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     Ron and Hermione’s small shadowed figures rose and fell on the castle walls, illuminated by the torches, as they sprinted towards McGonagall’s office. All Hermione could hear was her deep breathing that suffocated her ears and the tread of their footsteps on the ancient floor. 

     They had scrambled out of the portrait hole as quickly as they could upon receiving a short message from Harry, stating that they were to retrieve the sword this very night. It also stated that Ron was to bring it to him once they had collected it, and Hermione was to stay safely behind as she had wanted. Something distinct inside of her was pushing her towards McGonagall’s office, dutifully heeding Harry’s orders. But there was also something foreign stirring in the mass of confusion, something pulling her back to the common room. When we get this sword…Ron will be gone too. She wasn’t ready to let go of Ron any more than she was prepared for Harry to depart. This conflicted with her loyalties; a part of her wanted to keep the Gryffindor Sword locked in McGonagall’s office forever, to keep her friend sheltered at Hogwarts. 

     Hermione’s feet had betrayed her heart and carried her too far. They finally stopped upon reaching the stone gargoyle guarding their Headmistress’ office. 

    “Dumble – Dumbledore,” panted Ron as he held the stitch in his side. 

    The gargoyle leapt aside to admit them, revealing a spiral staircase. The two mounted it, quite aware of how pressed they were to each other. The staircase began to revolve slowly upwards leaving Hermione’s panic in the second floor corridor. When the staircase abruptly stopped, it shook violently, causing Hermione to topple over into Ron’s durable arms. 

    “S-Sorry,” Hermione said. 

    She did not immediately pull away but instead continued to stare up at him awkwardly, her body paralyzed. Ron cleared his throat and helped her back to her own step, both of them feeling slightly more shaken. 

     “Come in,” McGonagall called from within the chamber. 

     Immediately they entered and halted clumsily in front of her rather large desk. Many of Dumbledore’s strange contents littered the room still. The atmosphere held a strange, sad aura. 

     “Miss Granger. Mr. Weasley.” McGonagall said startled. “I…I must admit I have done my best at avoiding the two of you. But now that you are here, there is simply nothing I can do.” Apprehension was looming in her tone. “I now need to ask you, very seriously, where Harry has gone last week? First, as a member of the Order, and second, as your Headmistress.” 

     “We can’t tell you that Professor,” said Hermione, bracing herself for reprimanding. 

     “I was afraid of that. And why on earth not?” McGonagall’s face was suddenly dire and forbidding. 

     “Dumbledore,” said Ron. 

     The lines in McGonagall’s face relaxed a smidgen and she turned to look at Dumbledore’s portrait behind her chair. His bright blue eyes were smiling from behind his half-moon spectacles at her. 

     “Albus?” she said quietly. 

     Dumbledore’s lips formed a tight grin in response. 

     “Speaking of Dumbledore…” Hermione carefully started, “we were wondering if we could possibly have the Gryffindor Sword. He…sort of left it to us.” Her eyes scanned the room but found nothing. Ron must have been searching as well. 

     “Where is it, Professor?” he asked. Waves of hopelessness thrashed in Hermione’s chest. It wasn’t here. 

     McGonagall’s fingers trembled slightly. “Albus?” McGonagall beseeched again, more desperate this time. 

     But Dumbledore’s eyes were now resting in a peaceful, helpless way, hands folded on his lap. “I believe Severus has removed the sword entirely from Hogwarts,” he stated. 

     “Is this true, Albus?” 

     “I am afraid so.” 

     Still, Dumbledore’s eyes did not open, and he did not move so much as an inch inside his golden frame. Hermione watched Ron whose ashen face was positively thunderstruck. 

     “We’ve got to send an owl to Harry,” Hermione said.

     Draco’s footsteps made a polite tapping noise as he paced the top of the Astronomy Tower. His black coat tails flapped in the wind with each step his polished shoes took. 

     Tip. Tap. Tip. Tap. 

     The anxious semblance intensified with every lonesome minute that sluggishly passed by. Where are they, he thought. His solitary presence here in the Astronomy Tower was anything but pleasant in Draco’s crippled mind. Memories threatened to take hold of him here and never let his sanity go. 

     He could hear Dumbledore’s words so clearly here, wise and pleading. 

     Tip. Tap. Tip. Tap. 

     Draco was beginning to feel even more alienated. 

     Tip. Tap. Tip. Tap. 

      Now Snape was there in his mind, shoving Draco out of the way. 

     Tip. Tap. Tip. 

     “Severus… Please…” Dumbledore had said. 

     Tip. Tap. 

     “Avada Kedavra.” 

     Tip. Tap. 

     As Draco’s heart deliberated and leaned towards returning to the Slytherin dungeon, a wisp of light flickered next to the full moon like a firefly, catching his eye and pulling it towards the open black sky. It was, because it just had to be, the tip of his mother’s wand. 

     Seconds later, not even enough time to conclude what else it could be, Narcissa and Bellatrix landed heavily on the tower, broomsticks below their cloaks. Draco took hold of his mother’s arms instinctively, supporting her up. She locked frightened blue eyes with her son’s grey but said nothing. 

     “Mother. Are you well? Did you get through the protective barrier alright?” Only when Bellatrix scoffed at their rattled look did Draco realize she had accompanied Narcissa. “Where’s Snape?” he asked, now looking from Bellatrix to his mother. 

     “He’s…indisposed,” replied Bellatrix harshly. She flicked her dark spiral curls from her drooping eyes and scrutinized him. She stared menacingly at his attire. “So formal and serious these days, baby Draco.” 

     “What does she mean about Snape, Mother? Mother?” 

     Narcissa’s eyes were in danger of spilling tears as she gazed at Bellatrix with disdain. 

     “Cissy, tell the boy,” Bellatrix spat. 

     “Darling, Severus has…abandoned us.” 

     Us. There had never been an opportunity to turn back. He had known this all along. But consorting them into one grouping (the Dark Lord’s followers), in the frightening way his mother said “us”, made this quite evident. 

     “I don’t understand. Where is he?” 

     “That’s not important right now.” Narcissa caressed her son’s face maternally. “It’s getting colder out here, isn’t it?” She bundled her robes tighter around her.
Draco could not fathom what was going on. Abandoned us? What did that mean? Where was his old professor? 

     And then something hit him like an atomic blast to his insides, first forming burns in his stomach and uprising to his mouth. His lips quivered with recognition, tasting cinders. Snape had abandoned ship, and wherever he fled to conceal his disloyalty, Draco did not know. This meant only one thing to him now: the man pulling for him was no longer Voldemort’s “most loyal Death Eater”. He was bound to be Voldemort’s most sought after, next to Harry Potter. The human shield that had once guarded him from Voldemort’s hands was a traitor, and Draco was left in an open mine field. 

     “You know what this means?” Narcissa said soothingly, still touching his face. 

     “No,” he lied, too petrified to face the reality of it. 

     “You cannot fail, Draco,” she whispered. “It is just not an option.” 

     “Of course he will,” snapped Bellatrix. "What makes this any different than last year?"

     If his aunt was right, then they all died. Not just one innocent muggle-born, but his entire family. Maybe the succession of this task was the necessity to pull his family from the reigns of Voldemort. Maybe then could they be in his good graces and possibly flee as Snape had done. 

     For the first time, Draco was relishing the idea of killing. 

     Bellatrix peered over the edge of the tower, watching for anyone. Narcissa moved in closer to Draco’s body, maneuvering herself in a way to cloak their midsections, and held out a tiny diamond ring between her fingers, gesturing it to him. The crystals inside flashed extravagantly in the moonlight. 

     “Take this,” she said. “Your father disagrees I have any help in this so please keep it hidden.” She was almost whispering now, as if to keep this from Bellatrix as well. 

     “What is it?” he asked, completely puzzled. 

     “Mortel bijoux. Slip it to someone. Whatever you must do, just make sure it is worn. The outcome will be instant fatality.” 

    It was exactly like the cursed necklace intended for Dumbledore. Draco opened his lips to ask more questions but his mother held up a hand.

    “This will ensure you’re not caught,” she finished.

     Draco twisted the ring over and over, running his thumb along the smooth gold as he walked down the corridor towards the Gryffindor tower. Here it was; the answer to his mission. Now that it seemed so easy, he was unsure if it was the right thing to do; if he could kill someone to save his skin. The different directions his mind was pulled was tiring to him, and he felt his body growing more weary underneath the pressure. 

     He slipped the ring keenly into his coat pocket when he reached the Heads Dorm and gave it a small squeeze for reassurance of its presence. He rapped ever so lightly on the portrait of Harry and Hermione; first, three times, then twice more as Hermione had instructed him. He looked up at Harry’s painted face and snarled at his stupid circular glasses. If it wasn’t for him, he thought. The portrait flung open, and he hastily crossed over the threshold. 

     Hermione was upright in a squashy chaise lounge, poring over several tattered books from the Library. Draco lingered by the door as it gently swung shut again. He stared, watching her eyes graze the old pages, and then lick her finger so politely to turn the page. There was a steady fire crackling quietly a few feet away that made her creamy skin shine in the light. 

     “Ahem,” he said with his eyebrows raised. 

     Hermione’s face snapped up from the old book with astonishment. “Oh goodness, Draco! I didn’t hear you come in.” She placed a hand over her heart, as if to steady its beats. 

     “Well if I had known I would cause you a heart attack,” he said with a grin, “I would have waited at your portrait.” He gave the ring another inconspicuous clutch. 

     “Don’t be silly, someone would see you.” 

     Hermione rose from the lounge and collected her books neatly into a stack. She placed her hands underneath and struggled to heave them into her arms. Draco darted across the room. 

     “Let me,” he said, quickly taking them from her. He took them into his own arms and crossed the room towards the staircase. Hermione followed clumsily at his heels. 

     “I’m more than capable, you know,” she said, trying to dart in front of him, but failing as he took the first couple steps in one stride. 

     When they reached Hermione’s dormitory, Draco gently placed her books on a small desk near the door and glimpsed a small piece of parchment already located there. 

     “Felix Felicis?” Draco’s face rose to meet Hermione’s gaze, his eyebrows raised. 

     “I was trying to perfect it,” she shyly admitted. 

     She ensconced her body into the Gryffindor blankets and motioned for Draco to come hither. He immediately followed her impenetrable stare and sat, too, on the crimson sheets. He watched his pale skin sink into the red and felt slightly uneasy. 

    “It’s kind of weird…being here,” he said, surveying the entire room. 

     “Not really,” she replied with a smile. “It’s whatever we want it to be.” 

     There was no other illumination but the moonlight coming through a vast window above the four-poster. With their faces both drained of color from the lunar glow, they sat patiently and awkward on her bed, barely touching hands. Minutes passed by without either of them speaking any words, and Draco’s fingers began to tremble with anxiety. 

     He was scarcely ever this quiet. Past moments when silence took a choking hold on his voice, he had been troubled about something. All he needed was for her to ask and his heart would open, willing all the negative out. The boy was fluent with his words. But he had never allowed himself to seem so vulnerable like this before. 

     “Draco?” she asked cautiously. She held his hand tight in hers, stabilizing his shaking fingers. He looked from their hands to her face, moonlight flashing harshly in his smoky eyes. “Is everything alright?” 

     His thoughts were screaming at him to confess everything to her: about his task, the meeting with his mother just moments before, about the deathly ring residing in his pocket. If he ever wanted to be overt with her, now was the opportunity. The words accumulated on the tip of his tongue, but he pushed them back behind his teeth before they left his mouth, nodding feebly in response. 

     “Are you sure?” she pressed. “You’re not like yourself tonight.” 

     As if the weight of the world dropped bombs on his shoulders, he felt his heart buckle under everything as she continued to search for his thoughts. He quickly choked back a small sob in his throat, causing it to well up inside his eyes instead. He couldn’t even remember the last time he voluntarily cried in front of someone, but right now wouldn’t be that time. Breathing in quiet, shallow breaths, he felt the moisture recede back into his tear ducts, just as a single drop betrayed him entirely, and rolled down his pallid face. Hermione inhaled sharply, completely alarmed by the lone tear pending by his jaw line. He was damning his emotions silently. 

     “I’m so sorry,” he began, completely embarrassed. He rose from the comforting bed. “I need to get back to the dungeon. Blaise will be looking for me.” 

     He took a couple advancing steps towards the open doorway when Hermione’s attention shifted to a shining object buried within the sheets next to her. She hastily picked it up between her forefinger and thumb, the diamond glittering elegantly. She raised it to her face. 

     “Draco?” she asked, skepticism in her tone. He hesitated by the door and turned partially towards her, his profile visible. “Is this for me?” She turned the ring over in her hand. 

     His head snapped up to meet hers, fear encasing his body. His eyes rested instantly on the lethal diamond pinched in her fingers. “What?” he replied, horrified. 

     She held the ring with one hand and very slowly, he watched her left ring finger attempt to slide into the golden band. Sweat trickled down his spine and he dashed for the four-poster, lunging his arms at her. He took hold of the magnificent ring and wrenched it from her hands easily as she surveyed his rattled appearance. A frown formed between her brows, utterly bewildered. 

     “It’s um…not meant for that. It’s a promise ring, actually,” he said huskily. His head filled with deceit, and he took a seat next to her on the bed again. “Best kept where no one can see, yes?” He touched the golden necklace resting at her collarbones. 

     She smiled at him longingly. “It’s perfect,” she said, admiring it again. She unfastened the chain from her neck and slid the pink opal from it, placing it on her nightstand. She then glided the band onto the chain, Draco watching her with apprehension. She pulled it around her nape, turning it to face him. “Could you?” she asked gently. 

     His fingers worked clumsily at the hook, smiling at the tiny curls resting on her neck. He wished he had been careful enough not to be in her presence with the wretched jewelry. How could he have been so stupid and reckless? She was everything to him, and the thought of her almost dying by his own hand was tempting him to rip the necklace from her neck and run. He continued cursing himself inaudibly. Considering the fact that he could not have told her it was for someone else, he was trapped. 

     Once it was clasped, he did the only thing that seemed natural. He bent his face lower to her and planted his lips to the top of her jaw line, kissing gracefully. “Just don’t wear it,” he whispered dangerously. His breaths were coming in quick against her. 

     “Why not?” she giggled, tucking it into her jumper. 

     “It will arouse suspicions, don’t you think?” He was still whispering into her neck, trying his damndest to conceal his panic. 

     Hermione let her head fall back, allowing him more access to her. He kissed on her more hungrily, holding her body to his. Draco let his endeavors and dilemmas wash away temporarily, enveloping himself inside her body. He spun her around and ferociously pushed her down into the sanguine sheets. He climbed on top of her and let his weight press down upon her, pinning her to the bed. A carnal fervor rushed his body as they sunk deeper into the mattress, granting him unguarded contact with her flesh. 

     His lips eventually met hers after they caressed each part of her enticing physique. Her lips were red and plump, bruised from his ravenous kisses. She sighed heavily as he allowed her to repose herself. Temptation hinted all over her face while she pulled at his belt buckle. He understood this silent communication and unzipped his suit pants. Hermione bit her lower lip, wincing slightly at the rawness of them. She slipped her knickers down to her knees and he devoured her, not bothering to remove any more clothes. His name was all that she could mutter. 

     She bit at his neck with such brutality; a reaction to the vigorous ways he explored between her legs. Her bite left a scarlet puncture wound beneath his jaw, vividly noticeable against his smooth skin. He grew immobile inside her, pausing to feel the pain she inflicted to course through his veins. Blood swelled to the brim of his skin and dripped almost beautifully into his dark collar. The corners of his lips curved into a maniacal grin; the ache in his neck from Hermione’s luscious lips was the most real feeling Draco felt in weeks. 

     “I love you,” he whispered, flipping his blonde hair to one side. His desperate gaze bored into her eyes, and he knew he would not hear it back tonight. He bent his hardened face back down to her lips and never parted from them.

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