Chapter 10 : Nighttime Stroll
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Desire and Demise
The dorm was quiet. So quiet that Hermione could hear the deep buzzing of silence. It was deafening. She feared that if she moved, the sound of her sheets rustling would destroy the sort of dream-like world that seemed to have enveloped the room and its occupants. So she lay still, barely breathing.
The hangings on her four-poster bed were closed, hiding her from the rest of the world. She’d been lying this way for at least six hours, thinking fondly of all that had happened earlier that day with Draco, and waiting for sleep that refused to come.
Soon, she grew restless. The silence was beginning to drive her mad.
As she pushed the blankets off of her and the cold night air reached her skin, Hermione could feel the hairs on her arms stand on end. She pushed the hangings aside, and the room came into view. Slowly, steadily, she swung her legs over the side of the bed. The stone floor was cold.
Using the bedpost for support, Hermione got to her feet. It seemed her feet had a mind of their own. She found herself moving towards the open window as though acting under a spell.
The night was dark and starless, yet the moon illuminated the grounds, and she was able to see them quite well. The trees stood proudly, looking especially beautiful in the moonlight; the green grass spread out, covering the grounds as far as the eye could see; the lake looked practically motionless, but it had not lost its brilliant sparkle.
Suddenly, Hermione spotted something out of the corner of her eye and had to do a double-take to make sure she hadn't imagined it. Sure enough, something was bobbing up and down on the surface of the opaque water. This being didn't seem to be in any danger, it wasn't thrashing about. She wondered for a moment if it was even living. Perhaps it was a branch that had fallen off one of the many trees on the grounds.
Of course, her curiosity got the best of her. As quietly as she possibly could, Hermione tiptoed back to her trunk. Reaching in, she felt around for her cloak. It wasn't a horribly cold night, but her cloak was black and would therefore help her to blend in with the darkness. It didn't hurt to be cautious. After locating her cloak, she quickly threw it over her shoulders and slid her arms through the sleeves. Next, she located her shoes and slid them easily onto her feet.
Nighttime strolls through the castle were forbidden, so she took extreme care as to not awaken the Fat Lady in her portrait; this would most definitely create a chain reaction and land her in detention, or perhaps worse. As Hermione emerged into the deserted hallway, the Fat Lady fidgeted in her slumber, mumbled something about treacle tarts, and continued snoring. The portrait swung back, of its own accord, to cover the portrait hole. Heart beating wildly in her chest, she began her journey to the Entrance Hall.
The trip was virtually eventless. Except for nearly tripping down a flight of stairs, it had gone perfectly. Almost too perfectly, as though someone was making sure she made it outside. Hermione pushed this thought to the back of her mind as she cautiously pushed open the large oak doors that led to the Hogwarts Grounds. Curiosity blinded her, and she didn’t stop to wonder why no one was guarding the doorway.
Hermione stood still for several minutes, staring out the open doors. The grounds were beautiful at night, no doubt. Majestic. Yet she had a strange feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach that she could not shake.
A sigh escaped her lips. The night seemed to be beckoning her, and she quickly made up her mind. She took one small step outside. After persuading herself nothing was wrong, she took another tentative step. With each step, her confidence grew, and she approached the lake in a little under five minutes.
Too afraid to get close to the bank, Hermione leaned against the trunk of a tree. She examined the surface closely, and she could just make out a blurry form floating on the surface. Blind fear did not reduce its painful grasp on the Gryffindor, yet some strange impulse forced words from the depths of her throat.
"Hello? Is anyone there?" she asked, curiously, adjusting her cloak as she spoke.
“Anyone?” Hermione asked again.
Cold air was streaming in through her mouth, circling around in her lungs, and escaping out both of nostrils in a puff of moisture. Concentrating entirely on her breathing, Hermione succeeded in calming herself enough to take several steps from the base of the tree. The dark mass floating in the water slowly began to take shape as she continued walking towards it. It was no longer the blurry smudge that she had seen from the window of her dorm.
Now she was standing right at the bank. Brown earth was directly below her feet, but if she were to take one more step forward, she would slip easily under the surface of the motionless water.
Carefully, the girl lowered herself down into a squatting position and peered out at the floating shape. It had a definite outline now. A very familiar outline. But… no, it couldn’t be. This wasn’t possible.
Hermione suddenly wished she had stayed inside the castle.
Her eyes shut tightly and she stumbled backwards. Every muscle in her body was tensed, and she felt a scream fighting its way from her lungs, but was somehow able to reduce it to a mere whimper. Tripping over a stray root, Hermione fell to the ground. Fear was almost strangling her now, refusing to allow her to move any further.
She sat there on the cold, hard ground for what seemed hours, staring at the lifeless body of Barton Thorne drifting along the water. Someone had murdered the Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor.
Before a single tear had fallen from her wide eyes, the sound of a small explosion ripped her attention from the tragedy. Whatever had caused this poor man’s death did not seem satisfied. And the night was far from over.
A sudden anger chased the fear from her marrow. Hermione quickly got to her feet and brushed the dirt from her robes. There was a power greater than her out tonight, but the thought never crossed her mind. The idea that someone’s life had been burned out before fate had intended was enough to motivate the girl to action.
Godric Gryffindor would have been proud of Miss Hermione Granger tonight.
Smoke was issuing from somewhere deep within Forbidden Forest – she could see it forming large, gray clouds above the trees - so she immediately set off in that direction. Her hand was lodged deep inside her pocket, where her wand was safely stored out of sight.
A loud cackling from behind was all it took for the fear to come flooding back. It did not, however, drown the anger that had lodged itself inside of Hermione’s heart.
Hermione came to a halt and swallowed. Her throat was dry, and it was painful to do so.
“Haven’t I seen you before?” a familiar voice asked. “It’s nice to finally meet, face to face.”
There was an absolute power in this man’s voice. He knew he was stronger and much more educated in the Dark Arts than an eighteen year old student; even Hermione knew this.
“Did you kill Professor Thorne?” Hermione asked, turning around to face the two Death Eaters she had been expecting: the violent Vincent and meek Margaret.
“What’s it to you, girl?”
“You killed a man!” Hermione screamed, her voice breaking.
“He’s not the first, and he won’t be the last.” Vincent said in a voice that let Hermione know he was bored by the current subject of conversation.
“Let’s just get this over with, please,” the woman said, looking up into Vincent’s deep eyes submissively.
“Get what over with?” Hermione continued. “Going to kill me too, now, are you?”
“Good guess, but not quite,” Vincent said in a positively malicious tone.
Both Death Eaters held a wand out in front of them, clearly readying themselves for an attack. Hermione was smarter than they were expecting, however. She removed both hands from her pockets, leaving her wand safely inside.
“Do with me what you will,” Hermione replied, voice shaking. “I’m unarmed.”
Margaret seemed slightly doubtful, but Vincent’s smirk did not fade. He was clearly unintelligent. Advantage Hermione.
It wasn’t until Hermione felt Vincent’s firm grip around her wrist that she shoved her free hand into her pocket and extracted her wand. Before the man could react, Hermione sent a powerful stunning spell in his direction and he crumpled to the ground, releasing her wrist as he did so.
Margaret seemed to be in shock. Instead of dealing with Hermione, she ran over to her fallen comrade, who was lying face down in the grass. As Margaret rolled Vincent onto his back and performed the spell that would rouse him, Hermione set off at a run towards the Forbidden Forest. Once deep within the forest, she could easily hide herself amidst the thick foliage.
The trees were twenty feet in front of her when the curses started. She saw them fly past her, missing by inches at the most. Flashes of light exploded all around her as the stray curses collided with the ground or smashed into a tree trunk.
Hermione dove into the forest as a red stream of light sliced through the shoulder of her cloak.
Panting heavily, she began moving deeper into the forest at a slower pace. Brushing low branches and vines to the side with a shaking hand, Hermione made her way through the thick darkness of the Forbidden Forest. The hidden danger of the forest did not frighten her now. Her sole intention was to put as much distance between her and the Death Eaters as she could, and this left no room to worry about what was lurking in the darkness.
It wasn’t until she heard foreign breathing behind her that she stopped. Hermione’s long fingers curled around her wand tightly, turning her knuckles white with the pressure. Her already fast-beating heart was fit to burst as she spun around, expecting to find some sort of beast behind her.
She saw nothing.
The darkness was so thick, it was impossible to see five feet in front of her. Whatever was out there could be hiding just out of sight, waiting for the opportune moment to attack. So Hermione waited - her body slowly going numb with fear as the seconds ticked away. Her heart felt as though it would jump up into her throat and choke the air from her body… unless the Death Eaters did so first.
Minutes passed and Hermione hadn’t moved an inch. She began to question whether she had actually heard foreign breathing. Perhaps she had imagined it; after all, one does begin to hallucinate in situations that evoke extreme emotions. Paranoia was merciless.
But then… footsteps.
Hermione hadn’t imagined it. She wasn’t alone.
The silhouette of what appeared to be another human being loomed into Hermione’s line of sight. This person was wearing a cloak as dark as Hermione’s, and therefore was hard to make out.
“Expelliarmus!” Hermione shouted, her wand pointed towards the cloaked shadow.
The figure casually flicked a wand in her direction and her spell was deflected.
“Is that it? A silly disarming spell? I seem to have overestimated you, Hermione.”
That taunting voice was so familiar.
“Draco? What are you doing out here? You scared me half to death,” the girl said, relaxing a bit as Draco stepped forward.
“I could ask you the same thing.”
The tone of his voice was cruel, and this made Hermione a bit uneasy. This wasn’t the boy she had been meeting up with the past few months. He was different.
“What’s wrong, Draco? Are you running from the Death Eaters too?” Hermione asked, stepping towards him and resting her hand against his chest.
“Of course not,” he replied, taking a step backwards and twirling his wand between his fingers. “I’m helping them.”
His gaze was icy, and Hermione felt the blood in her veins grow cold.
“Helping them?” Hermione asked, confused.
Draco nodded and looked off into the dark forest. “You don’t think I actually cared about you, did you?” he asked, laughing cruelly. “Oh, Hermione. It was all a little game. How else was I supposed to get you to trust me, huh?”
Hermione felt sick. She half-expected to vomit right then and there.
“So, you were just using me,” Hermione whispered, holding a shaky hand against her stomach.
“Well, none of it matters anymore,” Draco responded, shrugging. “You so conveniently walked right into our hands, and at nighttime too. No one will hear your screams.”
A hand closed itself around Hermione’s heart, squeezing all feeling from it. She felt numb – miserably, terribly numb.
“Now, come with me,” Draco said, grabbing her arm and beginning to drag her towards the heart of the forest.
“Come with you? What makes you think I’m going to follow you straight to Voldemort?” Hermione asked.
“Don’t be difficult, Granger,” Draco spat at her, tightening his grip around her arm. “Let’s go.”
“No!” Hermione shouted back at him, ripping her arm from his grasp. “I’ll be difficult if I damn well please. I’m not going anywhere with you.”
Leaning forward, Draco whispered, “Do as I say, or I’ll be forced to dispose of you.”
Hermione stopped breathing. Her mouth hung open slightly as she stared into Draco’s narrowed eyes. She wanted desperately to believe that Draco hadn’t been putting on a show all this time. She wanted him to break down and tell her that he really did love her, and that all he had said hadn’t been lies. Had his father even died? It had probably been just some stupid story to gain Hermione’s pity. But if that was the case, Harry wouldn’t have corroborated his story. It was impossible to tell what Draco was truly feeling.
Hermione gave a small sob, and looked past Draco, to a place hundreds of yards past his shoulder. Anything to not look at his face… that face that was infused with determination far stronger than hers. It was that determination that stopped her from refusing the boy. Defeat rang in her ears, its shrill cry blocking out all other sound.
Draco grabbed her left arm, and began dragging her into darkness once again. Hermione didn’t put up much of a fight. It was no use to resist.
And despite everything, she knew that deep inside her heart she still cared for him. She always had and always would. She had faith in him that he would not lead her into danger, which may have been illogical on her part, but she didn’t care.
Author’s Note: Now I’m back on track. (: I bet you weren’t expecting that twist. But is it a twist? Haha. Anyway, thanks for the reviews once again. Keep ‘em coming! Thanks, guys.
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