoke calmly as he always did before he exploded, "will it take you to become accustomed to the occurrences in this house?"

Draco was silent, trying to rival his father's gaze, but looking a bit fearful instead.

"Are you mute, boy?!" Lucius bellowed. "I asked you a question!"

"And if I knew the answer, I would tell you, sir," Draco replied in an attempt to sound confident, but his voice was barely a whisper.

Narcissa whimpered behind him.

"If you knew?!" exclaimed Lucius, his eyes burning with anger. "Well, I know how long it will take! One night! Tonight it ends! Tonight you grow up!"

"Lucius..." Narcissa whispered.

"Narcissa! Our son will not be a coward!"

"But he isn't!" she cried, tears beginning to flow. "He isn't a - "

"Ouiet!" Lucius screamed, his voice echoing down the corridor as he pointed his walking stick at her.

Instinctively, in an effort to protect his mother, Draco drew his wand in a flash, tip turned on his father. Draco's eyes were swimming and his teeth were clenched so tightly that he heard them pop.

"Don't touch her..."

Lucius laughed mockingly, "I will not play this game with you, Draco."

"Who is the coward then?" Draco said fiercely, narrowing his eyes.

"Very well," Lucius sighed as he uncapped his inconspicuous case and slid his wand from it.

The two of the stood at the ready for only a second when Draco fired the first spell...

"Expelliarmus!" Draco yelled.

But Lucius was quick and deflected the curse. Taken aback, Draco stumbled, and Lucius took his chance.

"Punctum Somesis!"

Draco only glimpsed a flash of white light before his entire body began to burn like a thousand beestings. He yelped once in pain, but he forced himself to regain his composure. Draco felt something brewing inside him - white-hot - an emotion so strong he was sure it was something like hatred. He looked up, peering through eyes that were swollen from the stinging sensation, and he screamed it at the top of his lungs. He felt the spell fly from his wand, carrying with it the pain that he felt.


Immediately, his father collapsed and began to writhe on the wooden floor, his hands grappling to find his wand, but it had flown from his fingers. He was gasping for air, the pain evident on his face. Narcissa was screaming, her fingers fumbling to open the door, to escape the sight of her family feuding.

Draco released the curse, not wanting to permanently harm his father, and Lucius stopped struggling. His hands were shaking violently, and his face was slick with perspiration.

"Good..." he whispered painfully to Draco, praising him for his hot temper. "Redigo tumoris..."

Draco could then feel the swelling recede. The welts that had appeared on his face and arms began to disappear. His breathing was heavy as he watched Lucius lift himself unsteadily to his feet and lean against the wall for support. His heart was racing, the anger he felt barely lessened from before, but he did not lash out again.

"That's my boy," Lucius smiled weakly as he clapped Draco on the back. Then he turned back down the hall and vanished into his bedroom.

Draco spun around to face his mother, who was bawling in the corner, her face and clothes drenched in saline. She glanced wearily at her son, who returned her gaze, but then turned hastily away, walking past her. He flung open the back door and headed towards the garden once more.

Beneath the pale moonlight, he stormed to the courtyard where several statues and vases stood. He roared as he charged up to them and shoved them from their pedestals to the stone floor below. They shattered, marble bits skidding over his bare feet. He felt numb, his body doing what it would like while his mind spun with confusion and fear. Why did he blow up on his father in that way? What was he becoming? Was this what Lucius had wanted from him all along, for him to feel like this? And suddenly, feeling helpless, he kneeled on the uneven ground, his hot tears dripping onto the rock.

Narcissa, having gone to her bedroom to tend to her husband, heard Draco's tortured screams and peeked through the curtains, watching him with a breaking heart. She wanted him to be happy, but Lucius claimed that happiness came slowly within his line of work. She wondered how long Draco would have to wait, for it had been a year now since he had joined ranks with the Death Eaters, and his condition seemed to be worsening with each passing day.

"His heart will be healed when we wake..." Lucius whispered, looking up at his wife from his place in bed.

"You repeat that every time this happens, Lucius," she said forcefully, her eyes pleading. "I've never seen him in this much pain so don't you dare say meaningless things to me now. If you speak it, you shall mean it."

Lucius did not respond. Instead, he turned on his side, away from Narcissa, pulling the bulky silk, comforter with him. Narcissa knew she was right; it would take nothing less than a miracle to mend her son's heart now.


Ron and Hermione were standing at platform nine and three-quarters at King's Cross, waiting on the train that would take them to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But their seventh and final return to Hogwarts was not a trip they were particularly looking forward to because the only thing either of them could think about was Harry Potter. He had stayed behind in order to hunt for and destroy the remaining Horcruxes - the last bits of Voldemort's soul. Ron and Hermione had asked - if not begged - to accompany him, but he had insisted rather forcefully that he go on his own. His friends knew he was trying to keep them safe, but going back to Hogwarts felt very wrong without him.

"You said the Order is watching him, right?" Hermione asked nervously.

"Yes, Hermione," Ron assured her over the garbled conversations that surrounded them. "They're half a step behind him, just like he said they would be..."

Hermione breathed deeply and closed her eyes, "If anything happens to him-"

"Nothing is going to happen, Hermione!" Ron snapped angrily. "Everything is fine. Stop talking about it!"

Hermione cringed at his tone, but she was not angry. She knew why Ron was upset, and it wasn't because of her wondering about Harry's well-being. During the summer an envelope had arrived from Hogwarts informing her that she was chosen by the teachers to be Head Girl. This meant she and the Head Boy - whomever that may be - would be sitting together the entire way to Hogwarts. Ron was only jealous because it wasn't him. However, this information also worried Hermione, as there were not many boys besides Ron and Harry with whom she would enjoy sharing a train compartment.

People around them began to pick up their belongings. Ron looked in the distance and saw the Hogwarts Express chugging around the corner. He heaved his luggage onto his shoulder, as Hermione popped a handle from hers. Muggle suitcases are so strange, he thought as the train puffed to a stop in front of them, the wheels screeching as the breaks were pulled. The doors flung open all along the train, and the students began to board, dragging their term's worth of baggage along with them.

Ron and Hermione boarded together as always, pushing their way through the crowded train. Inexperienced first years were standing in the middle of the aisle ways talking to friends or fighting over seats, and Hermione huffed as one boy almost rammed her head with his suitcase. The farther back they shoved, the older the students became and the clearer the walkway was. After passing the fourth years, they made it to the prefect cabin with little incident. Ron stopped to sit with Ernie MacMillan and Anthony Goldstein as Hermione reluctantly did the math; if Ernie, Anthony, and Ron were not Head Boy...

"Wait," she said, worried. "If none of you are Head Boy that means it's..."

"Draco Malfoy," Ron nodded apologetically.

Her heart dropped. She should have known Snape would have it arranged.

"Great..." she sighed. "I have the privelage of riding to Hogwarts with a ferret."

The boys laughed at her reference to Draco's horrid transfiguration experience, in which he was turned into a small albino ferret, but she had not intended it as a joke. In fact, she was very irate with the lack of logic the teachers were exemplifying by allowing Malfoy to be Head Boy. He wasn't responsible enough to brush his teeth every night, let alone lead a student body.

Suddenly the train jerked into motion, causing Hermione to lose her balance. She caught herself on Ron's lap, and, embarrassed, she blushed and said she should be going. She waved goodbye and pulled her suitcase through the aisle until she came to a cabin labeled "Head Students", and she hesitated as she glanced back at Ron, three compartments down from hers. She could see the back of his red hair as he laughed with the other two boys; her feet almost walked backwards at the sight, but she had to sit in the cabin before her. She had no other choice. Her free hand reached out and slid open the door slowly, but she averted her eyes from the boy in the seat opposite her as she shoved her loaded suitcase into the luggage shelf overhead. She unzipped the case partially and pulled the newest issue of Wtiches Weekly from it.

"Nice of you to show up, Granger," Draco sneered.

"Yes, lovely, isn't it, ferret?" Hermione replied cynically.

"Hm," Draco hummed, bored.

Hermione flipped open her magazine, browsing through the contents. Draco's eyes lingered on Hermione for a few moments, but eventually, he turned to gaze out the window, his pointed profile reflected in the glass. Hermione saw - in the corner of her vision - his grey eyes flash in her direction several times during the reading of her magazine. She could not have been more disgusted if Severus Snape sent her a Valentine howler.

"Would you mind not looking at me, Malfoy?" she asked rudely. "It's starting to burn my face."

"Ouch!" Draco exclaimed playfully, rubbing his chest. "You really know how to stab a man squarely in the heart, don't you?"

Hermione rolled her eyes, opening the magazine again. She huffed as she crossed her legs, trying to make him leave her alone, but keep in mind this was Draco Malfoy. The task was more difficult than it sounded.

"So where is pity Potter these days?" he inquired, slouching low in his seat with his arms crossed.

"Wouldn't you like to know."

"It was simply a question..."

"Do I have to answer?"

"No, I suppose not."

And she didn't answer. Draco could not be trusted with anything related to Harry. He would only tell his father, who would report faithfully back to Voldemort. She would not be responsible for that. Besides, the less she talked to him the better.

"Why won't you talk to me?" Draco asked arrogantly.

Hermione slapped her magazine onto the large, vacant spot of seat next to her, "Why won't you shutup?!" she cried. "You don't want to talk to me Draco! You don't even like me! Stop pretending to!"

"I want to talk; you want to sit here in utter silence. You think I'm annoying; I think you're a prick. But we're both Head Students, and we must speak to each other sometime. There's no better time than the present."

"Yes there is," Hermione retorted. "It's called 'never'."

"Fine," Draco said, throwing his arms up in surrender. "Don't say I never gave you a chance."

Hermione's heart suddenly jumped into her throat, constricting the smart-alack comeback that had been ready to exit. She glimpsed it, nestled on his left forearm, the black figure in strong contrast to the paleness of his skin. A tattoo of a skull with a snake for a tongue - the Dark Mark, the mark of a Death Eater. Hermione shifted herself mechanically to the corner of the compartment farthest away from him. Draco saw her eyes fill with horror as she gawked at the tattoo that had been so painfully burnt onto his skin. In a panicked response, he yanked his arm down quickly, pulling it closely to his side, the burn against his stomach. Hermione's eyes shot to his face now.

"What?" he attempted to defend himself.

She looked unconvinced, for she knew he caught her staring at it, "I should have known."

Draco paused for a moment, considering telling the Mudblood a bit, but he held his tongue. It was Hermione Granger.

"Yes, you probably should have," he smarted back, "but what more could I expect from a Mudblood?"

"Probably the same I could expect from a Death Eater," she said, letting the previous insult roll off her back as usual.

Draco was quiet for a few seconds, "I'm not as bad as you think I am, you know..."

"Oh really?" Hermione said, not necessarily believing him, but interested to hear what he thought was so great about his personality.


"And if that's so," Hermione reasoned," then why is it that you put on that mask?"

"What are you talking about , Granger?" he asked, becoming defensive again.

"You just did it!" she pointed out. "You try to seem intimidating when you feel like people are figuring you out. For example, when you're around Crabbe and Goyle, you wouldn't dare talk to me like this."

"Talk to you like what?!" he exclaimed. "I just wanted to talk since I have nothing bloody else to do!"

"Well fine then!" Hermione yelled, frustrated. "Talk! Go!"

Draco narrowed his eyes, "You have a bit of a temper, don't you, Granger?"

"I only get mad when I'm provoked," she replied as-a-matter-of-factly.

"So do I... provoke you?" Draco asked, smirking.

"Yes, very much so..." she said, crossing her arms over her chest.

Watching her, Draco couldn't help but laugh, and the noise sounded foreign as it inadvertently escaped his lips. It had been so long since he had laughed, and he wondered how someone so filthy could manage to coax it out of him. She was just so ignorant of evil, so innocent, that her attempts at mimicking anger were almost pathetic.

"What's so funny?" she said through clenched teeth.

"You have no idea..."

"Excuse me?" Hermione raised her brows, offended by the slight on her intelligence.

"You're just comical when you're annoyed," he answered. "And you're a terrible actress."

"You think I'm acting like you get on my nerves?" Hermione squeaked incredulously. "You think I enjoy you?"

"Yes," Draco said confidently. "I do happen to think that, actually."

"Wow..." Hermione mouthed. "You have no clue either, then. Don't start thinking stupid thoughts, Draco - although I know how hard it is for you. At least understand this one thing : I hate you."

Draco laughed loudly, almost evilly, "You don't even know what hate is, Mudblood."

Then his eyes were suddenly sinister, like orbs of smoldering grey smoke, and they singed her for a few seconds, her breath caught fearfully in her throat. She knew he was hiding something behind that unapproachable stare, but she didn't dare ask what it might be. She thought she already knew.

Then he turned to the window once more, burning the trees down with his gaze. Hermione was simply thankful that it was no longer her in their spotlight. She had barely opened her magazine when a sharp knock came on the glass of their compartment. They both looked up to find Professor McGonagall swinging open the door. Her frizzy, grey hair was wound into a tight bun, as always, and she wore a tall, old-fashioned witch's hat atop her head. She looked over her small, square-rimmed glasses at the pair.

"The prefects are prepared for their meeting, and they are waiting on the Head Students to join them. So if you two wouldn't mind..." Then, seeing the two of them glance loathingly at one another. "I realize that you two have your differences - " Draco rolled his eyes - "but we thought that putting you both together would mend the gaps between you. You never know when you may need one another." Hermione gagged. "Now come."

She gestured for them to follow her so the two of them rose. Draco shoved in front of Hermione impolitely, giving her an awful look at he passed.

"Ladies first," she mumbled under her breath.

Hermione glanced in the glass compartments as she walked down the car. Several of the students were already asleep, some of then were talking to neighbors, and some were staring blankly out the window. She wished she were in their place instead of her own. How was she to hold a meeting with Malfoy, being the control-freak that he was? She groaned internally at the thought.

They stopped where she had left Ron only shortly before, and as she approached, Ron was laughing with Ernie and Anthony, which made her a bit jealous. At least someone is having fun, she thought.

Unlike the other compartments, this one was very long and, instead of being parallel to the front and back of the train, the benches ran along the sides. The girls were sitting together - or at least Hannah and Padma were; Pansy was sitting alone, an expression of contempt plastered on her face. The boys were sitting separately from the girls, cutting up and laughing loudly. The cubicle hushed slowly when Professor McGonagall poked her head in, "Miss Granger and Mr. Malfoy will be holding your prefect meeting, as they are Head Students. Please give them your respect and attention."

With that, she walked gracefully back to the teacher's car, leaving Hermione to suffer. She sat down beside Ron so she wouldn't feel so uncomfortable as Draco sat by himself, far away from Pansy - who then subtly stuck her tongue out at him.

"Okay," Hermione began. "The first order of business is the patrol schedule. We have to monitor the halls for one hour after curfew to make sure everyone is in their dormitories. I think we should go in pairs... And each pair will patrol a different House entrance." She paused for a reaction and saw everyone nod in agreement. She continued, "So Ernie and Padma, Anthony and Hannah, Draco and Pansy, and Ron and I will be partners. Unless anyone objects?"

"Do you really think it's fair to put people from the same Houses together?" Draco whined.

"What difference does it make?" Hermione retorted. "We're not going to be monitoring our House..."

"Well, can we at least switch pairs every week?" Draco suggested. "For variety? Change of scenery perhaps?" No one noticed the disgusted glance he threw at Pansy.

"Um..." Hermione paused nervously. "Sure I suppose. I'll have those schedules out to you all then... The next thing is deducting House points. As prefects, we are permitted to take points from any House for such things as breaking curfew, getting caught cheating, sneaking to forbidden areas, and other such behaviors. The only glitch is that you cannot remove points for the behaviors of any other prefect..." She glanced sarcastically at Malfoy. "Darn... Also, there is the topic of the Final Ball and Graduation, which we also have a hand in, but that is a long way off and reserved for another meeting... Any questions?"

The room was silent, and she looked around, many of the students looking pleased at her ideas or perhaps it was her crack on Draco. She couldn't be sure.

"Okay I guess that's all there is to say..." she clapped her hands together, ending the discussion.

Everyone continued their previous conversations as she ran a hand through her hair and turned to Ron. He was playing some sort of game with Anthony and Ernie, and Hermione watched as they magically animated a sock and other such items, laughing hysterically as they did. She couldn't help but giggle at their silliness. That was one thing, among many things, that she loved about Ron; he was never afraid to make a fool of himself.

Draco watched her intently, trying to discover what in the bloody world she could find amusing about grown boys playing with a sock. Her motiveless joy perplexed him, and the more he thought about it, the more confused he became. He did not speak to anyone; he was much too mature for the children in this cubicle. No more did he find their immature diversions humorous; he did not find much humorous at all these days.

He studied Hermione as she leaned into Weasley, her arm wrapping around his waist, and she rested her head tiredly on his right shoulder. Weasley looked down at her, his eyes swimming with contentment, and he placed his arm about her neck. Draco caught her smile comfortably as she snuggled into Weasley's chest. He wasn't sure what it was, but he envied something about that image. For the first time in Draco's life he noticed Ron Weasley had something that he did not. Something was missing.


The train shuddered to a halt, waking Hermione from her peaceful nap. She sat up, rubbing her tired eyes as she looked about the compartment. She was still nestled in Ron's limp arms. His head was relaxed back on the cushion of the seat, a quiet snore issuing from his throat. The other boys and girls were curled up on several different sections of the seats, and the only other person that seemed to be awake was Draco Malfoy. He was idly rolling his wand between his fingers, observing the way the stick moved. Hermione studied him quietly, trying not to notice the sadness etched on his face. She had never seen him when he was virtually alone, and it suddenly felt different.

Hermione yawned and stretched her arms to signal that she was awake, and Draco's head snapped up as he hurriedly pocketed his wand. She did not smile at him as she would have anyone else; he didn't deserve it, no matter how he acted when he was alone. His features had returned to their usual sneer, and she would treat him like she usually did - like he was invisible.

Outside her window Hermione saw Hogsmeade Station, the tiny railway station that would be their closest train stop to Hogwarts. She rose, figuring she would retrieve her suitcase before the aisle became crowded. Ron stirred beside her, his eyes fluttering slightly open.

"Where you goin'?" he mumbled.

"The train has just arrived," Hermione explained. "I'm going to get my things."

Ron nodded and stood sleepily, "I'll join you."

At this, Draco recalled that his luggage was also tucked in the other compartment so he followed the couple into the hallway. Ron shot him a sickened glance over his shoulder as he reached for Hermione's hand.

"I'm not out to steal your girlfriend, Weasley," Draco called after them. "Just want to get my things if that's alright with you."

Neither of them retaliated, as they opened the door to the compartment. Draco leaned against the wall, arms crossed impatiently, as Ron helped Hermione lift her bulging suitcase from the high ledge.

"Sometime this year would be spectacular, lovebirds..." Draco said, looking up at the ceiling.

"Did you hear something, Hermione?" Ron asked her sarcastically.

Hermione paused for a second, her hand cupped at her ear, "Yes, actually. It sounded like an obnoxious buzzing sound, but it seems to have stopped."

And she continued down the aisle, dragging her suitcase difficultly behind her.

The two of them exited the black locomotive, following the hundreds of other students to the path outside. Hagrid stood waiting on the dirt path to the lake, waving his arms and calling all the first years over. Hermione remembered climbing in Hagrid's boats and being carried across the lake with Harry and Ron; they had been best friends from the beginning. She sighed as she watched the young wizards tromp through the mud, marking the start of their adventure.

Many carriages, at first glance appearing to be hoisted by nothing, stood waiting for the rest of the students, just as they had been the many other returns to this beautiful place. But Draco saw what Hermione could not; skeleton-like horses drew the carriages. He knew they were called threstals and could only be seen by those who had witnessed death, but this was the first year he had ever been able to view one. Each carriage was pulled by two of them, their bodies a deep shade of grey - almost black. They resembled very thin, very bony horses, with daunting wings like those of a bat that had a span wider than Draco was tall. He stared at them in their terrifying beauty as he boarded a carriage filled with Slytherin students.

Hermione stepped into the carriage with Ron, hugging Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood as she realized they were on the carriage with them. Ron was sitting almost uncomfortably close to her, so she shifted over a bit. Then he laid his arm on the back of her seat.

"How was your wonderful partner in the compartment before you joined me?" he asked, smiling.

She looked at him as if she couldn't believe he was asking her that question, "Just like everything is with Malfoy - dreadful."

"Did you talk at all?" Ron asked quickly, his jealous nature rising. "Was he mean to you?"

"We didn't talk much at all, Ron," she replied, calming his nerves, "besides a couple... dozen witty comments. I slept most of the way anyway, just like everyone else."

"Didn't you think it was strange the way he was looking at you?" he asked, catching Hermione off guard.

'What do you mean 'the way he was looking at me'?" she asked slowly.

"You didn't see him?" Ron asked, raising his eyebrows in surprise. "I thought everyone noticed. He couldn't take he eyes off of you, especially when your head was on my chest... Are you sure nothing happened in the compartment?"


"Well I would watch out Hermione," Ron warned her sincerely. "If Malfoy were looking at me like that - considering of course that I were a girl - I would keep on my toes. It can't mean anything good..."

Hermione nodded. Although Ron was a bit hot-headed, it didn't take much to calm him down. A few laughs and all suspicions were evaporated between the two of them. They chatted all the way up the steep hill to Hogwarts, just like they always had. Neville and Luna accompanied them, joining in their conversation from time to time, and Luna reading The Ouibbler, of which her father was editor-in-chief, upside down as she so liked to do.

"How's Harry?" Neville asked, looking around. "I haven't seen him."

Ron and Hermione exchanged glances.

Ron replied, "Harry's not coming to Hogwarts this year. The Order needed him for other things."

Luna peeped over her magazine, her eyes wide as usual, "Not coming to Hogwarts? That's terrible. I shall miss him."

"I think we all will," Hermione agreed.

And she thought of Harry the entire way to Hogwarts, how he wasn't with them for the first time since the beginning, and her heart pounded as she thought of where he might be instead... She attempted to shove those thoughts aside, however. Harry was strong enough to fend for himself, and besides, the Order was protecting him. She needn't worry herself with things that were completely under control, she thought.

Then, as if by magic, those foreboding thoughts disappeared as the great castles of Hogwarts appeared over the hill. Warm feelings rose inside her as she remembered all the memorable moments that had happened within those blessed walls, and she smiled at Ron as they stepped from the carriages onto the Grounds.

To their left was the lake, the dwindling sunlight making the surface sparkle as the first years rippled its waves, traveling across to the grounds. Hagrid's booming voice could be heard, carrying over the water, giving the new students his famous "beginning of the year" speech that he had recited so many times since he had carried Hermione's year over that glistening water. And ahead of them was Hogwarts, its spiraling towers seeming to brush the sky, and its stunning size shrinking the students to mere ants in comparison.

The students flowed collectively thorough the threshold of the magnificent school, the Entrance Hall bustling with children of all ages. The traffic turned right, entering the Great Hall where meals, celebrations, and ceremonies had been held for centuries. No matter how many times Hermione stepped into the room, it always took her breath away. The cathedral-style ceiling seemed to go on forever - this illusion only furthered by the enchantment that caused the ceiling to reflect the sky outside. Candles floated serenely above the four, long tables that filled the Hall. Each table was assigned to a specific House - designated by a long, narrow tapestry, sewn in the specific House colors, that ran along the length of the table. Closest to the doors from the Entrance Hall was the Slytherin table, and then, as you progress to the opposite wall: Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and finally Gryfinndor. At the front of the room was the High Table, a platform where the teachers sat and where the Headmaster - Hermione shed a tear for Dumbledore - would make the start-of-tem speech.

Several students had already sat down, the Hall rather noisy with conversations. Ron led the way to the Gryfinndor table - the table set with red and gold - and sat down, Hermione plopping down beside him. Then from within the crowd, Ginny Weasley, Ron's only sister, spotted them and came to take a seat.

"Hello," she smiled happily, hugging Hermione around the neck. "How was your time on the Express?"

"Fine for me," Ron replied. "Hermione had a splendid time, too. Didn't you, Hermione?"

"Oh yes," she grinned mockingly. "Very funny, Ron."

"She had to sit with Malfoy..." Ron whispered loudly in Ginny's ear.

Ginny nodded, patting Hermione on the shoulder sympathetically, and Hermione sighed, smiling at Ron's sister. Hermione had always thought she was beautiful with her glossy, ginger hair and grayish-blue eyes. She was the only girl born into the Weasley family for generations, which may have been why she was a bit of a tomboy. She did have six older brothers, after all.

Soon, all the students were seated, and Professor McGonagall stood, walking to Dumbledore's podium, which was shaped like an owl with outstretched wings, as if it was ready to take off. Professor McGonagall ran her wrinkled fingers along its wings as she began her speech.

"Despite my lengthy education, and my confidence therein, I must say I feel wretchedly unprepared to deliver this speech. Perhaps it is the implausible idea of composing my words to live up to those of the wise man who, for the first time in nearly forty years, is sadly not here to celebrate with us yet another year at Hogwarts," the professor began to tear up, sniffling and wiping the tears aside, as she continued. "Perhaps it is the knowledge that not many could achieve what he did or possibly his kindness toward all people that causes me to feel insufficient, or maybe it is the remembrance of his wisdom that lingers on within these walls and in the minds of the thousands he taught. But I have realized that the excellence he exhibited in his very full life challenges me to rival that excellence - to accept the obstacles that await me in the future with open arms and an open mind and to see the good in every situation... So now I ask you, the wonderful students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, will you welcome my challenge with your hearts open or will you shut your doors to opportunity? Will you join me in my quest for excellence or remain behind amidst the cruel and mediocre? And so we begin our year, and in the words of our dear friend and teacher, Albus Dumbledore, I say, 'Let us begin the Sorting!'"

Filch the caretaker rushed onto the stage with a stool to replace Dumbledore's majestic podium as violent applause erupted throughout the Hall. Hermione stood in honor of Dumbledore, and the entire Great Hall followed, producing a room roaring with clapping and cheers. From the Slytherins, clapping quietly in respect, to the Gryfinndors, jumping and screaming and everyone in between, everyone was alive then, paying their tributes to the great Headmaster.

Professor McGonagall did not attempt to quiet them, but instead let them admire the man she had considered to be her friend. It comforted her to hear the children's support. And soon, the Hall was calm once again, the long list of first years being pulled from a trunk. The names on the list would be called, one by one, to be placed on the stool and sorted into the appropriate Houses by the famous Hoqwarts Sorting Hat. The hat was first to occupy the stool, preparing to sing its annual rhyme. Hermione wondered what the clever accessory had come up with this year. It coughed, to many students' amusement, and began:

Once upon a time ago
When my threads were strong and new
The four fine founding wizards,
Knew just what they would do

They would build a school for witches
and wizards, both the same
But when they came together
They knew they were not in for a game

Each wizard had their own idea
On how the school would run
And so the Sorting of the school
Had in that time begun

The thoughts of Godric Gryfinndor
were different in that he
believed that students should be judged
on amount of bravery

Helga Hufflepuff thought best
to keep the students that were faithful
And in that thought, she knew
That the school would not derail

And then there's Rowena Ravenclaw
Who knew she would be smart
And put the keenest minds together
In one group from the start

Salazar Slytherin was confident
That he would stun the rest
A school of pure-blood, cunning kids
He knew would be the best

But the friends could not compromise
For they all rather liked their plan
And therefore split the school in fours
into Houses made from each hand

The Houses became battlefields
Each with their own desire
And so the school was tainted
With power-hungry fire

Friends against their friends
They were pitted on each other
Each wanting their own glory
And fail for one another

It was only when poor Slytherin
Packed his bags and fled
That the three others sadly realized
They must become the four instead

So with the school united
And the Houses squared and tucked away
It was then they devised their greatest plan
To put me into play

I am called the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
You slip me on your head
And I tell you of the House
In which you will make your bed

So come forth now. There's naught to fear
While I search through your brain
Come forth and meet the sorting hat
I will show your new domain

The Great Hall clapped, impressed at the intelligence of the thing, and the first name was called, beginning the long, long list. But it took no time at all while Hermione's thoughts wandered, and before she even knew better, the last name had been called, ending the ceremony and signaling the start of dinner. She and Ginny caught up from when they had last seen each other at her brother's wedding, which hadn't been that long ago, only June. Ron threw in his two-penny's worth every now and then, but the two girls talked so fast and so long, he often gave up speaking at all. But he did manage a playful peck on Hermione's unsuspecting cheek, after which she blushed a deep shade of red. They laughed and chatted over dinner, but Ginny soon became curious. She had noticed immediately that Harry wasn't present, and she could not contain herself for much longer.

"Where's Harry?" she asked, voicing her concern.

"Off fighting Voldemort, what else?" Ron said insensitively.

Hermione elbowed him, "Don't worry, the Order is protecting him as we speak, no doubt - Kingsley, Tonks, and all the rest. If you want the details, we could go up to the Common Room and speak about it privately; now would be the perfect time since everyone is contained in here."

So they got up from the lively celebration - no one even catching them exit - and they turned left, skipping up the marble entrance steps, heading for the seventh floor.


He was stalling - staring actually - but he couldn't help himself. Her cherubic face was glowing yellow in the flickering flames of the torches on the wall, and her eyes were dancing. It was odd to see her hanging out with the Weasleys. How she tolerated creatures like that was something of a mystery to him, but she didn't seem to mind. They were laughing now, sharing a private joke - one that Draco could probably never make her laugh at. She didn't bother to give him the time of day, let alone a pleasant conversation, but then again, it wasn't as if he had exactly welcomed her since she was always around those two idiots. Her smile was intoxicating to him now like a sweet poison; the perfect teeth glimmered in the fire.

But then he had to stop himself. He always had to stop himself when he dreamed too far. He had to remind himself where they sat - he at Slytherin, she at Gryfinndor. She was beautiful and generous and kind, but he was sitting on the wrong side of the fence for that sort of thing. The most beautiful woman on his side of the fence was Bellatrix Lestrange, and she was deranged. He also brought to mind that Hermione was a Mudblood - born of Muggles - and he was a pureblood. All of his descendants were witches and wizards, and she was born to humans. She was inferior in his family's eyes - a waste of wizarding talent - but when he looked at her, his soul looked right past her flaws. He knew it was a mistake, and sometime in the future he would regret it. But he had to love her; he didn't give himself a choice.

"Draco..." said a voice beside him. "Are you alright? What are you staring at?"

It was his loyal comrade Crabbe drawling on beside him. He appreciated the boy's concern, but he didn't exactly want to be interrupted at the moment. He just wanted to think of ways to make it work, be able to be with her without jeopardizing their lives, but every time he tried, his efforts fell flat. It was impossible.

"Nothing," Draco replied. "Mind your own business..."

Across the room, he could she her past the many faces that sat between them. Two Weasleys flanked her : the girl one on the left and Ron on the right. They were talking casually and she was laughing. Then suddenly Ron leaned over to her and kissed her lightly on the cheek, his lips barely touching her face. Draco's heart dropped to the floor as Hermione blushed. Impossible.

He glanced at the food that was set before him, and it no longer looked appetizing to him. He felt ill, and he pushed himself from the table, the legs of his chair making a screeching sound as the wood rubbed the tile floor. People saw him get up but didn't know why he was so angry all of a sudden, and for that, he was relieved.

"Where are you going off to?" Crabbe yelled after him.

But Draco didn't turn around. If he did, the entire Great Hall would see the tears welling up in his eyes - the result of a hopeless romance. Why was it tearing him apart like this? Nothing was supposed to bother him, but something this petty did? He was being ridiculous, and he was not going to let himself go on like this any longer. He headed in the direction of the Slytherin Common Room, tears running down his pale face.

Then he heard her laugh, and he stopped walking, thinking it was only his imagination. But she turned the corner ahead of him, her arm interlocked with Weasley's, and the sister dragging behind. Draco gagged a bit, his muscles were tense, ready to swing at him, but he knew it would be of no benefit. Technically he wouldn't have a reason to hit the red-head. But that was all that restrained him.

The three of them looked up as they approached Draco, and he hoped his tears had dried by now. He would hate it if she saw him crying like a baby right now. They stared at him, just like always - an enemy of their beloved Harry Potter. Winning her was going to be more of a challenge because of that. Harry Potter was their weakness; if he was in danger, they would come running, but Draco saw no use in Harry. Besides, he could sway Hermione on his own, and Potter would only be a hindrance.

"Weasleys... Granger..." Draco nodded at them.

"Malfoy," Ron returned. "Why are you out here by yourself? Did your fat friends ditch you for supper again or did they get lost on their way from the Great Hall?"

Ginny turned her head and sniggered.

"Neither, Weasley," Draco retorted. "They're actually having a meeting discussing the odds of a poor Weasley like you and a Mudblood like her getting together."

Draco smacked himself on the inside for saying that, but he couldn't let Weasley insult him like that. He was strong enough to stand up for himself - stronger than Weasley would ever be. Besides, it was Weasley who had picked the fight; he was simply retailiating.

"Say it one more time, Malfoy, and I'll turn your tongue to cotton..." Ron said as his shaking hand held his wand out.

"Ron..." Hermione whispered, pulling his arm down and staring loathingly at Draco. "He's not worth it."

The words stung Draco slightly coming from the mouth of something so beautiful. Still, he had basically insulted her, calling her the worst name he could think of for someone of her blood status. She had a right to say something equally rude in return, but it still buried a knife in his heart. He wasn't sure there was a point in chasing her anymore. She wasn't going to trade Ron for him; Ron might be poor and homely but he seemed rather genuine, Draco had to admit. Maybe she deserved him.

Draco, humiliated, turned from the trio and continued walking. Originally, he had thought he might retire early, but now he was too upset to sleep. He simply kept walking, not knowing completely where he was going - just going. Maybe eventually he would end up somewhere he wanted to be. It seemed that he didn't want to be anywhere - not at home or at school or with his friends (if you could call those idiots such things). Home was a stressful place lately, with his father a follower of the Dark Lord and his mother not too far behind. They had been pressuring him to join them, and in some circumstances he did and enjoyed it. The Dark Lord seemed truly interested in him, giving him small tasks to accomplish here and there, but other times, when the tasks were more sinister and... dark, Draco was a bit hesitant. And frankly, he was scared. The Death Eaters - followers of Voldemort - kept saying that there was going to be a war and that Draco should be honored to be participating, but how could he be honored when he wasn't sure the things he did were honorable?

And now school was plagued with illicit love, and it seemed he would never be able to show Hermione how much he needed her and not just because of her beauty. He now realized needed her strength - although he would never admit it. He thought maybe she was the escape he needed from home, the person he needed to show him what was right when he was confused like this. She seemed to know so much about that, and she looked like the only one he could turn to.

Or perhaps this infatuation had begun in a rebellion against his father's beliefs. Maybe he had become tired of hearing of the pure-blood cause, the fight for purity, the deaths that paid its price. The pureblood reason was lost in his eyes, but his father would never give up. Draco thought of this as his way of repaying Lucius...

A breeze ruffled his hair, and he recognized that he was on the school grounds, close to the Entrance Hall of the school again. He could get to the Slytherin Common Room from there. He turned in that direction. To his right, the lake shimmered in the dull moonlight, whites and greys floating on its surface. It was somewhat peaceful to be walking alone for a change, thinking about little; he found it very relaxing and soon, he found himself in the Entrance Hall. Few other kids were present here, but there were two others standing by the Grand Staircase chatting. There were two doors on either side of the staircase. To the left was a door that led to the first level of the dungeon, also the level of the Slytherin Common Room, and to the right was the door to the kitchen and the Hufflepuff Common Room.

Draco took the door to the left, of course, and he was faced by a long stairwell lit on both walls by torches. The walls themselves were made of grey stone, and it was a very confined feeling being surrounding by stone on all sides. The stairwell wasn't very big either; sometimes Crabbe and Goyle had a difficult time fitting themselves in the space.

There was a maze of corridors that kept the Slytherin Common Room separate from the rest of the dungeon, but Draco knew the way perfectly. Three left turns and one right and he was standing in front of the common room. Of course from the outside it looked simply like a bland stone wall, but upon speaking the password...

"Obscurum..." muttered Draco , and the stones receded, sliding back to allow him passage.

It was a large room, but with a low ceiling that dripped water every now and then. But that was expected considering that the room was located directly under the lake. It was decorated darkly with green and silver - the House colors - and there were several skulls tucked away in various places. Draco thought that some of the other kids had hidden them there to scare the others, but he wasn't frightened by them at all.

Crabbe and Goyle were sitting in two green chairs, probably waiting on Draco to show up. He wasn't sure how long he had walked about, but it had been a while. He supposed it was rather late.

"Where have you been?" Goyle asked in his deep voice.

"Yes," Crabbe agreed, "And what came over you at supper?"

Draco sat down in an empty chair, "I just... have a lot on my mind," he said carefully, knowing that Crabbe's father was also a Death Eater.

"Somethin' in particular?" Goyle drawled.

"It's none of your business, Goyle!" Draco snapped, losing his patience. "If I wanted to talk about it, I would talk about it! Leave me alone, okay?!"

He sprung out of his seat and flew up the spiral staircase to the dormitory, hoping for some peace. It was a rare thing for him to find at this point. He flung himself onto his unmade bed and jerked the covers over himself, thinking perhaps sleep would bring calmness, but he kept hearing noises - the wind against the windows, an occasional snore from one of his housemates, the slither of the snakes that were said to live in the walls of the dungeon. No matter how small, they woke him, and he could not fall asleep.

"'Silencio," he whispered as he flicked his wand in an attempt to protect himself from the sound.

The noise faded away, allowing him to drift into slumber, but it was not the peaceful slumber that he had hoped for. Dreams splashed before his eyes - vivid dreams that seemed like reality. He was alone in the common room, shivering from the chill that seemed to be coming from nowhere. He turned around slowly to find the Dark Lord himself looming like a giant over him; his snake-like face was so close to Draco's that Draco could feel the chill of his breath rushing over him. He realized that Voldemort was making it cold in the room, but he could not tell him to leave for he could not speak at all. Voldemort's colossal snake eyes turned to the side, looking at something lying on the floor. At first, Draco thought it was an animal, but when he came closer, he saw that it was an unconscious girl lying face down on the hard stone floor. He gently grabbed her shoulder and turned her over, revealing Hermione's beautiful face. But he couldn't see her under all the blood that gushed from her lips and the gash that was cut deep into her forehead. She was pale and cold like snow, and suddenly she awoke. Her mouth was trying to scream but instead of words, blood rushed out. Draco tried his hardest to call for help, but nothing would emerge from his throat. In a panic he began casting spells - spells that not even Dumbledore would know. He was in physical pain from the sight of her, and Voldemort began to laugh at his foolish efforts to save the one he loved. The Dark Lord began to change, losing his arms and legs, and in a matter of moments he was an enormous snake. He slipped through the open window and he hovered over the two kids. Then he struck...

Draco awoke, screaming and writhing in his bed. Crabbe, Goyle, and Pansy Parkinson were lingering over him, which pissed him off a bit. No privacy whatsoever... He was still cold and sweating, but there was no sign of a snake or of a mangled Hermione. It was only a dream, and he didn't believe dreams meant anything anyway. It was just the things that he had been thinking about before he fell asleep, nothing more.

"Wow..." Pansy was saying, eyes wide, "I thought you were never going to stop dreaming."

"Shutup, Pansy," Draco retorted. "If you tell anyone I swear I will hang you by your hair for a month."

"I wasn't going to tell anyone..." Pansy blushed. "Except it was kind of funny when you were yelling and you said 'Worm eye on me! Worm eye on me!'. We all really got a kick out of that."

Draco tried to hold his features together, but on the inside he was panicking. At least they didn't know what he was really saying. If he didn't stop worrying about all this though, someone would eventually hear him, and it wouldn't stay quiet for long. The two of them were the most unlikely couple in all of Hogwarts, but maybe not completely out of the question... or so he hoped.

"What time is it?" Draco said, tiredness garbling his speech.

"Nine in the mornin'," Crabbe rumbled.

"About time for Defense Against the Dark Arts, eh?" Draco smirked, sliding out of bed. "Or with bloody Carrow, shall we just say Dark Arts?"

Crabbe and Goyle laughed because the Dark Arts wasn't something to defend themselves from - at least not in their eyes - and because the new teacher, Amycus Carrow, was a Death Eater that was brought in by the Ministry of Magic under Voldemort's control, he taught in quite a different style than previous professors. And even though Draco had made the joke and he had smiled on the outside, his heart was far from laughing. In fact, he found it anything but funny.

When he stood up, he remembered that he hadn't bothered changing out of his school robes the night before. They hung from his shoulders, heavy and dark. The Slytherin House coat of arms was embroidered on the left side of his chest - a silver snake on a green field. The snake was chosen by Salazar Slytherin - the founder of the House - due to his ability to communicate with snakes - a haunting talent called Parseltongue. It was said that only a handful of people - mostly Dark wizards - possessed the skill, including Voldemort.

"Shall we be going then?" Pansy asked in her soprano voice.

Draco answered by walking powerfully ahead, his robes billowing behind him. The others followed faithfully at his heel, just like always - their eyes lingering on his every move. They always waited for him to lead. Don't be deceived ; he liked the attention, but it was easy to lead when your followers were dimwits. Despite Draco's silent dislike of him, Voldemort was the strongest leader he had ever encountered. He led a pack of intelligent people, while still managing to maintain their undying loyalty to him. Perhaps he was manipulative and cruel, but he held his ranks together respectably, which was more than most men could stand to say. And for that, Draco had to admire him.

The four of them wound through the dungeon catacombs, back to the Entrance Hall, where many kids from different Houses were mingling before class. Some of them acknowledged Draco and his group, giving them a wave or a nod; others glared at them, their eyes hidden behind frightful lashes. All of them carried with them a subtle fear at their presence. Most everyone had heard the rumors that Draco's father was on a friendly basis with Voldemort, and this knowledge showed with every wary face he passed. But he had been used to it for a while now. It wasn't as if his family's wizarding status was news to anyone...

They turned right , up the Grand Staircase into a corridor. It was long with several staircases branching off to different floors, and like the Entrance Hall, it was also bustling with students. Kids lined the edges of the swiveling staircases - floating from floor to floor. Above them, hundreds of other staircases hovered and spun, carrying students to their desired destination. The Slytherins took the second staircase on the left, lifting them to the first floor. Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle took a right off the stairs headed for Dark Arts while Pansy took a left towards History of Magic.

As the trio neared the Dark Arts classroom, Draco's palms began to sweat and shake. His teeth were clenched as he passed her, trying not to look at her perfectly sculpted face or breath her intoxicating perfume. She was leaning against the stony wall just outside the threshold, Ron Weasley hanging over her awkwardly, and Draco refused to let himself believe that could be him standing there. It was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore her - though he was not sure why. She seemed to be around all the time but with unpleasant things attached to her hip. Of course there was a way around it, he thought maliciously. There was always a way around it.

He stepped into the class, several students already settled in their seats, and placed his books on the desk in the very back corner of the room. He enjoyed sitting in the back; he could pretend to listen and instead daydream there, and besides, he had an ulterior motive. Ron and Hermione sat directly in front of him, holding hands much of the time, which made him rather ill at his stomach, but from where he sat he could think about how badly he wanted her to be his - if he would risk his place on the Malfoy family tree for her, and it never failed to be true. He would give his family - no doubt - and his life - if need be - if only he could hold her and call her his own.

The two of them came in now, extremely close, their shoulders rubbing, and Draco opened his book, pretending to study a page that was filled with lists of spells. He placed his head in one hand, his fingers gripping his white-blonde hair a bit too hard perhaps. She made a face at him as she sat in front him, her chestnut curls bouncing lively with every move she made. The fluidity of the locks stunned him, like waves of the ocean wrapping around and washing each other, and the sunlight pouring in from the high windows made the strands sparkle like diamonds. He found the sight quite mesmerizing.

Slowly, the seats in the room filled until there were none vacant, and Professor Carrow appeared from behind his desk. He was a squat man, with many facial deformities that caused his expression to resemble something of a snarl all the time. Draco remembered him from some the meetings the Death Eaters had held at his home - meetings in which Voldemort sat at the head of his dining table. The professors eyes looked upon him curiously now, and he smiled - his odd face forcing the smile to one side.

"Hello, class," Carrow said in a deep voice, his mouth contorting in strange ways as he spoke. "Welcome to your first week of Dark Arts at Hogwarts. Today we will be exploring the uses of the Three Unforgivable Curses, the Imperius Curse, the Cruciatus Curse, and of course Avada Kadavra - the killing curse."

Many in the class gasped, but Crabbe and Goyle looked at each other with a hint of excitement in their eyes. Draco simply shrugged, as Carrow continued to stare at him. He had used the Cruciatus curse before, when Voldemort had instructed him to "take care" of the moaning prisoners he had been keeping hostage in the basement of the Malfoy Manor. And Yaxley had placed an Imperius curse on the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement in order to help with Voldemort's total mutiny against the Ministry of Magic. And he had witnessed the Killing Curse at work...

"We'll start off with the most difficult. Draco, m'boy!" Carrow exclaimed. "Please come to the front."

Heads twisted in his direction as he obediently rose from his seat and went to stand by Carrow, passing Hermione on the way. He saw her glanced at his wand, while Ron clutched her hand protectively. Draco knew what he was going to be asked to do - utter the Killing curse.

Carrow went behind his desk and pulled something from beneath it - a cage containing a single brown owl. Draco became slightly calmer; at least he didn't have to execute it on a person. The owl chirped and cooed on its perch, calmly enjoying its surroundings, but little did it know the evil about to be inflicted upon it.

"Alright," Carrow grinned, yelling quite loudly. "Have a go at Avada Kadavra."

Draco pulled out his wand, trying his best to hold it steady. He stood there for a few seconds, hesitating just like he always did, the fallen faces that served as a toy for the Dark Lord's wand flashed before him, their souls dimished by the very spell he was being asked to cast. Carrow leaned in close to him. It appeared to the class that he was examining Draco's wand placement. Then he began to whisper to him, probably correcting his posture the class thought.

"Make us proud, boy. Show them that we are unafraid of punishment. Show them the wrath of the Dark Lord."

And then Draco realized the purpose of the exercise, and he wasn't sure he wanted to be part of it, proclaiming Voldemort's power. He was still shaking and had been frozen solid for a long while now. The class began to wonder if Carrow had petrified him with a charm of some sort, but the professor himself began to think the boy was too weak to smother the soul of a mere owl.

Draco relaxed and shook his head, "I can't."

"What?" Carrow said, brows furrowed and an angry tone creeping into his voice.

"It's not right..." Draco whispered, feeling brave.

Carrow looked taken aback and he muttered menacingly, "Are you questioning my methods, and the methods of your parents? I have begun to think you also interrogate the ways of the Death Eaters themselves, and perhaps, in turn, those of Voldemort..."

"I have begun to think so, too, Professor Carrow," Draco murmured fiercely, his eyes burning with tears.

And then he spun from the professor, his robes waving through the air. He heard the other students talking in low voices, maybe about him, maybe about the professor. Goyle and Crabbe gave him twin glances of bewilderment, and then disappointment. Hermione glowed internally, a joy emerging inside of her at the goodness she knew had resided in the boy all these years.

Draco could feel Carrow's eyes staring intently at the back of his head, anger and surprise filling them. He reached for the door, his hand almost to the handle.

"You walk out of this classroom, Draco, and you walk out on a lot more than a school lesson!" Carrow bellowed, threatening him.

The pale hand lingered on the black handle for a few moments, weighing the decision, but perhaps there was no decision to be made. Draco had already chosen, and he threw open the door without looking back.

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