A/N: I know you are all confused and have a lot of questions, but trust me when I say they will all be answered in due time. This is a mystery, after all. :) Thanks for all your encouraging reviews, I'm very pleased with the response this story has been getting!
= = =
I could feel my eyes open, but I wasn't sure if I was awake. I was engulfed in total and complete darkness, and all I knew was my naked body lying across a thin expanse of cold metal. I didn't know why I was naked, and frankly, I didn't care. The cold feeling of the smooth metal beneath my scorching skin was like nothing I'd ever felt. I stayed in my position, unmoving and unblinking.
And then through the compressing darkness, a spotlight shown from the ceiling above and illuminated a circle of light in front of me. Auntie Bellatrix stood in the center of the spotlight, her raven hair a mess of flailing frizz and her eyes like two piercing orbs of light.
"Welcome, nephew ... to the Western Tower."
The Western Tower. Why did that sound so familiar? And then I remembered ... there was a threat. Someone made a threat to send me to the Western Tower, and gasps had erupted from the entire student body as if it were the worst thing that could ever happen to a person.
"Auntie Bella," I said with a quivering voice, choking over my own words.
"I must admit, Twenty-seven, I am very disappointed in you. I never thought I'd see the day when my own flesh and blood was strapped in the Dream Catcher."
There was a quick flash of red light, a howl, and a snarl. My whole body shivered, but then the room turned back to total darkness once more. Auntie Bellatrix was gone.
I attempted to lift my arms, but realized I couldn't. Every part of my body seemed to be melded to the cold metal under me.
"Don't try to escape, Twenty-seven," Auntie Bella chortled maniacally from somewhere in the dark room. "No one escapes from the Dream Catcher.”
I made a futile attempt to lift my head. Every fragment of my body was stuck.
"Do you know why they call it the Dream Catcher, Twenty-seven?” Although I couldn’t see her, I could feel her next to me, making the hairs on my arms prickle. I could feel her hot breath in my ear as she whispered, “It's because that platform you're lying atop of, so cool and so comfortable, knows your hidden fears. Oh yes,” and suddenly she was on the other side of me, fast as a bolt of lighting, “It knows what haunts you in the deepest and darkest depths of your unconscious, it knows what makes your skin crawl, your blood curdle in your veins. It knows exactly how to take your breath away and make you drown in your own screams. It's every sleepless night you spent as a child, afraid to look under your bed. It's the rustling of the leaves on a windy night, and the feeling that you're being watched – followed – hunted."
And then I knew she was gone. Any warmth she had left on my body from being in such close proximity to me vanished, and I shivered from the cold. Or maybe it was my own fear that sent chills up my spine.
As if out of nowhere, a light shone above me. But it was not the same spotlight that had illuminated the deranged face of my Auntie Bella. This was one solitary globe of pale light high up in the ceiling. A full moon. Then, the sound of a long drawn out howl echoed in the atmosphere.
And suddenly through the darkness, under the light cast by the ungracious and horrific moon, a pair of two long, yellowed, and curved incisors hurtled their way into my vision.
Fenrir Greyback was a beast – a mess of matted, grey, grizzled hair and yellow claws as long as his teeth.
Auntie Bella’s words played over in my head. “It knows what makes your skin crawl, your blood curdle in your veins.” And she was right. I don’t know how, but somehow, this bed that I was strapped into knew. It knew just what it would take to get me to scream.
And as Greyback advanced on me, I did.
The pain isn’t real, I told myself as I watched my body spurt gushes of blood from the slashes of his teeth, That’s not really my blood. Greyback isn’t really here, it’s all in my head.
But I screamed anyway, as I tried to repeat over and over, It’s only an illusion.
= = =
Amycus Carrow was there when I awoke in the hospital wing. My eyes snapped open as realization washed over me and the memories came flooding back. My breathing became more rapid as I recalled Greyback’s teeth piercing my skin, and the howls of pain that left my own lips as my flesh was torn apart.
My hand subconsciously went to my shoulder. There was a bandage there. I glanced down at it. The blood was seeping through the cloth.
“That will have to be changed soon,” said Amycus.
“But …” My mind was running on hay wire. I could barely form a coherent thought, let alone articulate words. “But it wasn’t real!”
“What are you talking about, Twenty-seven?” And Amycus sounded genuinely confused. No wonder he was able to so easily brainwash Blaise … the man was a wonderful liar.
“Don’t you try to tell me this was a fucking accident,” I snarled through clenched teeth, “I remember! I remember exactly what happened in that room … in the Western Tower. Greyback was there.”
“Greyback?” asked Amycus, “Who is this Greyback?”
“Don’t play dumb with me!” I shouted, and was overcome with shock as I realized how like my father I sounded. But I continued, “You are hiding a werewolf in this school.”
“There is no such thing as werewolves,” Amycus growled, “You fell down the stairs and through a window.”
I scanned my body over. Deep cuts and gashes where my skin had been slashed were everywhere. “I look like this from falling down the stairs, do I? You can at least make up a better story than that.”
“Don’t play games with me, boy!” Amycus yelled and his squat little body began striding toward me, “You had an accident.”
“I was attacked by a werewolf!”
Amycus was in my face by this time. “Werewolves are imaginative creatures from children’s fairy tales that are no more real than a witch.”
“Oh, and I suppose you’ll tell me witches don’t exist either, and neither do –”
“The M word does not exist!” he roared in my face.
I wiped his spittle off of my nose and spat right back at him. “Dumbledore will get you for this.”
Amycus reared himself off of me and stormed out of the hospital wing, his shoes clomping noisily on the ground as he went. And I was left in my bed, wondering what had possessed me to say that. Had I really just used Muggle-loving thick-headed Dumbledore as a threat to someone? But it was then that I realized, as much as I despised the man, it was he who made Hogwarts safe. With Dumbledore there, nothing could ever touch us. But now Dumbledore was gone, to Merlin knows where, and we had my father to count on for our safety. Merlin, help us all.
= = =
Days passed with Amycus or Alecto only coming to see me with food and to change my bandages.
“When can I leave?” I’d always ask.
And their immediate answer, as if it were rehearsed, was always, “After you believe the M word does not exist.”
“Fine,” I’d say, “The M word does not exist.”
“But you don’t yet believe it.”
They were right. How could I possibly believe it? I’d been brought up knowing magic. Raised into it, learning different spells before my feet ever touched Hogwarts grounds. How could they possibly expect me to erase the one thing that has ever truly been real to me from my mind?
One day, I said to Amycus, “I’d like to speak to Grang -- Fifty-three.”
His response to me was spitting in my face.
I don’t know why I bothered asking anyway. After the way I’d spoken to Granger the last time we talked (I’d lost count of how many weeks it had been) I doubted she would ever speak to me again.
Which was perfectly fine with me. Why would I want to talk to an insufferable know-it-all like her anyway?
Maybe because for once in my life, I needed someone around who knew everything … someone who had answers … someone who could tell me if I was going completely out of my mind, and I knew if there was one person who would be honest with me about that, it would be Granger. She’d love to be the one to tell me I was going mental.
Was I going insane? Maybe I was imagining everything. The Dream Catcher is called the Dream Catcher because it supposedly takes away all of your good dreams and only leaves you with the bad, and it has this crazy and unexplainable power to know all of your deepest and worst fears and reveal them to you in the most horrific way imaginable. Therefore, I couldn’t have really been attacked that night. It was just a dream. Well, a nightmare more like. But really, Fenrir Greyback was a mere figment of my imagination.
But if that was true, then why was there blood? Maybe there wasn’t really blood. Maybe I was imagining that too.
But if I was imagining that, then who’s to say my whole life hasn’t been one big dream that I can’t seem to wake myself up from? Maybe it was. Maybe my whole entire life up until entering the year 1997 has all been one long dream, and that’s why the magic is gone. Because the M word does not exist. Only in my dreams.
Amycus Carrow came into my room then. He unrolled the bandages from around my arms and torso and head. My skin looked completely untainted. There was not even a scar to show for that horrendous night spent in the Western Tower.
“You’re free to go,” he announced.
I was about to ask him why he decided I could go now, then decided I’d better not question it. He might change his mind. So without another word, I left the hospital wing.
= = =
Filch’s class was even worse than I remembered. For a moment I wondered why I had been so desperate to leave the hospital wing. Being there had to have been better than sitting through this rubbish.
“Now the pattern we are going to practice,” began Filch, holding up his size eleven knitting needles with purple yarn cast on one side, “Is knit three, purl three, knit three, purl three, all the way through until you get to the end of the row.”
And so the class began knitting with the needles that were given to us. I envisioned myself attacking Filch with my needles and gauging his eyes out with them when a girl with long, blonde, flowing hair stood in front of me. I looked up at her.
“What?” I snapped.
“You looked like you needed help with that,” Lovegood said.
I heaved a heavy sigh. “Why must you always feel the need to harass me?”
“So … you don’t need help?”
“No, Lovegood!” and to prove my point, I began knitting in the technique Filch had been teaching us for the past two hours. Slip the needle behind the stitch, bring the yarn around, make an X with the needles, and slip the yarn over just like …
“I told you that you needed help,” Lovegood said.
“Hey Forty!” Seamus Finnigan called from across the room, “If Twenty-seven’s going to be a prat about it, then would you mind helping me out?”
“Not at all,” said Lovegood as she merrily skipped away, her long blonde hair bouncing behind her, pale as a full moon …
It was then that Filch decided it was a good idea for everyone who knew what they were doing to help those who didn’t. And of course, he just had to ask Granger to help me. Just my luck. As if getting torn apart by a werewolf that may or may not have been a figment of my imagination wasn’t torture enough …
Granger did not look up but kept knitting, her fingers speeding through the project so quickly I wondered if working at such a speed were humanly possible. Then, after finishing her row, she stood up from her chair and ambled over to me.
“I don’t need help,” I said before she could say anything.
“Good,” she replied and turned to walk back toward her seat.
“Hold on,” I grabbed her arm and brought her back. “Don’t you think we ought to talk?”
“I have nothing to say to you,” she said, shaking her arm out of my grip.
“Come on Granger, we can … compare notes.”
I rolled my eyes. For the so-called, “brightest witch of our age,” she sure could be slow. “I’ll tell you everything I’ve found out if you tell me everything you’ve found out.”
One side of her lip curled up into a slight smirk. “And what if I haven’t found out anything?”
“I’d say you were bluffing,” I said. “I know you better than you think I do.”
“You’re a damn fool if you think that,” said Granger as she began knitting another row with her pink yarn.
“All right, listen Speedy Fingers. What do you want from me? What? Do you want an apology or something?”
“That would be a start,” she said, not looking up from her work.
I took a deep breath. Apologies weren’t really my thing. But if there was one thing I had learned through this whole experience so far, it’s that sometimes you have to talk your way out of things. Tell people what they want to hear, even if you don’t believe it yourself. Hell, it was the only reason I got out of the hospital wing.
“I’m …” another deep breath, “… sorry.”
She stopped knitting and looked at me straight in the eyes. I was quite sure it was the first time she had ever given me her full attention. Her eyes were the color of the mush we eat at meal times. It made me sort of queasy. Yet hungry all at once.
“I don’t believe you,” she said and then stood up.
“What? Hold on, sit back down,” I demanded.
She folded her arms across her chest and looked at me expectantly.
“Look,” I began, and found the tapping of her foot somewhat disconcerting, “A lot of things have happened to me since the last time I talked to you. Things you would not believe.”
She glanced at the clock on the wall, then back at me, without saying a word.
“Remember the night Lovegood was telling us about the Dream Catcher? Well, it’s real. That’s why I haven’t been in classes all week – because I’ve been up in the hospital wing recovering from …”
“From what?” she asked, although her voice sounded uninterested and unbelieving.
But how could I answer? I didn’t even know what I was recovering from. One day my arm was one big crusty scab and the next, there was nothing there at all.
I looked around the room to make sure no one was listening. “Can we talk about it later tonight? When everyone’s sleeping?”
“I don’t know, Malfoy …”
“Please?” I asked, the word feeling foreign on my tongue. “Please … Hermione.”
Her glare was filled to the brim with suspicion, but finally she said, “Okay. Midnight by the fire. Don’t be late.”
= = =
Granger didn’t say a word throughout my entire tale. She simply sat on the red plush couch, completely doe eyed as I regaled her with my slightly exaggerated story that included much more blood shed than there actually was.
“Amycus told me if the attack had lasted even a moment longer, I would have died.”
Granger nodded. “I’m sure.” Something about her tone sounded sarcastic and I glared at her.
“But let me ask you,” she continued, “What exactly is your worst fear, Draco?”
I cringed at the sound of my first name leaving her lips. It was so unnatural, and I still couldn’t obliterate the idea that a Mudblood shouldn’t be allowed the privilege to speak the first name of such a highly respected Pureblood from my mind. She was hardly worthy enough for that. But we’d made it an unspoken pact to work together, so it was one thing I’d have to get used to, along with me learning to say her first name.
“What do you think?” I asked as an answer to her question, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“I know what the Dream Catcher thought. But are werewolves really your worst fear? Perhaps it was real, and that’s just what they set on everyone who gets strapped to that bed …”
“I don’t think so.”
I sighed as I contemplated how to word this without sounding like an absolute idiot. I stood up and walked closer to the fire, stretching my arms above my head and running my hands through my hair. Keeping my back to her, I said, “Because werewolves are not my worst fear. Fenrir Greyback is.”
“I see,” she said timidly.
“When I was a child,” I began as I turned to face her, watching the way the shadows cast by the fire danced across her pink cheeks, “Father used to use the name of Greyback to threaten me. And many times, he had that monster come over our Manor … just to taunt me. Greyback knew how much he frightened me and he used it to his advantage. Father let him.”
Granger – Hermione – looked as though she wanted to reach out to me, to put a hand on my shoulder in a comforting manner, but instead settled for saying, “I’m sorry, Draco.” And I knew her words were genuine.
“That Dream Catcher is real,” I said matter-of-factly, “I’m almost certain that if you were to be strapped in it right now, something completely different would be in that room for you. It’s like … a boggart. It changes for every person. But God …” I paused as a shudder took over my body at the recollection of that night, “It seemed so real. So fucking real. Even days afterwards, I could still see the wounds he left me … could still feel them.”
“It’s like it messes with your mentality,” she concluded.
I nodded. “You have no idea. After I got out of there, I was so confused. I didn’t know what was real in the world anymore. I still don’t.”
“Did we ever, really?” she asked, and as I opened my mouth to answer, I realized that this was perhaps the most prolific thing either of us had spoken all night. So I closed my mouth again, unable to come up with a direct answer to that question.
“So what’s been going on with you?” I asked to change the subject.
Hermione smiled. “I’m afraid these past few weeks haven’t been nearly as exciting for me as they’ve been for you.”
“Well that’s good,” I said, but her frown made me think otherwise, “Isn’t it?”
“Harry,” she said slowly, and then choked on a sob that threatened to leave her body. “And Ron.” She allowed her head to loll limp into her hands.
“What about them?” I asked, “What’s the matter?” Why did girls always have to cry? It just makes matters more complicated than they have to be.
“They won’t even talk to me,” she said, “It’s not very often I can sneak away and see them, what with them being in the Advanced classes,” she sniffed, “And when I do, they look right through me as if I’m not even there. And their eyes …” she said, “Something is terribly wrong with their eyes. It’s as if there is nothing there behind them.”
“I noticed that too,” I admitted, “It’s not just those two though; it’s everyone in the Advanced classes. They all have that empty look in their eyes.”
“I just can’t take not knowing …”
“Not knowing what?”
“Not knowing our past. Don’t you ever wonder? Two years of our lives have passed from 1995 until this very moment, and we haven’t got a clue what’s happened in those two years. For all I know, Harry, Ron, and I might not even be friends anymore. Maybe that’s why they won’t talk to me. So much can happen in two years …”
A creak coming from the stairs caused both our head to whip around.
“Luna, what are you doing awake?” Hermione asked, hastily wiping an escaped tear from her cheek.
“Couldn’t sleep,” she answered, “I heard voices, so I thought I’d come down and see who else was up.”
“Oh,” said Hermione, “Well, I think I’ll actually be turning in. It’s late.”
“Me too,” I agreed with a fake and exaggerated yawn.
I followed Hermione to the stairs, and upon reaching them, Lovegood put her hands on both our shoulders.
“Be careful what you say,” she warned in a whisper, “You never know who might be listening … or what might be listening.”