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((Here's another chapter. If this seems a little weird to anyone I apologize. I kind of just let the story write itself. Wherever it ends up is where it ends up. Enjoy!))

Chapter 10::

A Stranger's Generosity and Draco's Story 

Love. Malfoy. Heart. Pain. Impossible. Love. Malfoy. Heart. Pain. Impossible. Love. Malfoy. Heart. Pain. Impossible. 

Every step Hermione took as she ran from the man she loves seemed to be enunciating those words… over and over again. She didn't know what to say or even what to feel. Everything in her mind told her that she did the right thing by running from Draco. Her heart, however, was screaming at her for being such an idiot. She finally found her other half, the one person that is put on earth to complete her. What does she do when she finds him? She runs away. 

Stop questioning yourself! She thought as her eyes started to burn from the wind hitting her face as she ran. Even if he is everything you've ever wanted in a guy you can't go back. You did the right thing. Maybe in another life. 

Yes, maybe in another life where you won't be a sniveling toad! Her second voice thundered back again. 

Do not start with me! I'm in enough pain as it is you don't need to make it worse. 

First of all, I'm not making you feel worse, you are. I am, after all, a part of you. Secondly, if you are in so much pain then go back to him. You two are so right for each other that running away is the dumbest move you've ever made! 

He doesn't love the real me… even if I did go back he'd leave me the minute he found out who I am and why I'm really here… I can't risk that. It would kill me when it happened. 

That aside, this was all part of your big plan anyway. This was supposed to happen. It's going so perfectly, you shouldn't be running away. You were meant to make one of the Slytherin Princes fall for you and you've done just that. I don't understand the problem. 

The problem is that he was supposed to fall for me. Not the other way around and that is what happened. I'm just as much in love with him as he is with me. If I let this go one then it would end up blowing up in my face. He would end up hating me. 

Then take the time you have now to cherish what you have with him. Not only is it part of your plan, but it also would give you a real reason to live again. Ever since your parents died you stopped living. Bring yourself back to life, you stupid bloody dolt!

Hermione didn't reply back, she couldn't. It hurt too much and just the fact that she was calling herself a stupid bloody dolt was alarming enough. Shutting down her brain, she continued to run and eventually broke out of the forest. The sun was over the horizon now and she could feel the castle start to stir. All of the beauty of the morning and the pain in her heart put some things in perspective for her. She'd need to leave and fast. She'd apologize to Dumbledore and McGonagall but then she'd leave. Her heart can't take this task any longer. Hermione Granger might not have quit at anything in her entire life, but never before had her heart been caught in the middle. Her heart was already mangled by the death of her family; if she were to continue where she was going there wouldn't be anything left to keep it beating. 

Even if that thought sounded all too tempting at this moment. 

Suddenly, as if a fist full of knives stabbed her through the chest, she collapsed. Falling to knees, she held a hand to her chest, afraid it was going to give out. It didn't matter whether it was physical pain or emotional pain that caused her heart to hurt. Either way, the muscle couldn't take it anymore. Hermione hunched her body as she cried out. Even though the students would be up and headed to breakfast soon and Pansy would be waiting for Raven to go shopping, she couldn't bring herself to stand… it was as if her legs no longer worked. 

Then, as if by some unseen force, clouds took over the sky, obscuring the sun from sight. Rain starting to fall to the ground, thunder rolling in. Within seconds, the once clear sky turned into a dark storm raging wildly. Hermione didn't think about why, she barely noticed it at all. Even as the rain pounded onto her cold flesh she didn't pay any mind. Nothing mattered anymore and she so desperately wanted to retreat back to that place in her mind where no one could touch her at the beginning of summer… 

Where no one could see her pain. 

"Raven!" Draco shouted as he made it out of the forest, barely visible through the thick rain. 

The sound of his shout stopped her dead in her sobs. She didn't think that he would follow her so soon. The Draco Malfoy that she knew and grew up with never followed anyone…but this time, he followed her. 


Hermione didn't move as he walked through the rain to her kneeling form. Didn't speak as he sank down next to her in the mud, ruining his expensive clothes. This left her stunned and filled with disbelief. He didn't even boast about how having to follow her made him dirty. Draco hated dirt, and yet here he was in the pouring rain wrapping his arms around her. He was comforting her again. This was starting to be a reoccurring episode. 

She let him hold her for a long period of time, just sobbing in his shirt as the weird storm raged on above and around them. The rain never let up and the thunder never stopped. Then, as a loud thunder clapped, Hermione came to her senses and snapped herself away, out of Draco's comforting embrace. Forcing herself to a standing position, she began to wobbly make her way to the castle, trying to see through the thick rain. 

Draco's voice stopped her yet again. "Why are you running from me?" 

She turned around to see that he stood up as well, but never moved. "I'm not running."
They were both shouting over the thunder and trying to see through the heavy downpour. "Yes, you are. Tell me why!" 

She shook her head and fought for something to say. "This could never work. We're from different worlds. You have your priorities and I have mine!" 

Draco took a step towards her so he could get a better look at her. "It doesn't matter that we are from different worlds. We love each other and that should be enough!" 

Hermione just shook her head. "It doesn't work like that!" 

"Yes, it does!" He continue to walk towards her until he was in her face, red with anger. "You think I don't understand that this is going to be hard. I do just as much as you do. The difference is, I don't bloody care! I'm the first person to know that this is the worse possible timing. Bloody hell, the wizarding world is at war and I'm stuck in the bloody middle of it! The only thing that was being planned for me was to assist in the Dark Lord's plans! And now the one thing that is certain to me in the stupid uncertain world is you! I had every intention of leaving this school after the first day until I saw you! I was such an angry person but I'm willing to throw everything away to be with you! Why can you not realize that?" 

"It's not that simple, Draco!" Her tears were still falling, obscured by the rain. "We're not meant to be! This is just attraction it has to be!" 

Draco growled in frustration, the thunder making it sound chilling. "You don't mean that!" 

"Yes, I do!" 

"No, you don't! Look me in the eye and tell me you don't want to be with me! That you don't think about me every day! Tell me!" 

He was testing her and she had every intention of proving him wrong. Except the moment she looked into his silver orbs, she found the words evaporating in her throat. "I… I…" 

"After last night how can you have any doubts! I know you felt what I did when we kissed!" 

She had nothing to say to that. It turns out she didn't have to, for Draco lowered his face and captured her lips in a melting kiss. Like last night, she turned to putty in his strong, capable hands. Any argument she had wanted to present to him disappeared as soon as their lips meant. Now it was certain. She would never be able to seduce Blaise like she intended. All she could see, taste, feel, want, and need was Draco. 

She just hoped she could deal with the after effects when the war ended. 

As the kiss ended, any uncertainty and doubt that had her squeamish was gone and Hermione surrendered to her heart. "Fine, you win. I love you, Draco. I want to be with you. I'll take whatever is thrown at me… I'm out of excuses." 

Draco smirked. "Good. I knew you'd let me win eventually." 

Miraculously, the pain in Hermione's heart disappeared along with the storm. The rain stopped and the thunder receded, bringing the beautiful sun and blue sky back. Part of Hermione was concerned that she had somehow triggered the strange weather, but she was so exhausted from hers and Draco's fight it didn't matter. All that mattered was that she was possibly making the biggest mistake of her life and was doing it with her eyes openly, fully expecting it to turn bad. 

Life was funny like that. 

Draco looked up to the sky, his face and clothes shimmering wet as the sun reflected off him. He too seemed concerned about the storm but chose to not bring it up at this moment. "What do you say we go in and get ready for a day at Hogsmeade?" 

Hermione laughed and tried to wipe the remaining water off her face and ring it out of her soaked hair. "Good idea. I think I could use a shower, too." 

With her hand in his, she headed towards the castle. Except she was stopped by Draco tugging on her hand. "Raven?" 

"Yes?" She already confessed her heart to him and was probably going to end up killed for her efforts. What more did he want? 

"Does this make you my girlfriend?" He looked so uncertain and cute that Hermione was tempted to pinch his cheeks. 

But, she didn't of course. "I figured that was the general rule, yes." 

He smiled and they both started to walk to the castle. "Good, because I had every intention of taking you to the Halloween ball. That, and I wanted to rub it in Blaise's face." 

Hermione laughed out loud and it felt good. "Oh, that's surely mature, Draco." 

He shrugged. "What do you expect. We've both been chasing you and he was so certain that you would pick him that I can't refuse the desire to make him eat his words. Besides, I'm a Malfoy. Boasting is what I do best." 

"I can't argue that, can I?" She smiled and gave his hand a squeeze. This was going to be a long day. 

"What do you think of this one, Raven?" Pansy stepped out of the changing room for the millionth time it felt like. 

This time she was dressed up as a hippie. Interesting. "Nice. You want to go hug a tree on the way back to the castle?" 

Hermione laughed at Pansy's annoyed expression. "Laugh now, but the moment you start trying on costumes I'm going to laugh at you. See how you like it." 

"Oh, but you see, dear Pansy, the difference is that I will not try on every single costume in the store. I'll have some sensible options." They've been in this shop for two hours, all of which Pansy spent trying on costume after costume for the ball. 

Pansy looked angry for a moment, but her face slowly fell to a smile. "I have been rather obnoxious, haven't I?" 

Hermione laughed. "Not entirely. I'm sorry for my bleak outlook. But, I already told you which costumes I thought you should get. You're just too indecisive for my liking. Where I come from, you take what you can get. Especially since we never had a Halloween." 

"Oh, yes. I forget sometimes that you were raised on the streets. Does your new boy toy remember that or does he often forget?" 

Ever since Hermione and Draco walked into the common room, soaked and holding hands, whispers ensued. Pansy was delighted that she had gossip to spread, even if Draco was her ex. Blaise was crestfallen but surprisingly understanding. Maybe with him it was just the chase he loved so much. Draco, on the other hand, was practically glowing the entire way. Which is odd for him. He was always the sneering type. Now all he does is smirk. 

Hermione rolled her eyes in a very Onyx Raven way. "He doesn't mind where I come from. He loves me for who I am. You know this, I've told you thousands of times." 

"Yes, you have." Pansy finished changing and came out of the dressing room, this time in her original clothes of jeans and a black sweater. "But, this is still the most exciting thing to happen at Hogwarts." 

"If you insist. Which one did you pick?" Please, oh please, let her be finished. 

"The naughty nurse. I figured that would get a good reaction from Bl- er, someone else attending the ball." She blushed and walked down the aisle of women's costumes. (Which were all magically floating to prevent rips any snags.) 

Hermione caught what she was going to say. "Blaise? Oh, Merlin, you fancy Blaise? Why did you not tell me?" 

Pansy frowned. "I was worried that you fancied him as well. I didn't want to interfere." 

Wow. Hermione never thought Pansy could ever care about someone, let alone put someone before herself. With every day that passed, Hermione found that Pansy was actually a very good friend. "Oh, no. Pansy, if you had told me I would've knocked on his arse sooner. He's all yours, my friend." 

She smiled and gave Hermione a hug. "Thank you, Raven. Now," she stepped back with a slightly flushed expression on her face. "Let's decide what costume you should get." 

Hermione smirked, "Let's." 

They went from rack to rack trying to find something that hit Hermione's fancy. Well, Raven's fancy. All the while, Pansy started a new conversation. "So, when are you going to be introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy?" 

That stopped Hermione in her tracks. She'd almost forgotten about that. Since Draco was in love with her and visa versa, he'd want to introduce her to his parents…and possibly their boss. Oh, dear. "I'm not entirely sure." 

Pansy noticed her frightened expression. "Hey, don't worry, Raven, they'll love you." She thought her expression was just the thought of meeting the parents. "You're everything they could ever ask for, for Draco." 

"But," Hermione thought quickly for something to say. "I'm from the streets. I might be rich but I certainly wasn't raised that way." 

Pansy waved that away. "That won't matter. As long as you're a pureblood and in Slytherin, it should be fine. And you are both so nothing to worry about." 

Hermione smiled at her friend. "You're right. I have nothing to worry about." She would just worry about it later when she was alone. 

"Well," Pansy turned away. "I'm going to go to the ladies room. I'll be back in a moment." 

Hermione just nodded and continued to look down the aisle. Nothing seemed to jump out at her. There were a few that would look great for Hermione, but she wasn't going to be going as Hermione. She was going as Onyx Raven and Onyx would never wear anything Hermione would. At this rate, Hermione was going to have to go dressed as a canary. She was running out of options and quick. Maybe when Draco offered to tell her what he was going as so they could match, she should've said yes instead of claiming she wanted it to be a surprise. 

"Are you needing assistance, deary?" The older witch who owned the store walked up beside Hermione. 

She looked like she was definitely in Slytherin and a pureblood, what with her shop having no one but Slytherin's around. "I'm not sure. I suppose I'm just having trouble finding a costume to fit me." 

The woman took in Hermione's appearance. And considering that Hermione was wearing a black corseted top and black pants with a white jacket and boots, she could probably see why Hermione was having troubles. 

"I think I may have just the thing for you, if you'd like to come with me?" Without waiting for a response, she walked ahead, going through a door labeled Employees Only. 

Hermione decided she might as well follow. Once she walked through the door she was met with another room full of costumes. These must be the ones for the big time spenders and important wizards and witches. Why she was bringing Hermione back her was anyone's guess. Hermione looked around and saw the witch at the back of the room, next to a black velvet curtain that seemed to be blocking something from view. Walking down there, she gave the woman a confused look. 

"You are Onyx Raven, are you not?" The woman gave her a small smile. 

Hermione suddenly became weary. "Yes. How did you know that?" 

She smiled again. "I was told that you were to get the best and most expensive. I was also told not to tell you whom told me this. So, do me a favor and do not ask." 

Hermione didn't. "Is that why we are back here?" 

"Yes. This is where I keep the important costumes. The ones that are one of a kind." 

"Then why didn't my friend, Pansy, know about it?" She was rich and important, Hermione assumed. 

The woman rolled her eyes and scoffed. "The Parkinson family are rich, yes, but not anywhere near important. A bunch of barbarians the lot of them. Now, go through this curtain and find your costume. There should be a changing room back there, so enjoy. I'll be sure to tell your friend you'll meet her at the Three Broomsticks for lunch." 

She left without another word and Hermione found herself astounded. Someone important told the owner to bring Onyx Raven back here. Wondering if it was Draco, she decided to ask him when she met up with him, Blaise, and the buffoons for lunch. Deciding that most purebloods wouldn't ask questions or refuse such an offer, she walked through the curtain and found a tiny space. There were only three racks in the space, each only holding ten or twelve costumes apiece. A small changing room was in the back of the space as well. 

With a smile, she began flipping through the hangers. So many beautiful costumes were there, practically all of them dark and worth more money then probably most of Hogsmeade. Hermione found herself feeling a little giddy. Still, none of the popped out at her. She flipped through all types; from a goddess to even a vampiress. So many costumes so little time. Just when she was about to give up, she saw it. The perfect costume. It was on the last and most expensive rack. 

Just at the site Hermione almost lost the ability to breath. It was a princess costume, but not one you'd expect. It was black silk with layer of velvet falling to the ground in waves. The top was corseted and laced up in the back, however no material was covering the flesh of her back. The front material stopped at her sides and the thin laces were all that covered her back. It looked like a gown from the 16th century, with a tiara in the mix. The tiara was silver with hundreds upon hundreds of real diamonds weaved with the metal. But, the best part of the entire costume was that on the dress as well as the tiara, there were onyx jewels. Across the top of her corset and across the front of the tiara, the onyx jewels were beautiful and dark. 

Just like Onyx Raven. 

Excited, she picked up the costume off the rack and was surprised at how light weight it was. With so much fabric and jewels you'd think it would be heavy. "Probably a weight spell." Hermione said to herself with joy. 

Before she left the room, (the dress had a tag that said the dress can be fitted with a simple spell made just for the dress. So no need to try it on. It was her size anyway.) she saw that there were shoes line against the wall. Hanging the dress back up, she looked through the shoes, each pair looked beautiful. She liked the strappy heels, but she really preferred boots. She'd have to ask the owner if she had a pair. Picking the dress back up off the rack, she lifted her hand to move the curtain, nearly shrieking when the owner was on the other side. 

"Find what you liked, dear?" she smiled at Hermione knowingly. 

"Yes, I did, Madame. Thanks so much. But, I'm not really sure if I can afford this." In fact, she knew she couldn't. She might have quite a hefty fortune Dumbledore gave her, but even the Malfoy's would struggle to buy this costume. 

"Nonsense." The owner waved away her concern. "It's already been taken care of. Anything you wanted was already paid for. I'm just the person making it possible. Now, what about shoes?" 

Hermione definitely needed to find out who was going through so much trouble for her. "Oh, the shoes back here are great, Madame. But, I'm more of a boot person and I don't see any back here. So, I'll just use a pair of my own." 

The woman looked offended at Hermione's remark. "Absolutely not, Miss Raven! I was told to supply you with anything you need and I'm going to do just that! Wait here for a moment." 

Hermione did and was seriously confused. This was getting ridiculous. First, Crabbe and Goyle start treating her like she was some precious commodity, the Pansy and Millicent start trying to make her part of the family, and now someone is paying serious money to make her happy. And for some reason, she was certain that it wasn't Draco pulling all of these strings. Sure, he had connections but not this many. 

She really needed to get to the bottom of this. 

The owner came back in the room with a big box in her hands. It looked dusty, almost old. Hermione wasn't sure she liked where this was going. "What's that?" 

The witch smiled. "Most of my customers prefer stiletto heels with open foot. No one ever asks for boots of any kind so I always keep them in the back room, where they obviously gather dust." 

As she was wiping the dust off, Hermione saw the box. It was black with a white and lavender designs. No logo or description. "What's the company?" 

"Oh, I'm not sure. I just get them from big time wizard designers. After all these years all of the labels run together." 

All questions disappeared from her mind as the woman opened the box. For in the box was the most sexy pair of boots she'd ever seen. They were shiny leather, obviously knee-high and stiletto. The heel was four inches high, which would make her Draco's height almost. The front was pointed and intimidating, but she could work with that. It seemed the boots laced, just like the back of her gown. They would fit wonderfully. 

"Oh, they're beautiful! I'll take them!" Hermione had to be careful, she might have a shoe-aneurism. 

The witch smiled. "Splendid! Now, do you need accessories?" 

Hermione nodded and the woman waved her wand, saying she would have the costume, shoes, and accessories sent to Hogwarts. Then, the left the back room to look at accessories and makeup. The excitement made Hermione forget about the nagging thought in the back of her mind telling her that someone was doing this for a reason. But, right then and there, that reason didn't matter. She was going to look fabulous at the ball. 

"Hey, Raven," Draco said as he stood to kiss her hello. She had finally finished shopping for her Halloween costume and arrived at the Three Broomsticks for lunch.
Blaise, Pansy, Crabbe, and Goyle took up the rest of the booth Draco sat at. She was slightly annoyed when Crabbe and Goyle stood up as well. "Sorry I'm late, everyone." 

Blaise just shrugged and continued to sip his Butterbeer. Pansy looked up confused. 

"What happed to you? After I got back from the restroom the witch who owned the costume shop just told me that you said you'd meet me here." 

Hermione shrugged, not exactly knowing what to say. "I apologize for that, Pans. I took a small walk. Something caught my eye." 

Draco smirked as they sat, him putting his hand on her knee under the table. "Did you find your costume, love?" 

This, Hermione answered with a smile. "I did, in fact. You'll all have to wait until the ball to see it though. It's somewhat of a surprise." 

Pansy rolled her eyes. "Fine then. Now that Raven is here can we please order? I'm famished." 

Waving the waitress over, they all ordered their chosen lunch and launched into conversation. Hermione found that the more and more time she spent with the Slytherins, the more and more she enjoyed their company. And here she thought she would be crying herself to sleep every night until the war was over. Well, wonders never cease. Once the food arrived, however, everyone became silent as they enjoyed their delicious meal. Throughout the entire meal, Draco was always somehow touching Hermione, whether it was his hand on her knee or his arm grazing hers. It seemed like he couldn't keep away from contact for long. He probably thought she was a mirage, something that isn't real and that would disappear as soon as his skin wasn't touching hers somehow. 

Hermione found that ironic in some way. Because, technically, she wasn't real. Her character anyway. And he would eventually lose her, it was just undecided as of when. She wouldn't want to leave him but she got the feeling that the moment he figured out she was Hermione Granger and not Onyx Raven, he would probably run for the hills… or even quite possibly try to kill her. She tried to not dwell on that fact too much, though. If she did she would more then likely end up going mad. 

As soon as the group was finished eating, they left the Three Broomsticks to explore the village. Considering the fact that they were all obscenely wealthy, they didn't necessarily have to just window shop like Hermione used to with Ron and Harry. With the two boys, they had to window shop; that way her and Harry wouldn't feel guilty if they bought something when Ron couldn't. Now, it seemed, her new little group of friends liked to buy things without shame. If they saw something they wanted or could use, they would go in and buy it, even offering to buy something for one of the other group members. Even though they knew everyone had more then enough money to blow. 

This group never ceased to surprise Hermione. 

As the group walked, they slowly began to split up. Blaise and Pansy went to Honeydukes while Crabbe and Goyle went merlin knows where. Pretty soon it was down to just Hermione and Draco. A fact to which neither or them were complaining.
"Are you certain Blaise wasn't upset of our relationship?" Hermione asked as they sat under a tree near the Shrieking Shack. 

Draco, who was leaned against the tree with Hermione leaning her back against his chest and his arms around her in a loving embrace, replied. "I'm certain." 

Hermione didn't reply, just looked out to the broken shack in thought. Draco noticed her silence. "Why do you ask?" 

She shrugged. "He didn't seem to talk too much. When he did he seemed somewhat sullen." 

Draco chuckled. "Oh yes. Welll, the reason behind that is when he used to talk with you all of the time it was constant flirting and wooing. Now that you are with me, he is uncertain as to where to take himself with you. Do not worry though. He was the same way with Pansy until she became like one of the guys. I wouldn't take it personally." 

That made a little sense, she supposed. "Alright then." 

Draco held her tighter. "What are you thinking about?" 

"Just something that has been bothering me." 

"Which is?" He whispered in her ear, causing her to shiver in delight. 

She frowned. "I don't want it to make you angry." 

She felt his lips against her left temple. "Nothing you ask could ever make me angry, dear Onyx. I promise you that." 

She wasn't so sure, but he asked for it. "Early this morning, during the bizarre storm, you said that you were right in the center of the war. That you were chosen to carry out plans for Voldemort. What did you mean by that?" 

He hissed when she said his name. "Please, don't say that name." 

Hermione feigned confusion. "Why? Isn't that his name? That's what Dumbledore calls him." 

He shook his head. "It's disrespectful. So, as a favor to me try not to say it." 

His voice was off, somewhat distressed. "I told you that you'd be angry with me." 

He moved his hand to tilt her chin in his direction, catching her eyes. "I'm not angry with you. I'm just trying to find the best way to say this. I'm not used to being close to someone let alone telling someone private things about myself or my life." 

She contorted her body so that she was sitting perpendicular to him, that way she could slide her arms around his neck and nuzzle against his collar bone. A sign of trust. "I won't judge you, Draco. I've probably done worse." 

He gave a dry laugh. "I'm not sure about that. But, I suppose I'll tell you anyway. If things pan out like I've been told you'll find out soon enough as it is." 

Before she could inquire as to what he meant, he started to speak again. "When you first met me, you might have noticed that I was cold, distant. I wanted nothing to do with anyone let alone you." 

Hermione nodded her head with a small smile. "Yes. That is until I broke the ice by kissing you that night. I never could stand anyone with such a haunted expression all of the time." 

He nodded. "Anyway. My whole life, I've been brought up and told that muggles and muggleborns were scum of the Earth; unworthy of such a wonderful gift of magic. My father always told me that when I was old enough and the Dark Lord had risen to full power I would be at his right side, his best and favorite Death Eater. He would tell me about all of the power that would entitle. I was excited, willing to do all that is necessary to get it. So, from the moment I started school, I tried to become my father. The cruel, cold man that he was. Then when I met Potter and Weaselbee, I was jealous. Since Potter already was known as the most powerful wizard of our generation for defeating the Dark Lord, I would make him my friend. Get him to share with me some of the glory. But, he turned me down. Called me the wrong sort. Ever since then, I've hated him. Done whatever I could to get him to fall from favor. Nothing ever worked." 

Hermione sat and listened. Intrigued that she was hearing a story she never knew and never thought she would. She was actually hearing Draco Malfoy's version of their lives. It was almost too much. But, she couldn't bring herself it interrupt or insert some witty comment. So, all she could do was listen. 

"Through the years, I would taunt and ridicule Potter and his little followers. Especially his little mudblood, Granger." Hermione wasn't sure she wanted to hear this, but to say so would be giving herself away, so she remained silent. "She was smarter then me. Something I was told growing up was impossible. No mudblood should be smarter then a pureblood. It was unheard of and insulting. So, I tried to excel, to beat her at everything. I would fail and my father would show me what he thought of that failure. He would slap me around, hit me with his precious cane. However, the moment the Dark Lord rose again two years ago, that stopped." 

He took a deep breath and looked her in the eye, almost as if to decipher what she was thinking. He must have seen something for he continued, "He suddenly became busy; was never home. I didn't mind much. I got to spend more and more time with my mum, the most wonderful woman I have ever known. Until the day he came back, with the Dark Lord with him and all his followers. My father took me and my mum aside, told us the Dark Lord would be using our house from now on. I didn't matter much at first, I thought was going to get powerful and have wizards and witches fall to my feet. Then, the Dark Lord gave me a task. The task to kill Dumbledore." 

Here it comes. Hermione thought. 

"I didn't want to do. I never wanted to kill anyone. I just wanted power. But, when it came down to it, I was forced with the Dark Mark. I even had to torture a family to do it. It ruined me to do it, made me cry myself to sleep, but I still did it. I was afraid I would be killed, along with my mum, if I didn't. When I did, I was branded and given the task. If I were to fail, the consequences would be severe. They were right. I tried and tried to find ways to kill Dumbledore that didn't include me doing it myself. The poison, the cursed necklace. When all failed, I had no choice. The guilt was eating me up inside, but there was no other way. I had to protect myself and my family. Even that didn't matter in the end. For when I chickened out at the end of last year and Snape had to cover for me I feel from favor; angered the Dark Lord. The moment he found out even Snape failed he was enraged. Snape and I were tortured together, every Death Eater taking a turn. Including my father." 

Hermione had tears in her eyes. This was terrible and she never thought that the boy who was spoiled rotten was treated so terribly. The fates have been cruel, it seemed, on both sides of the fence. 

He looked paler then usual and sick from the memories. Hermione wanted to make it stop but it looked like he needed to go on. To get it off his chest, to tell someone who wouldn't hurt him. "It lasted for days until they felt I'd learned my lesson. Afterwards, they locked me in my room. My only allowed visitor was my mum, who would heal my wounds and bring me food. She would stay until she was forced to leave. My father visited once, to say he was sorry. That he wished he hadn't brought this upon me, upon us. He could finally see what he had become. But it was already too late. We were stuck and we all knew it. So when Dumbledore sent a letter telling me I could return because he could see I wasn't like them, wasn't a killer, Voldemort jumped at the opportunity. He said that this way, I could spy and give them a way to enter the building again, help them win. So I came back, wishing immediately that I didn't. That is, until I saw you." 

She lifted her face from his shoulder to look into his cold, hurt eyes. He leaned his forehead against hers, closing his eyes. "Meeting you was the best thing that has ever happened to my poor excuse of a life. I didn't think it was possible for me to love after the way I'd been raised and the way I've acted. I didn't think I'd gotten that right. But, here you are and, by some miracle, you love me back. After feeling the way you make me feel, I can't bring myself imagining not having you in my life. I refuse to lose the way I feel when I'm with you. Nothing can break me from you. I just fear where we go from here. I never wanted to bring you into my cruel world, but here you are anyway. Please, don't ever leave me alone in this black world again." 

Hermione didn't know what to say. He had told her every bit of his life, his struggle. For years she thought he was pampered and spoiled, never had to fight a day in his life. Yet, here she was being told he's been tortured and beaten; by his own father no less. It seemed that not only had he brought life into her shattered world, but she'd done the same for him without knowing it. Hermione made a decision. Even if this was a task given to her by Dumbledore, she would use it to her advantage. She would free Draco from his prison do anything in her power to make sure it never happens to him again. She was starting to see the cruel boy she grew up with disappear and a new man taking over. She was going to keep it that way. 

Removing her arms from around his neck, she cradled his face in her hands, pushing him away so he could look her in the eyes again. "It doesn't matter what you have done, Draco. That doesn't matter to me, as long as you are who you are when you are with me. I love you for you. No one else and no other reason. I never thought I could love and quite honestly I never wanted to. I always thought love would cripple me, drown me in sorrow. But, this feeling isn't crippling or a distraction. It is painful, but it's also right. So right that even if you'd killed someone before I wouldn't care. I've done my own fair share of horror to people, so who am I to judge?" 

She chuckled and saw him smile. Good, she wanted that smile there. "So don't be ashamed to tell me the truth about anything. I'm yours, now and always. So, get used to me being here. Because I'm not going anywhere." 

He looked into her eyes and smiled. Apparently, knowing that she knew everything and that she didn't care was unbelievable to him. For when he looked at her, he wasn't seeing her. He was seeing something he never thought he'd see… 

True love… and that scared Hermione more then that scared him. 

Then they kissed, kissed like there was no tomorrow and no war. Like there was no pain or misery, just each other. Both of them were damaged, broken by the terror they'd seen or done. And now here they are, finding that their damaged halves fit together perfectly, bringing them back together again. Too bad that it was the worst possibly timing in the world. 

Fate, it seemed, had a cruel way of rearing her head. 

"What did I do to deserve you?" He whispered as they broke apart. 

She kissed the side of his neck and laid her head on his shoulder, a smile on her face. "I'm not sure. Maybe it was the inexplicit charm of your handsome face that won me over." 

It had to desired effect. He laughed. "Yes, well. My father did get that part right. If I'm to be a disgrace, at least I'm going to look good when I am." 

She giggled. "Fair enough." Since they were being honest, she felt now would be the best time to bring this up. "I need to know one more thing." 

He froze, "What?" 

She took a deep breath, "Why is it that Crabbe and Goyle are really protective of me? Why did I go to get a Halloween costume, only to be told that someone told the owner to give me the best and most expensive, all costs paid?" 

He didn't say anything. Which made Hermione worried. "Because, despite how much you love me, I know it wasn't you. You know me well enough that I would get upset at being protected like that." 

He sighed. "I'm not supposed to say. I'm under strict orders to not until the time came." 

She sat up and looked at his face, grabbing his hands to hold firmly in hers. "Tell me. I need to know." 

He hesitated, but eventually nodded his head. "Are you sure you want to hear this? You won't like it, I certainly don't." 

She nodded. "I'm sure." 

"When they come, you must promise me you'll not tell them that I told you." He looked so scared that Hermione was tempted to take it back. 

But, not quite that tempted. This was important and she needed to know. "You have my word, Draco. You know that." 

He looked down and tried to compose himself. A few minutes later he looked back up at her again, tears in his eyes. "It's the Dark Lord. He's ordered your protection. He wants you to be made completely comfortable. He doesn't want to risk losing you or your power to the other side." 

Hermione knew that was coming, but she didn't think that it would be so soon. She found herself frozen, unable to breath. Voldemort knew she existed, knew she was at Hogwarts. He must have noticed Dumbledore taking such an interest in her over the last year. (Technically.) He probably figures anyone that Dumbledore is willing to waste precious time on must be important, especially in times like these. 

Draco was watching her intently, judging her reactions. "I'm so sorry. I didn't want to tell you… say something, please!" 

Her silence must have been alarming him, so she composed herself and gave Draco a little smile. "Well, at least now I know and can prepare myself. When is this supposed to happen?" She'd need to, after all, tell Dumbledore a rough estimation. 

Draco frowned and flinched. "November 23rd, I believe, was the plan. I was supposed to lure you in with the idea of power so that he can get you eager. I guess I ruined my task, yet again." 

November 23rd. A month away. A month to prepare. That wasn't much time and Hermione wasn't very happy with it either. But, it would have to work. And from the look on Draco's face, she might not make it through the meeting unscathed either. 

She laid a hand on his face again. She just didn't want to see that terrified look on his face again. Especially if it was for her safety. "I'll be fine. I've survived the worst possible situations on the streets. I can handle the Dark Lord. I promise you that. Even if I fall apart, I'll have you to bring me back together. Won't I?" 

He laid his hand on top of hers. "Yes. You can count on that." 

He smirked and kissed her gently. She sighed into the kiss and tried to make the feelings of unease disappear, leaving her feeling happy and content. She was with the guy she loved and as the warmth of his kiss spread through her, she had a good feeling that despite what terrors lie ahead, everything would find a way to work out in the end. It had to. Hermione had to believe in that fact, so she did whole heartedly.
And as the kiss between the two got deeper, so did their love… just as the leaves of the tree started to cascade to the ground, covering them with sunlit, beauty. 

((Long long chapter. I hope you liked it. Please review. And to everyone that has been a faithful reader of this story and kept up with it chapter after chapter, you guys rock. I honestly love you guys and hope I meet your expectations! Thanks!))

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