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Hello everyone! I’m back from my holiday and ready with another chapter. I really enjoyed writing it too, was up until two in the morning. Anyway, I hope you like it just as much as I did after that horrible wait. CHAPTER 8 Screams rent the dark chilled night. Flocks of frightened birds sped across the sky while lights in houses began switching on one after the other and the sound of babies cries added to the disturbance. Just as suddenly an eerie silence surmounted the tiny village before an eruption of doors slammed open from all corners and people began filing in the street, each asking questions to their neighbours and receiving confused answers. One man struggled to disentangle his way out of the alarmed rabble and with a ladder climb onto the roof of his old dusty cottage. He cupped his hands around his mouth and called for silence. His order was granted; the crowd froze in shock and looked up to see the perpetrator. Now that the terrifying and mysterious screams had stopped, they were able to hear the man properly. He was short and stout, middle aged. Not usually one to seize attention in social groups, he now stood before them grave and wary, the only one who could keep a steady mind. He began by calming the nervous women, telling them to go back to their rooms and look after their children. He then addressed the men. One by one they took orders, not objecting to his command. Soon they set out armed with guns and farm tools as they searched the outskirts of the forest, which neighboured their vulnerable hamlet, hoping to find the cause of such a late hour panic. The search did not last long, as the object of their search was soon discovered, buried in a heap of rocks and leaves. ^*^*^*^*^ Draco Malfoy stood straight and tall overlooking the moonlit lake that he had crossed upon arrival at the ancient school that was Hogwarts. It didn’t stir the least bit, in fact it mirrored his expression; still and unreadable. Even the air was tranquil and not a sound disturbed the darkness. A hand reached his shoulder but it took a few moments before he turned around to face the girl with the frizzy brown hair. A soft breeze began to play with his own blond hair. ‘Granger.’ He said without seeming surprised. ‘Malfoy?’ Hermione on the other hand was not expecting this face to meet her gaze. ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘I may ask you the same question.’ He said calmly. This was not like Malfoy, he seemed changed. ‘I-uh’ She stammered. Why was she there? ‘The moon is full. Sit with me if you please.’ Obediently Hermione placed herself on the soft grass next to the person she had once feared and detested. But it felt different. It was peaceful. It was right. Hermione wanted to speak, but no words came from her lips. Instead, Draco began talking but it was a strange kind of language. ‘I could stay here forever. Under the moon’s rays and in this tranquillity.’ ‘It is lovely.’ Hermione agreed, somewhat perplexed. Was this really Malfoy? She noticed a wrinkle on his brow. ‘What is wrong?’ ‘Nothing can last. Soon it will be daylight, and my destiny will call me. I will never enjoy this sight again.’ Hermione frowned. ‘What are you talking about?’ Draco looked seriously into her eyes. ‘It’s funny where the roads of fate may lead you. Perhaps yours will be a happier one than mine.’ Hermione felt a wave of pity for this boy who looked so much younger than she had ever seen. Surely he couldn’t be the black hearted Death-Eater-To-Be that she had known. She took his hand in hers and gently squeezed it. ‘Perhaps yours will be better than you thought.’ She thought she saw a hint of a smile rise about his lips under the light of the glorious moon but suddenly his eyes widened with a terror that sent chills up and down Hermione’s back. A luminous cloud cast them into a sort of darkness and the breeze became a violent wind. Hermione stood up immediately, heart racing in her chest. It was all she could do but scream when the boy that had been right next to her began to suddenly transform. His shape enlarged, became more muscular and surmounts of hair or fur began sprouting all over his body. The face twisted and distorted into a hideous visage. A loud roar pierced the previously silent air. Before she could think, or move, she toppled over and everything went black. ^*^*^*^*^ ‘Miss, wake up. Can you hear me? How many fingers am I holding up?’ The voice was a distant echo in Hermione’s head. Why would anybody ask such foolish questions when she was trying to sleep? She tried to roll over but found that her body wouldn’t obey her wishes. This was frustrating. She began floating up into awareness and the voice grew stronger and louder. She managed to open one eye but her vision wavered. Somebody’s nose was inches away from her face but it was all very blurry. She groaned and immediately realised just how parched she felt. She thanked her lucky stars when a cup of water touched her dry lips and she began gulping down room temperature water. The cup was drawn away however when she began coughing slightly. What was wrong with her? Where was she? ‘It’s ok, she’s awake.’ Came the same masculine voice. ‘Probably a small concussion and apart from that a few bruises. She may take a few days to fully recover.’ What? What were they talking about? ‘You said she was found in the woods unconscious? You were right to call me immediately. Just make sure she gets plenty of rest.’ ‘Doctor, thank ya so much for yer time.’ Came a heavily accented voice that sounded a little like Hagrid. But this particular man was a lot softer spoken. ‘That’s ok. But tell me, has anyone been able to identify her yet? Do you know where she comes from?’ Asked the doctor with some concern. ‘Yeh, me wife’s best friend identified her as the young daughter of Mr. Granger from the other side o’ town. He owns a farm up tha’ way. But apparently he ain’t here. Gone overseas for some sort’ a reason.’ ‘Very well. I’ll leave it up to you then. Maybe you can find the person she called for in her sleep. What was it, Draco? Anyway, Have a good day Mr. Knightley.’ ‘Same ter ya.’ Hermione fell back into a deep sleep, this time dreamless. In the meantime, the Malfoy Manor was a place of utter anxiety. The elves scuttled about the place in a frenzy, some pulling their hair and ears. The chores were not getting done. And Master Malfoy was safely locked away in his room. Anger, frustration, fear, regret and sorrow overwhelmed the beast as he lay awkwardly on his mattress. He had not slept in two days, his mind plagued with the memory of his shock and sudden, unthinking rage. It had always been like that. His temper always got the better of him. Now his only chance of survival was gone, probably miles away. And it had only just occurred to him that she might not have gotten back home safely. A hint of guilt stung his heart. But it was her fault! How dare she stick her nose where it didn’t belong. How dare she drug him! Yet all these thoughts combined in his head to reveal one hidden regret. He didn’t want her to go. After her departure, the castle was back to its cold, moody and depressing state. Somehow she had made it lighter, happier. What am I thinking? He thought suddenly. He squashed a pillow heavily onto of his face and let out a muffled scream. ‘You are in love.’ Wait, did I just think that? But it isn’t true. ‘Shut up, I am not. This is Granger, the Mudblood we are talking about.’ He told himself firmly. ‘But you are in love. You let your guard down and she entered your heart.’ Ok, I’m sure I didn’t just think that. Unless I’ve got voices in my head! ‘Who is that? Why are you in my head?’ He growled. ‘I am not master, it is I, Bardy.’ The beast threw the pillow off his head and bolted to his feet. Oh. Right. ‘How did you get in here without magic? The door was firmly locked.’ Bardy’s lips twitched into a cheeky smile. He held up a slightly bent wire. ‘Miss Hermione taught us some very useful tricks during her stay.’ The beast remained silent. He didn’t want to think of her any more. He wanted his last remaining days to be spent in peace. Eventually he spoke. ‘What do you want?’ ‘I came to see how you were. Bardy was worried when you did not come out and thought the petals must have all dropped. But there is still one left.’ There was a sad note in his voice. ‘Only one?’ The beast tried not to sound surprised. Bardy nodded gravely. ‘It is not easy but I must discuss some matters with you sir. About when…you are gone.’ ‘You will be free. All of you.’ The beast said without hesitation. Bardy looked on the verge of tears. ‘Master Malfoy, it has been a pleasure serving you. You have shown strength like none other in your family. You have emerged a fine man at heart.’ The beast felt touched to hear his old friend speak in such a way. ‘I thank you for the kind words but I cannot pretend to live up to them. I have not been a good person in this miserable life of mine. But I have been privileged to know such a fine elf as yourself. You have taught me to grow more than my parents ever could.’ ‘But you are wrong sir. You have become a better person. Your father, or his father would never have befriended a silly old elf. They would never say we were to be freed. They would never have left the gate unlocked…’ The beast’s head shot up. ‘What? But I…’ ‘You purposefully left the gates unlocked so that Miss could leave if she wanted to. You could not keep her locked up against her will.’ ‘At first I did lock them but then…’ ‘You fell in love.’ Bardy finished the sentence. The beast fell into silence once again. It was finally sinking in. Now, that he had banished Hermione away from him forever, now that he had only days left to live, now that he realised he did not care for such trivial matters such as being a pure blood of muggle born, now that he regretted being the ferret he was back at school. He recalled the night Dumbledore had arrived at his abode and cast the spell on him. * ‘Malfoy, your heart is cold. I will give you a chance to redeem yourself but you only have a limited time. I have a rose. You will keep this rose safe for your own protection. You have until all the petals have fallen to change your heart or you will certainly die.' Dumbledore smiled. 'You have to make someone fall in love with you.' * ‘My heart was cold. But I have changed. If only I could prove it to him. But it is too late. Nobody will ever know that Draco Malfoy had a change of heart. Nobody will ever know that I was not like my father.’ ^*^*^*^*^ ‘Herm-own-ninny!’ Hermione stiffened at the unpleasant voice. Just what I need, she thought. Viktor strode across to the bedside where Hermione sat with a breakfast tray. His voice was filled with concern but his eyes showed little sign of real anxiety. She sometimes got the feeling that he wasn’t really in love with her. It was all a game. His infatuation grew from the fact that she was the only girl NOT interested in him. She was a challenge. Trying to hide her disgust, Hermione allowed a forced smile to greet the large nosed man. ‘Why Viktor, what are you doing here?’ ‘I ‘eard about your accident and came quickly.’ He grinned, and from behind his back he suddenly revealed a large bunch of…Butterfly Weed Flowers? Honestly! ‘Uh, thanks,’ Hermione said slowly and a bit unsure. ‘They are, beautiful.’ ‘Yes indeed. Go good with your…’air.’ Viktor said lamely. Hermione raised an eyebrow. ‘My hair is brown.’ Viktor stared blankly. Maybe he was colour blind because the orange flowers so blatantly did not suit he hair. Had he been drinking again? ‘Look Viktor-‘ ‘Vicky.’ He corrected. Hermione’s nerves itched. ‘Whatever. It is very nice of you to come here but really I am fine. I just need some rest.’ ‘Very vell my sveet.’ He bowed and left the room. Hermione could vaguely hear the sound of chatter from outside, recognising the gentle Mr. Knightley’s voice. He and his wife had been awfully kind to let her stay in their home but she would soon be off to her own place as soon as they allowed her. In the meantime Hermione slowly chewed away at her toast while contemplating on the recent events. As for the accident, all she remembered was running for her life in the deep dark forest before tripping. Everything had gone blank after the fall. Then she had the strange dream about Draco before waking up in this home. Images of her dream kept popping up in her mind and thoughts of her last night at the castle haunted her. She certainly hadn’t been prepared for the beast’s reaction though it was understandable (knowing his nature) and scolded herself about not taking extra precautions in case he woke. Which he had. Confusion made her head spin slightly so she lay her head onto the pillow. Many questions continued floating about her head. The beast, or Draco, had changed. He was not the evil and manipulative boy she had once known. He had proven his good qualities by treating her as a friend even though he must have known who she was all along. It occurred to her that his initial shock upon hearing her name the first time was due to his realisation of her identity. But he hadn’t thrown her out or acted nastily. He had welcomed her. And she had let him. Full realisation crept into her head. She had feelings for him. But how? He was an ugly beast. Surely it was impossible to fall in love with someone of another species? Be truthful Hermione, a voice in her head argued. You knew all along that there was more to him than what met the eye. And when you found out who he was you were almost relieved with happiness though you didn’t realise it then. What? That isn’t true… Of course it is true. You found familiarity with his eyes right from the beginning and that’s when it started. That’s why you were so easily led to suppose that Draco was the beast after finding the family tree. That’s why you pitied him and wanted to help him! Hermione squeezed her head between her hands. Was she going mad? Stop it, just stop it! The voice faded. Suddenly Viktor came bursting into the room and ran up to her, his eyes alert. ‘Vhat is this about Draco Malfoy?’ Hermione froze. How did he know? ‘The man said you spoke ‘is name, you were calling for ‘im!’ Viktor was flinging his arms around wildly. ‘Viktor please calm down!’ Hermione shouted. ‘Ee is alive? What did he do to you Herm-own-ninny?’ ‘Nothing, he did nothing!’ ‘Then vy vere you calling ‘is name? Vhat happened in the forest?’ He demanded. ‘Look, I got lost is all and fell into a ditch or something. Draco did nothing to me but treat me nicely so you leave him out of it.’ There was a silent pause. ‘You saw him?’ Hermione gulped. She had a bad feeling about this. ‘Yes…’ ‘He is a very evil vizard, my luv. You must tell me where ee is.’ Viktor said with forced calmness. ‘What? No you are wrong! He isn’t like that at all. He is actually really sweet.’ She said sadly. ‘Fine.’ Viktor snapped, looking furious. He got up and left the room. Hermione sighed with relief. That was close. It wasn’t until dinner that night that Hermione’s relief was shattered. Mr. Knightley was in a bothered mood and upon asking a few simple questions found the cause of his troubled situation. ‘I don’ know what that Viktor man is plannin’ but it must be serious. He seemed in a right rage earlier. Was sayin’ somethin’ about gettin’ some help and finding tha’ man you was talkin’ abou’ in yer dream.’ Hermione’s cutlery fell to the ground with a lot of noise sending Mrs. Knightley off her seat in fright. ‘When did he say he was leaving?’ She said in a rush. ‘In the mornin’ I think.’ ‘Oh Mr. Knightley, thankyou so much for your hospitality but you must let me go. I am perfectly alright now.’ ‘You cannot mean ta go along with ‘im do ya?’ The man said with surprise. ‘That I do sir. I have no choice. And really, it is nothing to worry about.’ ‘Well please remain the night miss, for they won’ be gone until mornin’.’ To keep the family from unnecessary concern, Hermione agreed to spend one last night in their company. But she would leave early the next morning to stop Viktor Krum once and for all from making the biggest mistake of his life.

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