Chapter 18 : Nightmare Game, Part Two
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For two whole weeks they continued to try and cure Hermione. Amadeus and Dumbledore used all their knowledge to create spells that could reach the unharmed sides of her mind. Every single day Draco entered her broken mind, searching for her spirit and her soul, never finding anything but shattered glass. Ron and Harry sat beside her bed, relentlessly telling her how special she was. Snape created potions that would ease the strain of her body and mind. McGonagall brought all Hermione's precious belongings to her, even letting Crookshanks sleep at the foot of her bed. Everyone took her recovery to their heart, but nothing helped. She was lost.
Finally came the time for decisions. They were aware of Voldemort's movements and his intention to declare an open war. Most of the werewolves and vampires were on his side, and the giants had chosen to side him as well. The situation looked gloomy for all the peace-loving witches and wizards.
It was decided then that Dumbledore and Amadeus would go gather an army of their own with the help of Amadeus's people, the Ancient Ones who rarely chose their side. The school would stay open, but well protected, and parents could choose not to send their children back. The threat against the school was very real. Headmistress McGonagall regained the strength of her mind, taking Hogwarts under her strict command.
To Harry's surprise, he was chosen to continue Amadeus's classes. Wandless magic had always been rather natural to him and the private teaching sessions with Amadeus had left him years ahead of his class mates.
All in all, everything returned to normal. After New Year, the school started with almost sixty percent of its student body ready to continue their studies.
As the other seventh year students prepared for their NEWTS, Draco continued to stay by Hermione's side. He only attended classes so he could teach her new things. He read to her constantly, keeping her informed about everything that happened in the outside world. He barely slept, barely ate. Nothing was more important than keeping her connected to the world she belonged.
Ron and Harry were as stubborn as he was. They sat by her bed, listening to him read, holding her hand occasionally, just being close, missing her.
Dumbledore and Amadeus had decided that it would be too risky to move Hermione to St. Mungo's, because Voldemort had her scent now, and his Patronus might be able to find her again. That was why specialist all over the country came to see her, trying to figure out if she had been tortured to insanity or if there was still something left to salvage. Every time a new Mediwizard Specialist arrived, hope rose among the three boys, yet every time they had to swallow their disappointment when absolutely nothing could be done for her.
A month after the attack, Hermione's parents came to Hogwarts for the first time. They had been so deep in hiding that even Dumbledore had had difficulties in finding them. Her mother, Mary, and her father, Oliver, barged into the Hospital Wing without a warning, making Draco drop the Daily Prophet he had been reading to Hermione. He looked at them suspiciously as they hurried to Hermione's side. Her mother looked nothing like her. She was a rather plump lady with square glasses, and her mousy hair had stripes of grey in it. Her face was neither kind nor cold; she just looked concerned.
"Are you the nurse?" she asked Draco, looking at him like he would, could and should save her child right now.
Her father, a skinny man with black hair and an odd smell about him, took Hermione's hand to his, trying her pulse. "It's strong and steady. What's supposedly wrong with her?"
Mary stared at her husband, hope lighting her face. "She's going to be all right. I told you. We have to get her to a proper hospital. They can help her. Real doctors can help her." She watched Draco intently, and when he still didn't speak, she commanded, "Say something," her patience running out.
Draco wanted to hide. He didn't know how to address Muggles. He had never really talked to any of them. He also knew that Hermione's parents had already lost one child to insanity. This would be too much for them. "I'm not the nurse," he blurted.
"Then what are you doing here at this hour?" her father asked. "You're not her boyfriend, are you?"
There was a certain amount of disdain in those words, and it made Draco tick. He wasn't good enough for their precious daughter? "What if I am?" he said, testing the ground, seeing the flare in her father's eyes.
"Don't, Oliver." Mary grabbed her husband's hand, guiding him to sit on one of the chairs that circled Hermione's bed. There were lots of chairs there. Many people came to sit beside her bed. Many missed her. She didn't even know how many people considered her as their friend.
Mary turned her attention back to Draco, her eyes less accusing, "I'm sorry. You seam like a nice man. We just heard about this. We were Apparated to Hogsmeade, and it just isn't the nicest way to travel." She seemed to get more and more hysterical with each word. "We're just tired. And nobody told us until now. She's so small, fragile. Hermione. She's not like that, you know. She's like a tiger... or a bull. Have you seen her like that? She's just so strong. We never really wanted to let her come here. Because of Christopher. And now look at her. She..."
She continued to babble, but Draco couldn't listen. It was just too much information. He didn't want to know these people or their motives. He just wanted to be alone with Hermione. But from now on, these people would be there as well. He couldn't be so open anymore. Even Ron and Harry were bearable, because they stayed quiet most of the time. They listened.
"Did you hear me?" Mary seemed to want to wave a hand in front of his eyes, but fortunately she didn't. It was just so much one could bear.
Draco stood abruptly, quickly explaining, "I have to go. Nice to meet... Madam Pomfrey will... ah, she's here." He escaped from the room before anyone could stop him. He could not deal with them now. He wasn't a patient person, and he had been sitting beside her bed every day since the attack. Day after day, he went to her mind, seeing nothing but shattered glass. He had endured everything, because he believed Hermione was still there somewhere. She was a smart girl. She knew how to hide. She had created a shelter for herself. He was sure of it. It didn't help that strange people came and questioned his right to be there, to be close to her, caring about her more than anyone else before.
Almost immediately after leaving the room, he ran into Harry, finding it surprisingly natural. He grabbed the other boy's elbow without a word and dragged him to an alcove hidden from curious eyes and ears.
"Release my arm and explain," Harry said quietly, neither commanding nor demanding, just asking.
Draco looked at him with wild eyes, coughing out funny words. "The vultures are here." He really hadn't meant to say that. They were just her parents; the fact that he hadn't liked them, didn't give him the right to badmouth them.
Harry looked confused, pushing his glasses up his nose. "The who? The what?" He had learned to expect weird things from Malfoy, but this time he seemed even less normal than most days.
"Her parents," Draco muttered. "Her father wanted to cut my head off." He started pacing the small space, brushing against Harry's shoulder every now and then.
"I'm sure he didn't." Harry hid a smile. Draco was rather paranoid at times. Maybe it was all the time spent with Death Eaters and Dark Lords.
"He did too." Draco stopped on his tracks, looking at Harry intently. "I can't talk to her anymore." He sounded so small, frightened even, asking Harry to push those awful people out of his life. Make things better.
"Malfoy, stop being an idiot. They're her parents. They love her. They won't stop you from seeing her." Harry watched him carefully, trying to see if the words had reached any part of his mind, if any comprehension could be seen in his eyes.
Draco turned his back on Harry, anger and frustration rising quickly in him. "I know! Okay? I know." He paused for a moment, taking deep breaths and then spoke softly. "This changes everything. They want to take her away. If they decide it's better for her to be somewhere else, they can make that choice. We have to do something." He rubbed his temples, trying to drive away the bounding headache. It was his constant companion now, because of his visits to Hermione's empty mind. It was suffocating, crushing, unbearable, but he did it anyway.
He could feel Harry touching his shoulder hesitantly. "They can't take her away. Voldemort will..." Harry couldn't finish the sentence, couldn't even say it aloud. She was in such a fragile condition. They had to believe in her recovery. They had to. "Headmistress McGonagall... She can explain everything to them." They had all learned to rely on the old Gryffindor lady, who had shown such spirit and power lately that people had been wondering why she hadn't become the Headmistress earlier. The school was working almost better than before, and the security of Hogwarts had become a matter of pride to her. The Hogwatch guarded the school night and day, and there was a cloak hiding the place from all eyes, including magical ones. She herself had searched and found all the secret passages of the school, blocking them with care so nobody could find them ever again. Even the Guardians of the Blue Room were under her command, expanding their magic to protect the whole school and not just the newest baby-rooms.
"Can she convince them?" Draco asked, clearly doubting that anything could be done to change the minds of worried parents.
"Let's go talk to her." This time Harry grabbed Draco's elbow and pulled the boy with him.
The fortunate part was that Minerva McGonagall was a woman with many talents, and she cared deeply about Hermione. Her rational words crushed through the thick skull of Mother-In-Pain, and the Grangers let their only daughter stay at Hogwarts - on one condition, they would live there with her. It was a reasonable request and could be easily arranged as long as they stayed out of the way of the students and the staff.
To Draco's horror, her mother insisted on him being their guide to the magical world because he was the first wizard student they had met, and because he seemed to care about their daughter quite a lot.
Her mother clinched to his arm, when he took her to visit some of the places that were necessary for their stay at Hogwarts. Luckily it was night time, and only the prefects and the Hogwatch were up, knowing quite well not to approach him unless someone's head was being pulled off. He might have been Head Boy, but at that moment, he would have pulled someone's head off if they had the courage to bother him. Mary seemed oblivious to all that went through his strained mind.
She hummed quietly, clearly uncomfortable with the sounds of the moving paintings and the ghosts that kept swishing by. "Who are they?" Mary pointed at the Grey Lady who moments later disappeared through a wall.
Bloody Hell, baby-sitting Muggle parents wasn't his idea of a nice evening. He was supposed to be reading the next chapter of Advanced Arithmancy to Hermione. Now he was stuck with a person who knew nothing about his world. He should just push her to the nearest cabinet and be done with it. What an annoying parent-like lady-person she was. And what was wrong with him? He couldn't even think of anything nasty about her. She was Hermione's mother and very worried about her daughter. She was in a strange world, lost and hopeless. Maybe he could relate to that.
"They're just ghosts. They can't harm you, and they wouldn't do that even if they could."
"Oh, all right." She seemed to get less agitated after that, loosening her grip on his arm a little. "Where are we going?" she asked next.
She was a talker. At least he knew now where Hermione had inherited her annoying ability to talk her way in and out of trouble. "The Great Hall, where you'll be having your meals. After that I'll show you around a little so you'll find your way back to your living quarters. The stairs keep moving so you must remember which corridor you're heading even if the stairs are not willing to take you there."
Mary looked at him sideways, her eyes clouded. She could mask her feelings quite well, and he found himself respecting her for that. Soon, he also realised how strange it was that she could stay quiet too. It kind of annoyed him.
Then after awhile, she coughed, avoiding his eyes but clearly wanting to share something with him. Her jaw set, she confessed, "I lied to you earlier." She spoke with a quiet voice that made her words seem all the more important. "She's not that strong. She's like that because she wants to show everyone that they don't have to worry about her. But she cries, you see. When she comes home, she cries. She tries to hide it, of course, but it's just one of those things a mother can see. She's very lonely sometimes. We've had to work hard to keep her brother in a good hospital and her studying... these things. We're not there often either. Nobody's there if she's not here. I think she's only happy when she's here."
Draco let her talk now that she did. Mary Granger felt guilty. Those were words he would never hear from his father. Somehow, he wanted to hear them now, no matter who was saying them.
"After Christopher... she's told you, hasn't she?" Draco nodded, keeping his eyes at the floor, feeling bashful for receiving her trust so easily. Were all Muggles this trusting? "Christopher's reaction to this world, your world... magic... made us so afraid that she might be just like him, that her blood might carry the same power, but everything went so differently with her. When she received her letter, she just said, 'Oh mother, I told you so.' like it wasn't a big deal. She studied like she has always studied, wanting to know more than any of you could ever know... so she wouldn't feel left out. She wants to belong here. And I'm so worried that it will kill her. Now, when she lies on that bed... almost gone... But she wants to be here. But I'm... will she be all right? Can you find her with that magical bond you share? Have I lost her, too?" The last words she whispered so quietly that Draco had to strain his ears to hear her. She was in so much pain, asking Draco to be the one to tell her that everything would be all right, asking him to be the strong one. How could he be that, when everything in his life was hanging on a thread? She might have been able to create a shelter for herself. Might. God damn it, might!
Draco stayed quiet for a long while, searching for the right words. It was possible that there were none so he just said, "We believe she can be saved." That was true. He hadn't said they could save her, hadn't promised anything. But they did believe it. Harry, Ron and him, they all did. It was the only way they could stay by her side. Only by believing such a hopeless thing, Draco could go look for her every day.
"How did you become friends?" Mary asked, smiling a sweet smile, reminding him of Hermione all of a sudden. Behind the glasses, her eyes looked a lot like Hermione's. "Are you two dating?" She seemed almost coy, asking such a thing.
At this point, Draco was very happy that Oliver hadn't wanted to accompany them, claiming that he was too tired for wandering around. How could he answer? Well, at first I wanted to kill your daughter, but she's so stubborn and annoying that she got under my skin. Maybe he could just say that they shared a few classes. It was true, too. Hermione was his partner in Ancient Magick. That bloody course was the reason he was here now, walking her mother around the school. It all led to Amadeus. He was to blame for everything. What a bastard. "We share a few classes and got to know each other pretty well this year. What comes to the second question, the answer is no."
Mary stared at him for a few seconds too long, making him feel uncomfortable. Then she said knowingly, "You don't like to talk much, do you?"
Startled by her straightforwardness, he quickly answered, "No, I guess I don't." He actually liked Mary. She was so simple in her manners, easily admitting she wasn't perfect.
"I don't mind. Let's just walk."
After awhile, Draco learned to accept Mary and Oliver's presence as well, although he still didn't like to talk to them. He felt awkward with her father, especially when he did magic, especially when he entered her mind. But to his great relief, Mary started taking her husband to mysterious errands every time Draco used the Colour of Magick to try and reach their child. Mary seemed to notice his mood changes even better than he did, and usually stayed out of his way, when he was too tired to even think. She brought snacks with her, rarely eating at the Great Hall. She claimed that all the nasty candles in the air made her head spin, but Draco was pretty sure that she was trying to make him eat. Professor Snape had already warned him, and so had Headmistress McGonagall. He spent too much of his time by her side, not living at all, not going out, not sleeping. It was making him a ghost. Harry and Ron were no better. They all felt responsible. They should have been able to keep her safe.
"Are you going to try it soon?" Ron asked as the three of them sat by her bed that night.
Draco nodded. He was getting really tired of the emptiness he met every time he touched her mind. He was starting to lose hope. It had been almost two months since he had last seen her, really seen her. Soon, he would start forgetting her expressions, the sound of her voice. It would all become so blurry.
He took her hand to his, not bothering to slip next to her. He could do it this way as well. It was easier. As the Colour of Magick took hold of him, he felt his head starting to spin like it normally didn't. This was new. Something inside her had shifted.
When he finally reached her mind, it wasn't shattered glass. It was a desert, still empty but less painful. She was somewhere to be found. A joy like he had never experienced before surged through him, making his steps light, making his heart beat faster. This was it. He could find her. They had been right.
He ran through the desert, the sand giving away underneath his feet, making it hard for him to stay balanced, making him sweat. He didn't care. He was going to find her. Climbing on top of a dune, he smelled the air, trying to decide which way to go next. There weren't many landmarks to guide his way, but it didn't really matter. She was there. He could sense her.
He knew that Harry and Ron were excited as well. He had never stayed this long inside her mind. They knew something was different. He smiled, knowing that they were leaning over Hermione, trying to see if her eyes were moving, trying to see any changes in her. Draco hoped that Mary would come back soon, too. She deserved to have some hope after all those agonizing days of watching Hermione's pale unchanging face. She deserved a glimpse of change.
Draco had to quiet his own mind to be able to follow the scent of hers. She was there. Her aura was there. She wasn't unharmed, though. She was unmoving, sitting on a rock by a lake. She wore a yellow dress and her feet were bear. Her eyes were closed, her hands resting against her knees. She was so still. He opened his eyes, knowing where to look. With determined steps, he started closing the distance between them.
Even when he knew where to look, it took him hours to find her, and when he finally did, he was so exhausted that he could barely extend his arm to touch her. Was she real? When his fingers brushed her bear shoulder, her eyes opened and she turned to face him. She was blind, her eyes almost white, and when she opened her mouth, he could see that her tongue was gone.
A rush of wind startled him, almost pushing him off balance, as though meaning to tell him: "You are not safe. One step further and you'll die." He didn't move his hand from her shoulder, though.
He could think of only one thing to say. It was something every child wanted to hear when they were experiencing pain. "Your mother is waiting for you," he tried to whisper, unable to break the complete silence of Hermione's mind.
He tried again.
After awhile, she nodded, clearly showing that she had understood him. Relief washed over him, but it didn't stop him from being overly careful. This was the first contact after two months. She was very fragile. She had stayed hidden for so long - and she was still hiding. There was nothing wrong with her senses. She had destroyed those herself.
"Will you take my hand?" He slid his hand down her arm, past her elbow, finally reaching her hand, mingling his fingers with hers. She shivered slightly, but didn't show any kind of recognition otherwise. He watched her carefully, noticing that her hair was frizzy and the skin under her eyes was very dark. She hadn't slept at all. "Are you ready?" It was useless to ask her anything; she wasn't in a responsive state of mind.
He was impatient and made a choice, taking her with him.
For the longest time, Draco wondered if perhaps that decision had been wrong. When he pulled out of the Colour of Magick, Hermione was screaming her lungs dry, tossing and turning wildly, her movements too fast for Ron and Harry. She managed to hit Harry, and she bit Ron's wrist, reaching bone and drawing blood. The entire time she kept her eyes closed.
Madam Pomfrey came running when she heard the ruckus. With a quick calming spell - then even a quicker binding spell when the first one didn't seem to work - she managed to quiet her down. Then she found a bottle of dreamless sleep potion, and poured it down Hermione's throat with such skill that it was no mystery why she was a nurse. Soon, the girl was sound asleep.
The nurse looked at the boys sternly, demanding an answer. "What happened?"
"I found her," Draco said quietly, watching Hermione's peaceful face. It didn't give away any sign of her earlier insanity. Had she lost her mind after all? It was her worst fear and now... It just couldn't be true after all they had been through. It wasn't fair.
"You did what? She... Hermione... We have to inform her family. Minerva... Oh, this is good news. She's not gone." Madam Pomfrey sounded so excited, but the boys were unaffected by her joy and hope. They looked grim. That wasn't their Hermione. That was someone else.
Life became harder after that.
Voldemort had started his rampage against the wizarding world, attacking the Ministry and Diagon Alley, half-destroying the civilized side of the magical community. Without leaders, it was hard to win a war. It was rumoured that the Minister for Magic was dead, but a few other Ministry officials had been able to escape. The Aurors declared their independency, announcing the public that they would take charge of the welfare of the whole wizarding community. It was almost as though the magical part of Great Britain was under marshal law. All magical villages and towns were under strict curfew laws and groups bigger than two were forbidden. The Daily Prophet continued to spit out propaganda, now under the surveillance of the Aurors. Many people were falsely accused of being Death Eaters or of fraternising with the enemy. It became a witch hunt, but this time, the hunters and the prey were supposed to be on the same side.
The Circle of Eight, as they had started to call themselves after Voldemort's attack, had heard nothing about Amadeus and Dumbledore for over a month. They all feared that something had gone terribly wrong. Snape and McGonagall held meetings with the children, knowing that Dumbledore wanted to include them. They knew that the old wizard had a plan that needed to be executed at some point, with or without him. The children were over seventeen now, and all of them had seen more than most people did in a lifetime. They deserved to be part of the Order of the Phoenix. They deserved to get all the necessary information. It didn't stop Headmistress McGonagall from thinking that they should have had happier childhoods.
To everyone's surprise and great relief, Hermione was showing remarkable signs of recovery. She was able to produce complete sentences, showing that her brain wasn't too damaged, and she even let her mother stay by her bed. The others could not approach her at all, though. She went practically crazy every time Draco even stood by the twin doors of the Hospital Wing. Her memories had been returned, but it didn't really help. She had seen Draco kill Ron. Draco had tortured her. Draco had attacked her with such violence and hatred that she still suffered the consequences. Everything about him made her insane with fear.
Now that Hermione was awake, Draco couldn't see her at all. That led him to a destructive path. His life had no meaning if he couldn't be a part of her life. He had changed because of her. He had become something he thought that she wanted. And now... now he was just complete waste of space. He was nothing without her.
School seemed useless. People seemed faceless, meaningless. Life felt unbearable - and it never got easier. Nothing was ever easy to him. He didn't notice the Slytherins who stood by his side, keeping everyone else out of his way. He didn't notice Harry who kept including him into their lives, reminding everyone that Draco was a good guy. He didn't notice that Professor Snape had started teaching him Occlumency among other things. He lived in his own miserable world where he was the worst of the worst, useless, bound to fail, stupid... worthless. He wanted to stop breathing.
Then one day, Harry reached the end of his patience and snapped.
After double Potions, the Boy-Who-Lived-To-Torment-Other-People approached Draco. Blaise and Vincent let him. It wasn't that Harry was scary or anything; he just happened to be what legends were made of. There was even a damn prophecy about him. He was the would-be-saviour of the wizarding world. He would confront the most horrifying wizard of their time one day. Draco did not feel intimidate by the anger of Potter the Four-Eyes. He most certainly did not.
Harry stopped inches away from Draco, staring him down. "You! Come with me!" That was a bloody command. Draco crossed his arms, staring back, not caring that people were watching them. He would do no such thing. He wasn't a pet. Nobody could push him around.
"Vincent?" Harry looked at the tall Slytherin boy for a short moment and then walked away, leaving Draco standing there, puzzled and breathing too hard. He had been ready to fight. What was this? Then, one of his best friends hauled him over his enormous shoulder and started walking to the same direction Harry had gone. What the bloody Hell was this? He realised he had squeaked it aloud. It was humiliating - but nobody was laughing. They all scrambled back to their business like nothing had happened.
Something was clearly happening. "Vincent, put me down." He wanted to kick himself for trusting Slytherins of all people. Of course they would betray him.
No? No? He felt slightly hysterical. He couldn't reach his wand and struggling would seem too girlish. It was just an absolutely horrifying situation.
"It's for your own good. You've been moping, not eating, not sleeping, harbouring destructive thoughts. He has started Dumbledore's Army again. You're going to join us."
What? When had Slytherins participated in any such actions? They had stopped Dumbledore's Army on their fifth year. That's what they were supposed to do. That's how the world moved. "What?" he squeaked again. How embarrassing.
"He invited us. Pansy is there, and Theodor, Blaise and Gregory of course... and some others, younger. There's almost as many of us as there’s other house members. And we thoroughly kick arse." Vincent seemed proud.
"And I'm hearing of this now, because...?"
Vincent laughed; the baboon had the courtesy to laugh at him. "Well, you've been rather self-obsessed lately. He tried to talk to you about a dozen times, but you aren't a very good listener when... something bothers you."
Draco felt mortified. His Slytherins had been sneaking behind his back to meet the enemy, to practice fighting skills with the enemy. It was just preposterous. The betrayal was much deeper than he had anticipated. "I will not participate in any stupid Gryffindor games," he said haughtily.
"Oh, you will when you see this."
Vincent set him down carefully, looking almost apologetic. "See."
Now he could remember why he missed Quidditch so much; it was the exhilarating speed and the atmosphere of competition. He missed winning. The Quidditch pitch was at use, people flying about, casting spells at each other. Everyone looked serious, menacing, like they meant business, like it was real. They lived war. Some of them could die. Some of them probably would. They knew it. Watching them, Draco could see that rules had been thrown out of the window. In the real world, there were no rules. Dueling was for pansies.
Suddenly he felt more alive than in months. He breathed in fresh air, stretching his muscles. How he'd missed the sounds of flying, the smell of old wood and leather, the sun in his eyes, almost blinding. This was what he needed. Vincent was right. He would participate in their little game. He summoned his broom, and was in the air moments after his fingers gripped the solid wood. Merlin, he loved flying.
It didn't take him long to figure out what was going on and how to join the game. There were a ground group and an air group. The air group had been divided into two subgroups: the ones that attacked the ground group and the ones that attacked one another in the air. He joined the ones that were fighting in the air. It seemed more natural. He was a Seeker after all.
Draco rammed against Susan Bones, knocking her off her broom, which he then grabbed and used to hit Ron with. The boy ducked and sent a nasty stupefying spell at him. It almost hit him, and he had to throw Susan's broom away so he could better balance himself. He flew above Ron, yelling, "Serpensortia!" All kinds of snakes started falling from the sky on top of Ron and some other DA members Draco didn't recognise. He was having fun.
Nobody was on anybody's side. Everyone was fighting against everyone, no duels and no watching your friend's back. Everyone was a prey. They had to learn to defend themselves against multiple opponents. Draco realised that he was pretty good at fighting everyone. He didn't particularly like anyone, and he cherished the possibility to use all that he had learned over the years, even tricky spells, the ones he had learned from his father. The Dark Arts. Then after fifteen minutes of constant vigilance, he almost sent a Cruciatus curse at Gregory, realising just in time that there was actually a limit. The hesitation caused him a few broken bones since both Gregory and Vincent Stupefied him at the same time, sending him flying through the air without his broom.
"Fuck," he muttered, climbing to his feet, holding his aching arm. He had landed on top his left arm, crushing it underneath him. He had probably strained his ankle as well.
"Why did you hesitate?" someone asked. He really didn't care who. His ears were ringing and he felt a bit sick so he sat on a nearby bench.
Harry towered over him, staring at him strangely. "Why did you hesitate?" He repeated.
He looked at Harry, tilting his head slightly, stubborn as Hell and not answering.
"Bloody Hell, Malfoy. What's wrong with you? You gave them the perfect opportunity to strike. You have to fight for real up there. This is not just a game. You can't think of your friends while fighting, not right now." Harry seemed frustrated, even angry.
"Oh, shut up, Potter. I was about to Crucio him. Would you have liked to see me do that?"
It was a good question, and it silenced the Boy Wonder quite efficiently. "Oh," he finally said. "Oh... that's a good thing then."
"Yeah, I think so, too." He was slightly surprised by how easily Harry had accepted his explanation. It was possible that he had expected a fight. It was too strange, this being friends business. It made him feel a little less Slytherin. "I do believe I'm finished for today," Draco said, tired and hungry. He could have eaten an elephant. He stood, starting to walk towards the castle slowly.
A moment later, Potter hollered after him, "Will you come back?"
"Maybe," he yelled, looking over his shoulder, receiving a grin for that. Maybe was not the truth, but it was all he could give now. His pride had experienced quite a few shocks lately. He had to find a way to regain it. He would go back when he felt at least a bit proud of himself. Now he was just a poor excuse of a wizard.
When he reached the castle, he realised that he had to go to the Hospital Wing. It was a horrible place now. Hermione was there, fearing him. What should he do? With extreme reluctance, he managed to stagger to the twin doors. He didn't want to open them, didn't want to see her, those eyes that looked nothing like hers. She was a stranger now, a person who was too broken to even recognise him. He just wished he had realised earlier how to save her. He would be dead now, but at least she would be safe, intact, complete.
He knocked, hoping that Madam Pomfrey would come to the door.
Brown eyes stared at him, blinking twice. "Draco? Oh, I'm so glad to see you. Come." Mary grabbed his right hand before he could protest and took him beside a bed that had curtains covering it. "She wants to see you. Oh... she asked me... she wants you to change your voice. Can you do that?"
His heart wanted to break out of his chest. He forgot his injuries completely and just stared at Mary, unable to say anything. He nodded, still staring. Mary hugged him briefly. "I'll leave you two alone," she whispered to his ear, and then tiptoed to Madam Pomfrey’s office.
He lowered his voice, altering it enough to make it unrecognisable. Then he sat down, feeling so scared that his hands were shaking. "Hermione?"
"It's you, isn't it? Are you all right?" Her voice sounded so small. Madam Pomfrey had told them that her entire throat had been covered with small wounds. The snake had almost killed her while coming out of her mouth. Draco felt furious for her, wanting to kill, maim, butcher… anything.
"I'm fine." It was unbelievable that he was able to speak at all. He was shaking so much, anger, fear and something even more primal mixing in him. "How are you?" Can you forgive me? Can I help you? Are you Hermione?
She stayed quiet for a long while, making him believe that it was over. She wouldn't talk more. He had lost her. Then even more quietly than before, she spoke. "No, I'm not. He... I... I can't live with this, Draco. I can't."
Right then, while sitting there, talking to her, feeling her nearby, he realised that she was asking his permission to die.
"He should have killed me. I can't... this is my mind. He took it. He took everything. I can't use it. I don't remember anything. I can't use it. I can't do anything. I can barely speak. I can't read. I... he took it away."
Like always, he didn't know what to say. He said something anyway. "Are you saying that it isn't unbelievable that you're still alive after confronting that monster?" Draco knew he had to find away to reach her. Now might be his only chance. She might not talk to him ever again. He had to make sure that she would never give up. "Hermione, you are stronger than this."
"No, I'm not," she shouted, hitting the curtain separating them. "You don't know how it's like. I can't sleep. I see him all the time, smiling at me. I feel dead. I feel empty. He stole me... I can't even look at you!"
He knew how she felt, partly at least. He had been through similar things. He had survived and so would she. "Give me your hand, please." He wasn't sure if it would work, but he wanted to try anyway. It was the only way to show her exactly what he meant.
Hesitantly, she lifted the curtain just enough for her hand to slip to the other side. She was shaking as well, just as scared. He took her hand to his and waited, letting the Colour of Magick guide him. He didn't enter her mind. Instead, he showed her how he saw her, sending her pure feelings, not words, not images, not anything that could be described. He just felt, letting her see why it was so important that she had survived and continued to survive. She was worth more. She was bigger than her problems. She was stronger, and even if she wasn't, she could borrow his strength. He would help her through it.
They stayed like that for a few minutes only, but it felt like a lifetime. Very slowly, Hermione pulled her hand back. Draco was exhausted, starting to feel the pain of his left arm again, the broken bones almost itching. Somebody had to heal him pretty soon or he would faint.
"Will you... come back tomorrow?" Hermione asked faintly, slipping to sleep. "Will you?"
"Of course," he said, his eyes closing, his arms falling limply against his sides.
To Be Continued Soon...
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