Blaise Zabini dragged himself along the corridor, his heart hammering painfully in his chest. Pansy had gone to get help . . . When she had found him, he had been unconscious with blood leaking from the wound in his side, but after she’d screamed it to the whole world, he’d woken up and scolded her to go and get help.
Now the walls on either side of him were fading to a blur, greying until he found himself stumbling, tripping over his own feet, clutching at the place where he had been stabbed, blood leaking out from between his fingers. He had to tell Hermione, he had to let her know before it was too late . . .
They stepped away from the fireplace, leaving the veiling cloak of shadow behind them. The dancing fire still lingered green behind them, throbbing with power and intensity as it leapt and danced about the crackling logs.
“Are you ok?” asked Harry as he pulled Hermione away from the gloom, watching her closely with seriousness. “I know this must be hard for you.”
Hermione attempted a smile but it came out as a grimace. “I’m fine,” she grated the words through her teeth. “It’s you we should all be worried about. I mean, we haven’t even got a plan and we’ve jumped into this without thinking.”
“Well, there’s a life in danger.”
“All our lives are in danger,” impressed Hermione sternly. “I love Ryan, but I just feel so selfish, asking you to do all this for me and him.”
Harry nodded and squeezed her shoulder comfortingly. “It’s ok, we’re your friends. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t want to see you happy. We’ll be fine,” he tried to assure her, although Hermione could see the doubt enter his eyes at that declarative. “We can do this.”
“Come on,” hissed Draco, turning round to regard them all coldly. “Do you want to get caught or something? We should stick to the shadows and passageways.”
He nodded. “Yes, I’ve explored them all since I was a child . . . Come on, we’re too exposed here.”
Hermione let him take her arm firmly and lead her along the corridor, Ron glowering jealously. Harry and Ginny brought up the rear, holding hands, wands out and ready should anything attack their defence. Hermione felt the familiar coil of dread spiral throughout her veins and knot as dread at the pit of her stomach. Wincing, she tried to concentrate on the job at hand. She couldn’t allow herself to make any mistakes - it was Ryan’s life at stake here, and Harry’s. Oh, why didn’t they have a plan? Why could they not have had more time?
“Let’s split up,” said Harry at last when Draco slid aside a portrait to reveal a tiny door encrusted in the alcove. They all crouched down to step inside slowly, shutting it carefully behind them. “I’ll go with Ginny - Hermione, you should stay with Malfoy. It’s your choice Ron - where do you want to go?”
Ron rolled his eyes and snorted, stepping closer to his sister. “Well, I’m not hanging around with him for a start,” he declared pointedly, watching Draco with nasty eyes.
“Ron, you should stop being so accusing and stop to think - Draco’s here with us, isn’t he? He’s helping us. Not many people would do that, not even friends.” She took a breath and closed her eyes. “Look, can we all just agree to be civil? We’re in this together, and if we fail . . .”
“Hey, it’s ok,” Draco assured her, brushing his manicured fingers smoothly against her arm, causing a shudder of delight to ripple through her blood. “We just need to concentrate and we’ll be fine.”
Hermione met his eyes, cold and steely yet full of determination. She swallowed hard and nodded. “Thank you for being here, Draco.”
“Oh, don’t make me sick,” spat Ron scornfully, moving away. “Come on Harry, Ginny . . . Lets get a move on. The sooner this is over the better.”
Harry nodded. “We’re going to search the upper parts of the manor. You two scan the lower. Good luck.”
Hermione gave him a quick hug, kissing him softly on the cheek before stepping back and embracing Ron and Ginny, ignoring Ron’s protests. “Be careful.”
“Come on,” whispered Draco, clutching his cool fingers about Hermione’s. “Let’s go.”
Allowing Draco to lead the way through the twisting snaking passageway, she used the light of her wand to guide her through the gloom. Her heart was hammering heavily with reluctance - what if they were too late? What if one of the others got hurt? It would all be because of her. She closed her eyes and found her footsteps slowing. Draco stopped and turned to regard her with concern.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” she lied.
He loosened his hands from hers and held her eye sharply. “No you’re not - look at you - you’re shaking. Your face is bone white. Look, Hermione . . . I know this is hard, ok? But we’ve got to keep a straight head - if we let ourselves down, if we -”
“ - I know,” she interrupted firmly. “It’s just it’s hard, that’s all.”
His body warmth brushed against hers and she felt another pleasant shudder shake through her. His hands came up to brush a tendril of hair away from her eyes and he offered her a reassuring smile. “It will be ok, I won’t let you get hurt. I promise.”
Nodding, she thanked him and turned her mind to the task ahead, following him through the curving corridors that were thin and secret, layered with carpets of dust and silvered spider webs that shook in the slight draught and the blue-light of the wands. Hermione would have thought it all beautiful, this place of secrets and silence, if it weren’t for the panic that lay ahead, and the twisted fear that shuddered inside of her that somehow, someone was going to get hurt. She thought of Harry, Ron and Ginny, her best-friends for years that had passed - the blackness of evil that lay ahead was an assurance that they were risking their lives for her sake. They knew the danger involved and yet they were still doing this - that was a mark of true friendship. Her eyes lingered on Draco’s back.
“I’m sorry you had to be involved in all this,” she whispered, feeling the tears welling up in her eyes. “I’m so sorry . . .”
Draco slowed his steps a little but didn’t stop. She saw his blonde head shake as he responded to her apology. “What do you mean? We’re friends, Hermione - I couldn’t not help you.”
“Yes,” she agreed, “but you’ve lost a friend because of it.”
“Blaise,” she reminded him gently. “I’m sorry he had to die because of me.”
“Hey,” he said softly, turning around this time and pulling her firmly into his arms. “It’s not your fault. Blaise was just . . . unlucky. We shouldn’t be thinking about that right now - it’s too distracting. We’ve got to concentrate. We can leave our grievances until afterwards.”
Hermione nodded. “Thank you, for everything you’ve done.”
Draco’s lips closed in on hers, a soft, warm lingering kiss hanging over her lips. He pulled back almost as soon as he had begun, so that she wanted to pull him closer again and share that warmth forever, to stay away from this cold unknown and share a time with him where they could forget everything, like no one else existed. At least then she wouldn’t have to fear for anyone - Draco and she could look after themselves. Such a world of selfishness poisoned her mind -how could she think such a thing? Everyone was here for her and she was thinking of running away! The awfulness struck her to self-loathing and she bit her lip.
“Come on,” she instructed, stepping forward again and walking with more pace down the hallway, the dust choking as it rose in mists beneath her shoes. “Let’s get this over and done with.”
They continued until her legs ached and she thought they could go no further. The whole passageway seemed to be endless, descending until the heat was replaced for cold and she felt a shiver rush through her bones and grace her soul until she felt her whole body was almost frozen with fear. Where were the Death Eaters? They would be there, waiting for them. She glanced at her wrist and caught sight of the time written there with the pointed dials. They had forty-five minutes, so why did it seem like they’d been travelling for hours and not minutes? She watched her breath cloud and frost the air in a white vapour. Draco stopped suddenly and turned to glance at her.
“We’re here,” he informed her. “This is the entrance to the dungeons. If he’s anywhere, then it would be here.”
“So why did you agree to the others going the other way?” she asked him slowly. “If you knew Ryan would be here, why did you let them -?”
“ -I wasn’t entirely sure,” he interrupted hastily. “I just had this feeling . . . but we’ve not got the time to waste to trust on feelings, have we? So this is my best guess, and we’re going to take it. Let the others take the other direction if they want - it’s best to be thorough in our search. Now be quiet, unless you want us to get caught.”
His sudden rebuke prickled sharply at her heart but she fell silent in any case, to avoid the danger if that was even possible. Draco’s hands ran along the edge of the sharp grey wall, feeling the slick ice there and searching for a door there. He stopped and closed his eyes, his ear pressed up against the surface. Hermione waited impatiently. After about another minute had passed, Draco turned to glance at her.
“Do you hear anything?” she hissed a demand, to which he shook his head.
“No, nothing. I think we’re safe to go in.”
Nodding, swallowing back the nausea, Hermione watched as he pushed open the wall, that appeared to be a tiny doorway in disguise. His body wriggled through and she lost sight of him before his hand appeared through the small hole. “Come on,” he whispered sharply. “Hurry up.”
Hermione crouched down to the floor, not even thinking of the filth her robes were sure to pick up there. She tried to make her slight frame as tiny as possible, and using her hands, forced her way through. The squeeze was tight but she made it, breathlessly appearing on the other side. Draco grabbed her dirty hands and pulled her forwards, their feet tip-toeing softly upon the stone-flagged floor.
“It’s so cold,” she shivered, her teeth chattering.
“It’s the dungeons,” replied Draco carelessly, dropping her hand and pulling his wand back out of his pocket again. His silver eyes lit the darkness and Hermione followed the white of his pale hair. She allowed her gaze to drift slowly about the room, taking everything in with curiosity. There were no windows - it was grey and drizzled, with pallid flickering flames driving back the shadows. The trickle of water captured her attention and the floor was slick with ice. Along either side of her were thick iron bars across doorways, then solid flat walls. She shivered at the thought of Ryan being hurt and bloody inside one of them.
“He’s not here,” sighed Draco at last, after peering into each of the chambers. He narrowed his eyes and glowered furiously. “They must have suspected this was the first place we would have come.” Shaking his head, he ran frantic hands through his hair and closed his eyes. “Perhaps you should give up.”
“What?” she gasped, inhaling the cold air sharply and goggling at him. “How can you even suggest such a thing? You know how much I love Ryan! You know I can’t give up on him.”
“He’s probably dead,” Draco spat disgustedly, turning away from her to walk away. “It’s useless anyway. The Dark Lord’s going to win.”
“You can’t just give up like that! He could be anywhere! Harry and the others might have found him.”
“Yeah, right,” he laughed softly, rolling his eyes. “He’s not going to be anywhere - or maybe they threw his corpse out for the maggots to eat.”
“Why are you being like this?” she snapped, feeling angry tears begin to leak down her face. “Why are you being so cruel?”
A slow smile crept upon his face, callous and full of malicious intentions. “Why am I being so cruel?” he sneered. “Tell me Granger, when have I not been cruel to your eyes?”
She shook her head desperately. “What are you doing? Draco - you’re my friend.”
“Friend?” he laughed again, this time a sound that prickled inklings of horror through her mind. “I’m not your friend, Mudblood. I’m not anyone’s friend. I’m just a man struggling to make something of his life.”
“Don’t call me that,” he snarled harshly. “I’m Malfoy to you, and always will be. God, Granger - do you know how difficult its been, pretending to like you? Pretending to find you attractive? Its been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life. Every time I look at you, I feel myself curl up with disgust. I want to hurt you, to fire insults at you - but the worst part is I can’t! I have to sugar my words up; I have to coat my voice up in honey instead of hate and pretend that I feel companionship and general warmth towards you!”
“Please, I don’t understand . . . What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that this has all been a trick,” he scoffed, his eyes lighting up with humour. “I’m saying, I hate you Hermione Granger - I think you’re nothing but a filthy little Mudblood, a vain bitch who thinks she’s suddenly Merlin’s gift to men. I’m saying that you disgust me, from every inch of my body - my feet to my head - you make me shudder, and kissing you was like kissing flobberworm mucas. Pretending to like you was like trying to battle a dragon, and touching you made me seethe and sicken to the point of revulsion!”
Hermione was stunned. The hurt of the words did not so much conflict the surprise that suddenly, this person she had trusted for so long, this person she had thought had liked her and been on her side, was nothing but a liar and a trickster.
“So when you said we were friends . . .”
He sniggered. “You’re too trusting for your own good - that’s what makes you an idiot, that’s why I knew I could fool you. I knew that after you came back from the summer, a kiss would trigger your vanity. I’ve been a Death Eater for months now, Granger, and this is my first task. I had no idea it would be so easy. I had no idea you were such a fool.”
“Please tell me this isn’t true,” she begged, shaking her head furiously, refusing to believe it. “You can’t be telling the truth . . . That would mean -”
“That I’ve led you in this direction all along?” he smiled. “Well done, beaver, you’ve finally got something right! You stepped into my trap, you followed the path I set out for you all the way. How the hell could you believe that a Slytherin would generally want to make friends with you? Do you think, that after all these years of hating you, I would suddenly want to be your friend? Did you honestly think that I’d just come along and beg for your forgiveness? All I had to do was act like I fancied you and you’d think that you were good-looking enough for that to be true? Well, guess what, slag, I go for girls who are Pure, not dirty little sluts like you.”
“Draco, please -” she sobbed, clutching onto his robes, staring into his eyes and searching frantically for some indication of a lie there. “You can’t be, you were so nice . . .”
“It was difficult, I admit, but I was sufficient and determined enough to deal with it.” He smirked at her with enmity. “Did you never wonder where I went off to at night?”
“To see Pansy, you said -”
“ - You are so fucking naive,” he snarled, pushing her hands away from him, knocking her to the floor with distaste. “I went to meet with the Death Eaters, you idiot, I went to report my progress to the Dark Lord.”
“You can’t - you couldn’t - Oh god, please don’t do this . . . Please let this all be a nightmare.”
Draco turned away and opened a dungeon door. He approached her and smiled nastily, grabbing her arms roughly and pinning them up against the wall. He was so close that she could feel the heat of his breath on her neck, and despite the revulsion she felt for him, she was ashamed to admit that still a lust of desire shafted through her at his incredible unblemished beauty. His hands wandered over until they reached her waist. She gasped at his warmth until his hands retreated with her wand clutched firmly inside of them. He chuckled dryly.
“You see? Despite all I’ve told you, you still want me.”
“That’s not true!” she protested in a half-scream. “I don’t want you at all.”
“Occulemency, Hermione,” he sneered, tapping his temple and turning away from him. “Do you not remember how I turned you against Blaise by telling you that he would take advantage of you? I of all people should know he would never do that. And I spread the rumour that he liked you, so that his girlfriend would dump him and make him even more suspicious. I thought that if you were going to suspect anyone, then it should be him. By warming you to me, I kept your beliefs firmly on my side. You’ll find that I can be very manipulative when I want to be. But it doesn’t matter now anyway, because Blaise is dead.”
“Because he found out - at first, the idiot thought it was all some kind of stupid game about who you would fall for first. Blaise likes competition - he wanted to beat me in winning your affection. And it seems he did. But then it got more serious than that - he walked in when I was changing to ask where you were, and he caught sight of my mark.” Draco scowled. “The idiot got all panicked at first, and then he swore he was going to give me away. I threatened him to stay away from you, and then everything would be safe - that I’d leave the pair of you alone. The idiot’s almost as naïve as you. He believed me. And then things got serious. He worked out what my little game was, and he tried to warn you, remember? Earlier on today when he burst into the room and you told him to go away? Well, I couldn’t have any of that, could I? I couldn’t risk my master plan failing because of some stupid fucked-up bastard having a panic. So when I slipped out to go to the bathroom and take some “fresh air”, I stabbed the idiot. He deserved it.”
“How could you? He was your best friend!” Everything was coming together now inside Hermione’s head. How much of a fool she’d been! All this time, she had walked into the danger provided. It all began to click like flashes of picture images inside her head. “And when you talked to Ryan . . . Did you talk to him? You didn’t, did you? You just let him go so that I would follow him!”
Draco nodded. “Did you not wonder why I was so keen on the pair of you getting back together? Did you seriously suspect nothing?”
“I thought you were being a friend -”
Draco cut her off by snorting. “Friend? Slytherins don’t need friends, Mudblood. In a world like this, you have to fight your way to the top.” He smiled and leaned back against the wall, toying with her wand between his hands, taunting her with his mocking sneer. “I let you use my owl to write him that letter to find out where he lived, but then the stupid bastard decided to turn up here instead. I had to get the pair of you out of here - you were the one who led Ryan into a trap the whole time. I put a tracking device into your pocket when I hugged you, remember? No, of course you don’t, you idiot! You don’t realise anything that’s right in front of your eyes. If I didn’t know better I’d say you needed glasses. Hogwarts is too protected to give access to the Death Eaters. I needed to get the pair of you somewhere else for them to attack you.”
“But why Ryan?”
“Because you love him, and Potter loves you as a friend - he’d do anything to make you and that prick Weasley happy. By getting to you, I was getting to him, and so the game plays on.”
“This isn’t a game, Draco!” she screamed furiously at him. “This is about real peoples lives! How could you do such a thing?”
“Easily,” he shrugged. “I mark it down to pure intelligence.”
“I mark it down to pure evil.”
Draco spurted forwards and grabbed hold of her wrists, bringing her close towards him, turning her around until he twisted her arms up onto her back, causing her to moan out in pain. He pushed her forward into one of the cells and pointed his wand savagely at her. “Don’t make a noise, or I’ll kill you.”
“Where are you going?” she whispered frantically, her sobs suddenly spurring out until her voice became a shaking scream. “You can’t just leave me here!”
He turned, slowly, icily, to face her with the purity of his malevolence. “I can do what I like. I’m in control here, Granger, and I’m going to seek out my lord. He’s on the upper levels of the manor - hopefully he’ll have caught your pathetic little friends by now.”
“Don’t you dare hurt them!”
“That’s not in my power to decide, Granger,” he smirked once again, backing slowly away, her wand still in his hands. He placed it carefully down on one of the shelves. “We’ll just have to see what happens.”
“Shut up, Mudblood.”
“Where . . . Where’s Ryan?” she dared to ask, her lips trembling slightly.
“Where do you think?” he chuckled vehemently. “Dead, you idiot girl.”
“No!” she screamed after him as his retreating back melted away into shadows. “He can’t be! Don’t lie to me . . . He can’t . . .”
She felt her back sinking against the wall, her tears absorbing her thoughts with each passing moment. This time there was no one to catch her as she fell, no one to hug her tightly and whisper away the tears. Hermione Granger was alone with her tears and her stupidity, her regrets seeping through like open wounds to drench her in her misery.
Author’s Note: All reviews shall be answered presently, I promise. Remember, not all is as it seems. *Takes a breath and braces self for the torrent of hate-mail* Just remember though people, before you insult me and tell me that you despise me, that in the end, this is MY story, and so the plot goes how I want it to.
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