I have measured out my life with coffee spoons
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
- The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot
There was silence: brief, sanctified, he caught within it like an insect trapped in amber.
And then Draco laughed, and the sound was jagged and bright.
“Are you mad?”
“No,” Hermione said levelly, though when the nights had been at their darkest and coldest, her mind so sluggish with hunger and fear that her thoughts trickled like blood, she had wondered. “Just sceptical about your intentions.”
All the mirth wilted in his face. His voice was soft, calm, emotionless. “What exactly do you think I have planned for you?”
“I don’t know,” she said, keeping her wand pointed firmly at him. She had to fight to keep her eyes from drifting to the knife hung at his waist. “Maybe you’re trustworthy. And maybe this is just a way to make me leave without a fight so you can package me up for the Dark Lord.”
“Do you think you’re that dangerous?”
“No, I think you’re that lazy.”
That hit him; his mouth tightened. “If I wanted to give you to the Dark Lord, I’d have done it by now.”
His fingers brushed the Dark Mark; she found herself fascinated by it, curving with sinister grace on his arm.
“Just one touch,” he whispered, and his eyes were dark as the empty reaches of space. She could have sworn it was longing in his voice. “That’s how close he is.”
His fingers slid over the mark, tracing it, slow, idle, lingering. It was quite the creepiest thing she had seen that night, which was saying something.
“Do you think you could stop stroking yourself like that?” she suggested acidly. “If you want, I can leave you alone with your...thoughts.”
He took a ragged breath. The expression on his face reminded her of something. It took a moment before she realised what it was – the memory seemed like a golden dream of someone else’s life, of before.
Ron had looked the same way whenever Fleur was close. Half-dreamy, half-hungry, a look of obsession.
“Frightened?” he said.
“More repelled.” She surveyed him closely, marking new details. There were scars on the pale inside of his arms – raised crescents, marching over his skin like the phases of the moon. Dark shadows lined his eyesockets; his lips were bitten. “Exactly what do you do for You-Know-Who, Malfoy?”
His face smoothed out, blank as an eggshell. “Whatever he asks. Same as everyone else.”
“And what does he ask?” she said, hushed, prying for knowledge.
The silence bristled.
“Everything,” he said, and she heard in that word desperation and admiration, felt the things he did not say like shadows cast upon them.
And then he gave a soft, tired laugh; turned his face so that the darkness concealed it, and said with something more akin to his familiar scorn, “Just like you.”
She took the hint, and slid back into the safety of insults. Whatever she had glimpsed unsettled her deeply. She had lived so long with the tormented dead that she had forgotten the immediacy of pain – she had forgotten what it meant to live in malice and terror that was new, unpredictable, ever-changing. Her grief was known and mapped, her fears as well-travelled as her paths through Hogwarts.
“I’m asking for an Unbreakable Vow. Betray me, and the worst that’ll happen is you’ll die. Betray You-Know-Who...I get the feeling it isn’t death you’re worried about.”
His cheek twitched. “Nice to see you haven’t forgotten how to be sanctimonious. But you obviously have forgotten that we need a Bonder.”
“I haven’t forgotten,” she said quietly. “Does that mean you agree?”
He gave a small shudder. “I agree,” he said, as if the words hurt him.
“Good.” She let out a breath. “Can you visit prisoners?”
His eyes flickered, uncertain. “Yes.”
She uncurled her hand. In it lay the tiny figure of Viktor Krum. “Then we have a Bonder.”
“We can’t free him.”
Part of her protested. The part of her that had seen war, that had begun to see beyond the here and now, accepted it grimly. “But we can help him. And in return, he’ll help us.”
His eyes narrowed. “What do you have in mind?”
She spoke, the knowledge pouring out of her. It seemed to her that she had waited for this, that all the words and the silent spells had been keyed to this moment when she stepped from between the walls and faced the world once more.
He listened, and he argued, and they amended and debated, as cool and impersonal as any two people doing business. Their voices echoed about Hogwarts, and only later did it occur to her that it was the first time that the living had spoken there for three years.
And it seemed somehow apt that they spoke of rescue and daring in this place that had seen so much of it, right to the last.
“Where are we going?” he said, following the wavering light of her spell. It darted like a firefly before them, illuminating walls missing bricks like teeth, rotting tapestries that dangled from mere threads.
“I told you I’d show you Hogwarts,” she said, skimming through the darkness with ease. Behind her, she could hear him, clumsy and fumbling. She knew the worn steps and the missing flagstones; she wove through the intruding plants where he fought and sputtered.
“This isn’t Hogwarts,” he said. She heard a metallic scrape; then a series of thuds. When she glanced back, she saw he had hacked through the plants with his knife – he held it as if it were an extension of his arm, as pale and gleaming as his hair. "This is a tomb."
Stood there, he seemed savage, more than the spoilt brat she had once known.
“Why do you carry that thing?” she asked. “You have a wand.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Which you are holding,” he pointed out. “Are you planning on giving it back?”
“Then you can understand why I have the knife.” He spun it lightly in his palms; it glittered like frost. “Everyone needs back-up.”
She supposed that was true. But not many people could find comfort in the edge of a blade.
What sort of world was it where he expected to be deprived of his magic? And then she thought of his scars, and the Dark Mark he bore, and understood that it was a world where Voldemort ruled.
“What’s it like out there?” she said, unable to stop the question.
Hogwarts had delineated her life for three years. She knew nothing of the world bar what she could see from its walls – shadows, lights in the sky, amorphous shapes. And now that she had to leave it, she was frightened of what she might find.
“Changed,” he said slowly. “The Dark Lord controls everything. Even the Muggles are his now, though most of them don’t know it. He keeps them frightened and that keeps them obedient. In the wizarding world, anyone with sense keeps quiet. The ones that didn’t are dead or fled, or screaming in a cell. I thought it would be better when he ruled. I thought we’d be great again.”
“Surprise,” she whispered, scrambling down crumbling spiral stairs. “You elect a tyrant, he runs a tyranny.”
He didn’t answer. The only sound was his breath and his steps.
When she came to the bottom, she nearly stumbled from sheer surprise. A short passage twisted away like a madman's smile.
It opened out into a small room, barely bigger than a prison cell. The walls were lined with mirrors, dark as lead in the gloom. A dark sheet hung over something tall and wide at the end of the room.
Her light darted in before her, multiplying until it streamed away into the distance, until the room seemed vast as a cathedral, echoing out into forever.
Hermione stopped as she saw her reflection for the first time in months, startled. She didn’t realise how wiry she had become, her hair lank and unwashed, her arms tautly muscled from climbing every day. Her face seemed strange; shorn of its puppy fat, it had a stern cast, her brows straight, her mouth determined, its prettiness transmuted into something more enduring.
She looked like someone who knew how to fight, and that reassured her.
Draco bumped into her. “Granger, did you come here to stare at yourself? I thought I was the vain one in this enterprise.”
She started, but recovered quickly. “No. You’re the annoying one.”
“Actually, I’m fairly sure I’m the heroic one,” he countered, and preened a little in the mirrors. Suddenly she was surrounded by images of Malfoy, flashing his outrageous smile. Beside him, she was ordinary, dull as a sparrow. “Betraying my dark master and all.”
Despite his flippancy, there was a huskiness in his voice when he spoke of Voldemort. It frightened her.
“Are you sure that’s what you want?” she asked, cool.
“You’re obviously not,” he said. “Why are we here?”
She walked over to the covered shape and with a sharp tug, pulled the sheet away.
The gold frame of the mirror was bent and twisted in places; the phrase across the top was broken away, the remainder smeared with dirt and ash. A spiderweb of cracks ran out across the glass; beneath it, the surface moved strangely, as if it were water swirling. She was careful to stand to one side, unable to see her own reflection.
“I hear you get seven years bad luck for that kind of damage,” Draco remarked. “Very careless, Granger. Hasn’t the world suffered enough without you frivolously breaking mirrors?”
“This happened in the battle,” she said. “I want you to look in it.”
His face was wary. “What is it?”
“It was the Mirror of Erised. It showed you your heart’s desire. And then...the spells changed it. The battle broke it, same as everything else.”
“What does it show you now?” he said, eyeing it with suspicion.
“The cost of receiving that desire,” she answered, and cursed herself at the tremor in her voice. Images burned themselves onto her mind, fragmented by the shattered glass. She had looked, and she had seen the grim future. She could still not reconcile herself to it. “So you’d better decide if you really want to stop Voldemort. Maybe this will help.”
She stayed only long enough to see him step in front of the mirror, jaw set, showing no fear. Then she walked out, not stopping. Not at his gasp, not at the sound of metal on glass, not at the high sobs of a woman; not even at the hard thud that might have been him falling to his knees. She did not stop. She did not look back. She left him to his personal, private future, and hoped it was better than hers had been.
She sat on the bottom steps and waited, his wand in her hand. No matter what he thought, she had left him in there without a weapon. Now she would see whether he really knew how to fight.
His shadow crept over her, weightless warning. She glanced up. He was breathing hard.
“I’ve seen enough,” he said, sounding bored and indolent. “Give me my wand.”
His face gave away nothing, his voice even less. But she had to trust him until they could get to Viktor. If she didn’t, she might as well crawl back into the walls, stumble back into her half-life, her after-life, and drift like a dream through the broken castle once more until she too was a relic in the stones, crying out for release in the midnight hour.
Although fear was a knot in her heart, she gave it back.
Draco settled it in his hand, then his mask shattered – she saw something raw and primal, something anguished as he raised the wand-
She flinched back as spells that tasted of fear filled her mouth...
He turned and screamed a hex that scorched the air. Rays of red light shot into the room of mirrors, and deafening crashes erupted until the air seemed full of the sound of breaking, until the world was crashing down about them.
Clouds of dust drifted from the doorway. She shoved past him, and stopped on the threshold.
Every mirror in the room was reduced to powder. And at the end, only a misshapen golden frame remained of the Mirror of Erised.
“The cost doesn’t matter,” Draco said in a voice like steel. “He has my family. And I’m telling you now, he’ll pay. No one but him.”
His fingers closed around her arm, bruising. He didn’t look at her, or at the destroyed room; he was already turning, ruin in his wake. And she drawn after him, a little aghast at what she had begun, at what she had to end one way or another.
“We’re going,” he said. “I’m sick of ghosts.”
As she followed him up the steps, struggling to keep up, she felt a surge of fear. So it was happening. She would leave – not alone, not even in the company of a friend, but with the enemy of her enemy, because he was all she had. They were tied together now, one way or another, and it seemed to her that she left something behind in the room of mirrors – some brief reflection, caught in the walls forever with all the others, the last piece of the girl who had been safe in Hogwarts.
“Wait...” she called.
He paused but didn’t turn, his back a fortress.
“I want to say goodbye,” she said.
His laughter was brittle. “Granger, I think the last three years have demonstrated that you’re incapable of it. You chose – you chose – to live with ghosts, to spend your every bloody night with them. You carry your damn dead under your skin, and nothing will change that. You cling to them. It makes you weak.”
“It makes me human,” she hissed.
He whipped around; his face was terrible in the half-light, as beautiful and as ferocious as a god of war. “And it’ll get you killed.”
The silence hung in the air like an accusation.
Then he said, “I’m leaving. Whether you come with me is up to you.”
He needed her, she knew that, but his expression was unyielding. He would do it. He would leave her here; he would chase down the Dark Lord because whatever he had seen in the mirror had decided him once and for all. And ultimately, she was sure, he would fail because his only back-up was a knife, his heart divided into two ragged pieces between Voldemort and his family.
He had lived in a nightmare world for three years. It had moulded and defined him.
She had been left untouched. She had learned unfettered, and most importantly – singing out like a wolf in her heart – she still believed.
She could save the world. She believed it.
Hermione had to wonder what he believed. But she knew that he would not tell her, that whatever it was lay in powder at the bottom of the descent.
“Let’s go,” she said, and believed. It felt good. Terrifying, but good.
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