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“But you promise you’ll actually apologise. Sincerely?” Harry muttered to Ron as they stood next to the kitchen fire.


“For the last time, yes.” Ron said. “I was going to do it already, but Ginny said I can’t do it in a letter.”


“Don’t be stupid.” Ginny said. “Hermione’s one of your best friends, and you hurt her a lot. She deserves a face-to-face apology, at least.”


“I know.” Ron sighed. “But you know how flustered I get sometimes. There’s less chance of me saying something stupid in a letter.”


“It’ll be fine.” Harry said, “As soon as you see her in the common room, say ‘I’m sorry’, then if you muck it up and say something dumb after, at least you did get that part out.”


“Right, sorry first.”


Mrs. Weasley bustled into the kitchen with an armload of odds and ends. “Ginny, dear, you almost forgot your charms book in the bathroom.”


“Oops, thanks Mom.”


“Ron, you left your new sweater on the bed.” This year, it was a colour Mrs. Weasley swore was a light crimson, but to everyone else, it looked pink. “And I’ve packed a few snacks for everyone. Turkey sandwiches, some of that fudge Tonks brought us, and Harry I’ve packed you the last of the treacle tart.”


“Thanks, Mrs. Weasley.” Harry said, hugging the stout woman.


“You do know they feed us there, right?” Ron said, throwing his pink sweater over his shoulder.


“It’s not the same as home-cooking. Now, have a good rest of term. Wrtie me soon, and stay out of trouble.”


There were hugs and kisses all around before Mrs. Weasley ushered them through the fire and they fell out in Professor McGonagall’s office.


“Welcome back Ginny, Harry, nice sweater Ron.”


“Do you want it, Professor? It would be a great colour on you.”


“Stop complaining, I love your mom’s sweaters.” Harry said, sporting his own green sweater with a pattern of red stags and lightning bolts on the front. Harry thought it might just be his new favorite sweater.


“Easy for you to say, yours isn’t pink.”


They made their way up to the Gryffindor common room, and Ron immediately started looking for Hermione. Luckily, Lavender didn’t seem to be back yet, but Hermione didn’t seem to be there either. Ron asked around and Pavarti Patil said she’d seen her earlier, but she’d gone out somewhere a few hours ago. Probably the library, Ron thought.


“Harry, can I borrow your map? I want to find Hermione before Lavender gets here.”


Hermione had gotten there several hours earlier to make sure she’d be ready for whatever happened. She had made Draco promise to meet her at the top of the Astronomy tower as soon as he got back to Hogwarts. “If I make it back,” Draco had said. Hermione had been waiting up there since ten in the morning, and was planning to wait all night if she had to.


Harry dug through his trunk until he found the parchment and left it with Ron before going back out to the common room. Ran sat on the edge of his bed, scanning the map. Hermione’s name wasn’t in the library, Gryffindor tower, or in any of the expected hallways between the two. Ron was about to start searching the great hall, which was packed with names moving every which way, when he suddenly saw her name out in the corner of the map. She was all alone in the astronomy tower, pacing back and forth.


“Why would she be there?” Ron asked himself. “What is she doing up there all alone?”


A sinking feeling settled in his stomach. Maybe she was avoiding him and Harry. She knew they’d be back soon, had things gotten so bad that she was actively avoiding him? That was when Ron saw another name snaking its way past his thumb, up the tower. Draco Malfoy’s name was slowly climbing the astronomy tower towards Hermione’s name. And there wasn’t another soul near them.


“Oh no.” Ron whispered.


He dropped the map on his bed and took off. He weaved through the throng in the common room, pushing Dean out of the way and running out the portrait hole. Any minute now, Hermione was going to be cornered, all alone, with their biggest enemy in Hogwarts. He had to save her. It was all Ron’s fault, he thought as he ran, taking stairs two at a time. If only he’d apologised earlier, or sent that letter during the holidays. Hermione would have stayed in the common room to meet them and she’d have been safe. If Malfoy touched her, Ron would kill him.






Draco had laid on the marble floor for some time after he heard Amycus leave. Slowly, he let his eyes open. He rolled over slowly and got to his knees, coughing and holding his head. New blood splattered the grey stone and he couldn’t be sure if it was from coughing or from the cut below his eye. He tried to straighten up, but a searing pain shot through his chest and ribs. Draco crawled his way to the heavy oak door and used the door jamb to pull himself up. Now standing, he leaned against the wall a moment, feeling dizzy and nauseous. He hadn’t been beaten this badly in a long time. Amycus was skilled at torture and punishment, not only with magic, but with his heavy boots too when Draco had fallen to the ground. Draco pushed open the door and made his way down the hallway, one hand gripping his rib cage, the other bracing himself against the wall as he staggered along.


It wasn’t long before his mother found him. She slipped her arms around him to help hold him up.


“Thank God, when I saw Amycus leave, I thought…”


“I’ll be fine, mother. There’s nothing to worry about.” Draco said, holding back a moan of pain.


“Come, let’s get you into bed so I can fix you up.”


“No.” Draco stopped. “I have to get back to Hogwarts.”


“You can’t go back now. I’ll write them saying you fell ill, you’ll stay here this semester.”


“I can’t. I have to finish things now. Don’t you see, that’s why he spared me.”


Narcissa was growing frantic, touching her son’s face. “A week then. You’ll go back when you recover.”


“I’m fine, I have to go back now.” Draco said. “Snape can fix any injuries. I have to go back.”


Narcissa stayed quiet as she helped Draco along the corridor. When he made it to the main hall and started toward the fire place, she began panicking again.


“Draco, you can’t.” She wept, wiping at the blood still dripping from his cut cheek. “My Draco, my boy.” She tried to reach for Draco’s shirt and look at his chest, but Draco backed away, still holding his ribs.


“Everything’s fine, I’ll be fine. But I need to go.” Draco kissed her cheek. “Don’t worry, I’ll fix everything. Nothing is going to happen to us, I’ll make sure of it.”


Draco made a show of standing up straight and striding into the green flames, taking him to Hogwarts. But as soon as he had made it through, he collapsed onto Severus Snape’s office floor, wincing and barely holding back a yell.


“What have you done?” Snape rushed to his side, looking down at the state of the boy.
Whoever had done this had known what he was doing. There were no visible injuries, except a small cut on Draco’s cheek and dried blood around his lips and nose. Snape leaned down and lifted Draco’s shirt, surveying a huge purple bruise across most of his side, and several long gashes which still oozed blood. Draco moved to sit up, but Severus pushed him down again. The man pulled out his wand and cast a healing spell to stop the blood, but nothing happened.


“Leave it.” Draco moaned.


“What?”


“Amycus, he did a spell so my injuries can’t be healed by magic.”


“Why?”


“Because they wanted me to suffer.” Draco muttered, trying to stand up. Snape helped pull the boy to his feet, Draco letting out another moan of anguish.


“What did you do to anger them? Is Hermione safe?” Snape asked, his voice growing to a growl.


Draco nearly laughed. “She’s fine. I just tried to quit, that’s all.”


Snape’s eyes widened and his grip tightened on Draco’s arm. “It didn’t work?”


“Obviously not.” Draco scoffed, pushing himself away from Snape and towards the door.


“But-but you aren’t dead!”


“Not yet.” Draco muttered, opening the door to Snape’s office.


“Draco, come back!” Snape called.


Draco stopped and turned to his god father. “There’s nothing you can do for me now, Severus.”


He left the office, taking several back passages and making his way slowly up, up, up the castle’s many floors. He only had one thing on his mind. He had to get to Hermione. He had to make sure she was safe. He had to kiss her one more time. And if he bled out after that, so be it.


Hermione was still pacing the floor when Draco pushed open the door. She rushed to him and held his face in her hands.


“Thank God you’re alright!” Hermione kissed Draco and tried to hug him, but he backed up. “You aren’t alright, are you?”


“It’s nothing.” Draco whispered, “I’ll survive. All I needed was to come back to you.”


“Let me see.”


Draco held his hands to his ribs and shook his head. But Hermione folded her arms over her chest in her usual bossy way and Draco sighed.


“There’s nothing you can do.” Draco said as he began unbuttoning his shirt. “They used a spell so I can’t be healed by magic.”


“Oh, Draco.” Hermione whispered, surveying the extent of the damage.


The cuts on his chest had been slowly bleeding through his shirt, and the bruise on his side was quickly spreading, spanning nearly the whole left side of his ribcage. Hermione pulled out her wand to shine more light on Draco’s mutilated chest.


“We need to get these cuts bound up quickly.”


“I told you, they put a spell on me.” Draco whispered, wincing at the touch of Hermione’s cold fingers.


“Then I’ll have to do it the muggle way.”


Hermione wasted no time summoning a chair and several bandages which floated through the window from the hospital wing, no doubt. Draco sat down stiffly as Hermione slid his shirt off the rest of the way and began touching and prodding him. First she cleaned the gashes down his chest with a bit of water, then began bandaging them up. As she wrapped the fabric around, Draco nearly cried out from the pain. Hermione stroked his side gently and watched Draco’s face scrunch with the pain.


“I think you might have broken some ribs.” She started touching more carefully, searching them out. “At least two.”


“It wouldn’t surprise me.”


“They can heal. I’m more worried if they’ve punctured something or if you’re bleeding internally.”


“I don’t think so.” Draco said. “They wanted to hurt me, to make me suffer for a few weeks so I didn’t forget. He certainly didn’t want me to die.”


“I hope you’re right.” Hermione wrinkled her nose. “I can bandage the cuts and stop the bleeding, but I’m afraid there isn’t much I can do about your ribs. They’ll need to heal themselves, which can take time.”


“You’ve done enough already.” Draco smiled down at Hermione, kneeling in front of him. He stroked her cheek with the pad of his thumb and she smiled sadly up at him. Then, a great thumping noise came from the stairs and Hermione stood and turned to face it, just as Ron burst through the door, wand held high in front of him.


“Hermione!” Ron spluttered, out of breath. “You’re alright, but-“


“Ron, what are you doing here?” Hermione asked.


Ron let his wand drop a little. “On the map, Malfoy was…”


Then Draco moved behind Hermione, slipping his shirt on, covering his dark mark.

Ron’s wand was up again, and he pulled Hermione away from the chair.


“Stop it, Ron.” Hermione pushed back, squeezing out of Ron’s grip.


“Stay back, Hermione. What did you do to her?” He was pointing his wand at Malfoy’s face.


Draco stayed sitting on the chair, his shirt hanging open around his bandaged abdomen. “I didn’t do anything, look at her, she’s fine.”


“What was it? A confundus charm, the imperius?”


“Ron, please, I’m fine.”


Hermione tried to reach for Ron’s wand hand, but he pushed her away.


“I didn’t touch her, okay?” Draco shouted.


“Then why’s she up here with you, hmm?”


“Let’s just talk about this, Ron, put your wand away.”


“What did he make you do, Hermione?” Ron asked, still staring Draco down.


“Nothing happened, Ron. Draco was hurt, so I patched him up.”


“Draco! You’re calling him Draco?” Ron was still pointing his wand at Malfoy, but had turned to face Hermione now.


“Well, that is his name.”


“So you just came up here for some late night first-aid, did you?” Ron shouted.


Draco stood up slowly, holding his ribs.


“Look at his bandages, Ron. What did you expect me to do, let him bleed out all over the floor?”


Ron turned his whole body, brandishing his wand in Hermione’s direction. “This is Draco Malfoy, he’s been your sworn enemy since first year, he makes your life a living hell, and you’re going to help him, just like that?”


“He’s a human being, Ronald.” Hermione muttered.


“I’m not her enemy.” Draco said quietly from behind Ron. “I haven’t been for a long time.”


“Is this where you’ve been running away to all year? Up here to come see him?”


Hermione tried to push Ron’s wand away from her. “It’s not like that, Ron.” Hermione said.


“How stupid are you? He’s Malfoy! He’s the one who’s been hurting you since first year!”


“I’m stupid?” The worry on Hermione’s face blossomed into rage. “Draco’s not the one who’s refused to speak to me half the year. Draco’s not the one who whispers about how better off they are without me, right in front of me. Draco didn’t stop being friends with me just because he found someone to make out with in public! Draco’s girlfriend doesn’t exclaim loudly about how ugly I am every chance she gets!” Hermione was shouting now.


With every insult, Hermione was jabbing Ron in the chest with her finger. Slowly, Ron was backing up against the door, his wand hanging at his side, fearfully looking at the girl, wandless and so much shorter than him, who looked like she might just kill him. Draco backed well out of the way, knowing better than to get in Hermione’s way.


“Do you know what the first words Draco ever said about me were? He said, ‘she ought to do something about that hair’, he wasn’t prince charming, but he wasn’t wrong. Do you remember what you said Ron? You turned to Harry and you said, ‘mental, that one is’. You thought I didn’t hear you. You always think that, but I hear every word.” Hermione laughed sardonically. “You honestly believe Draco Malfoy is the worst thing to walk into my life, Ron? Are you really that stupid? There’s been one man trying to put me in my place since the start, who swears he cares about me as long as I continue to be this ideal person he’s made up in his head, and the second, THE SECOND I cross over that line, I’m a little too political, or a little too smart, or a little too concerned about consequences, or I act for a second like I might be a girl and not just one of the guys, then he tears me to shreds. Painfully and publicly, he demands that either I go back to pretending I’m some person I have never been, or else he’ll never care about me ever again. That man isn’t Draco, Ronald, it’s you. It’s always been you.”


Hermione paused, and Ron stared down at her like he’d never seen the girl in front of him before. Draco stepped closer to Hermione and placed his hand on her back as she wiped at her tears.


“You’re choosing him over me, aren’t you?” Ron said, the anger in him boiling down to a whisper.


“I’m tired of it, Ron. If you want to be my friend, then start acting like it. If you don’t, there’s the door.”


Ron stared at the two of them. Hermione staring back at him with rage in her eyes and a grimace on her lips. Draco looked at Ron with nothing but pity.


“Fine.” Ron whispered. He looked from Draco to Hermione. “Fine!” He shouted, storming out and slamming the door behind him.
 

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