“Draco…” the dreamy voice called to him. “Rise and shine, beautiful.”
Draco opened his eyes quickly and saw the smiling face of Pansy Parkinson in front of him. “Pansy…” he began weakly.
“Yes,” she replied, in a childish voice.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m helping you recover, silly,” she said, playing with a strand of hair on his head.
“I see that,” Draco said, “But must you lie on top of me?”
Pansy grimaced slightly and rolled off Draco onto the empty side of the bed. “You used to enjoy that,” she said irritably.
“Right,” he said and looked around him. He was in his room, tucked under his silky green covers with the back of his head against his soft pillows. The curtains were drawn but Draco could see the moonlight washing in through the lace. “What day is it?” he asked.
“It’s been thirty hours,” Pansy replied, answering the question he was leading up to. “You were out for most of it.”
“Most of it?” Draco asked. He put his elbows against the bed and pushed himself up into a seated position, leaning against the headboard.
“Eli mentioned that you were talking for a while, though I guess you don’t remember.”
Draco turned to look at Pansy and saw the extreme difference in the face he’d seen that very afternoon. Her straight, shoulder length black hair had been let down and hung neatly behind her ears and her fearful eyes were now cool and playful. She was thinner than she’d been back at Hogwarts and her off-shoulder orange sweater emphasized that.
She was lying on her stomach beside Draco and was propped up on her elbows. She reached for his bare shoulder and began tracing little shapes on them with her finger. “You gave us quite a scare,” she said darkly.
Draco took a minute to figure out if he was wearing any pants and after being satisfied that he was, he moved the covers down just a little so his bare chest was exposed. They were there. The burns had now become more defined than ever with a crescent shaped scar dominating the mass of healing flesh. The burning sensation wasn’t as strong when he pressed his fingers against the wounds and the redness had faded.
“Is it as bad as it looks?” she asked casually, eyeing the scars.
“It’s fine,” Draco lied emptily. “Thank you, by the way.”
“Anytime,” she said, smiling.
“What were you doing in the South Tower?” Draco asked suddenly. “…that was where you found me, right?”
“Yes, you were crouched away in some obscure corner,” she said. Her face had become more serious. “I heard your breathing and then you said something and I saw you.”
“So, why were you here?” Draco asked again, changing the subject as quickly as he could. He didn’t need Pansy questioning his sanity.
“A visit,” she shrugged casually. “You haven’t talked to me in months.” A mischievous grin appeared on her face again as she leaned in closer to Draco. “I missed you.”
Draco didn’t feel the need to shift away from her – this is how it usually was with her. “It was good you came by,” he answered.
Pansy sensed his indifference and playfully pouted. “Oh come on, Draco,” she whispered, edging in closer. “Didn’t you miss me at all?”
“Pansy, I don’t think now is the right time.”
“It’s the perfect time,” she said, bringing her red lips close to his ear.
“I’m injured,” Draco said.
“You look fine to me,” she replied. “You can talk and move about easily.”
Draco stared at her for a second. She was right. He had just had a fairly simple conversation with Pansy and he had felt no sharp pains in his chest. He had even managed to move the covers off of himself without feeling the familiar burning sensation. His mind took him back to the day he’d fought Adria in the North Tower. When he’d woken up, he had barely been able to speak, let alone have a full-on discussion.
“What’s wrong?” Pansy’s voice came.
“Were there a lot of healers?” Draco asked suddenly.
“No,” she replied suspiciously. “Why?”
“Just curious,” he said, feigning breeziness.
Her smile reappeared as she placed her hand against his face. “You should get your mind off of what happened,” she said, her black eyes dancing with delight. “Let me help you.” She rolled herself onto Draco and began to play with his hair again.
“How many healers were there?” he asked, looking into her eyes.
“That’s not exactly the kind of thing you’re supposed to be talking about now,” she sighed vehemently.
“How many?” Draco urged.
“Just Granger,” Pansy replied.
She saw the colour drain from Draco’s face as he sat up completely, causing her to fall back onto her side of the bed. “What?”
“It was just Granger,” she repeated, clearly annoyed.
“She saw me?”
“She healed you,” she said. “I would imagine she’d have to see you to heal you.”
“She couldn’t have…” Draco said, more to himself than Pansy. “I was in the South Tower…”
“Eli brought her in,” Pansy responded. “You were barely breathing when I found you and so I began to shout for help. Two house elves came by and I told them to go find Eli, one of them went and the other conjured up a stretcher and took you inside. By the time we got to your room, Eli and Granger were already there.”
Draco squeezed his hand into a fist and slammed it against the headboard, muttering a string of creative swearwords that Pansy hadn’t heard before. “All that for nothing,” he breathed angrily.
“Stop tensing yourself,” Pansy said, resuming her light tracing of Draco’s shoulder. “Calm down.”
“This is not the time,” Draco repeated tersely.
“Let me prove you wrong,” she said, placing a cool hand over his neck and running it along his collarbones.
But before he could respond, the door slowly creaked open and a preoccupied Hermione stepped in and suddenly stopped at the scene before her. Her jaw fell slightly as she eyed Malfoy, lying bare-chested on his bed, with a very comfortable Pansy running her fingers along his body.
“I’ll come back later,” she said awkwardly, rushing back out the door.
“Hold on!” Draco called, moving Pansy off of him and stepping onto the cold floor. Hermione stopped halfway and turned slowly.
“It’s fine,” she said, avoiding his eye. Clearly, she felt a lot more awkward than either he or Pansy did. “You can… get back to doing what you were doing.”
“I doubt it,” Pansy grunted from the bed. She sat up straight and put on her shoes, sighing irritably. “I’m going to get something to eat.”
“Ask Eli to give you a room,” Draco said to her.
“Alright.” She left the room and shut the door behind her, leaving Hermione and Draco face to face.
“I’ll get a shirt, if it makes you uncomfortable,” Draco said, turning towards his bed to find a covering for himself.
“No, don’t!” Hermione said, slightly louder than she had intended and Draco turned to her with a smirk on his face.
“Oh, grow up!” she snapped. “I meant that it’s important for the wound to stay exposed for a few hours. That’s why the windows are all opened; the cold air helps soothe the burns.”
Draco turned towards his windows and noticed them all propped open behind the curtains. It was then that he saw Hermione wearing a lavender sweater over her shirt and goose bumps along the sides of her neck.
“Are you cold?” he asked.
“It’s freezing in here,” she said, rubbing her hands together. “But you probably don’t feel it.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” he asked. He sat himself back on his bed while Hermione remained standing.
“You’ve spent the last eight hours with an abnormally high body temperature. It’ll take a while for you to feel cold the same way we do.”
“How did you know all this healing stuff?” Draco asked her.
“I learnt it,” she said slowly, as if examining a mental patient.
“When I was training to be a healer…” she said, confused as to why Malfoy was asking her this.
“You’re a healer?” he asked suddenly.
“I didn’t know that,” he said, curiously.
“You never asked,” she replied with a certain amount of oddity. “And I’m sorry about interrupting you and Pansy before.”
“Nothing was happening,” Draco shrugged.
“Well it certainly didn’t look like that.” Hermione mumbled, more to herself.
“We’re not together,” Draco said.
“Oh,” Hermione said bluntly. “I’d never seen her around here before, that’s all.”
“We have sort of… an open relationship.” He looked at Hermione to see if she understood what he meant but judging by her perplexed look, she didn’t. “It’s just that… often I find myself preoccupied with things and Pansy provides a good distraction for me.”
The lines on Hermione’s forehead creased as she tried to understand what he was saying. “It doesn’t really matter,” she said quickly. Clearly, she didn’t get it. “What things do you find yourself preoccupied with?”
Malfoy suddenly felt himself remembering why he had been angry with her in the first place. She knew. She knew that he had gotten those scars from saving her and she knew that he had done it twice – her curiosity was, no doubt, peaked and she would soon be asking more questions that he needed.
“These burns,” he said slowly. “I-”
“Eli told me,” Hermione responded. “You got them when you were trying to save yourself in the North Tower.”
Malfoy couldn’t help but smile inside. Thank goodness for Eli. “Yes.”
Hermione scanned him silently from head to toe and then suddenly opened her mouth. “Take your pants off,” she said. Malfoy gazed at her with a startled expression.
“Excuse me?” he said, that familiar grin reappearing on his pale face.
Hermione looked confused for a second and realized how her comment may have sounded. “You’re really a child, you know,” she grunted. “The blood seeped in through your leg, and you’re still wearing the same bloody pants.”
Draco glanced down at his legs and noticed the blood stains around his waist, staining his perfect brown pants. “Oh,” he said and reached out for a pair of grey trousers lying on a velvet armchair near his bed. “Turn around.”
“Why?” Hermione asked.
“You’ve seen enough for a day,” he muttered as Hermione rolled her eyes and turned to face the wall, away from Draco.
“So, what’d you do to me?” he asked, trying to fill the awkward silence as he unbuckled his pants.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, what did you do that five of the best healers in the country couldn’t?” he asked.
“Let me ask you something,” Hermione said, still staring at the wall. “Would it be easier for five of the best hunters to catch a wolf while blinded or for a newly trained one with exact knowledge of what the wolf looks like and where he is?”
“Are you implying that my healers were handicapped?” Draco asked. He pulled the grey trousers over his legs.
“Not handicapped,” Hermione said coolly. Clearly, she was proud that she had managed to do what some of the best men in the country couldn’t. “Just un-informed.”
“I’m done,” Draco responded quickly and Hermione turned around. “So what was it, Granger?”
“Fiendfyre,” she said, reaching into her pocket and producing a parchment with scribbles over it.
“Cursed fire?” he asked, raising his eyebrow.
Hermione nodded. “I came across it while reading something about hags. It’s used to destroy them; it produces burns that feed off of their corpses, eventually killing them.”
“How charming. But that is useless, seeing as I am not a hag.”
“The effect is different on humans,” she offered. “I did some research after Eli brought you in and it’s more painful to us. But it also kills instantly if the exposure is long enough.”
“So I wasn’t exposed long enough to die? Just long enough to suffer pain and torture.”
Hermione nodded. “Lucky me,” Draco muttered.
“Once I knew what it was, I made a potion. It was complicated and called for some pretty rare ingredients – your potions cupboard is well stocked, by the way, I got all the materials easily.”
“Yes, my ancestors were a weird bunch. They liked to brew potions and feed them to muggles to see what happened,” he said pensively. Hermione flinched.
“Am I healed completely then?” he asked, turning to face her.
“Fiendfyre is dark magic,” Hermione said incredulously. “There’ll still be a sizeable scar and some occasional pain, but it shouldn’t hurt as much as it did.”
Malfoy stared at Hermione for a second and couldn’t hide his amazement. Despite his dislike for the bushy haired, bossy, know-it-all, she had saved him and he felt indebted to her and slightly ashamed, knowing that he probably wouldn’t have done the same. He had saved her, twice, but that was more out of obligation than care. He didn’t really have a choice; it was either save her or have the entire ministry come down to the Manor led by the Potter Posse. Hermione’s actions were totally voluntary – she didn’t need to save him. He would have lived, regardless but probably in more pain and discomfort.
“Thank you,” he said after a while.
Hermione was caught by surprise. “Malfoy, did you just thank me?” she said, a cocky smile appearing on her face.
“Don’t tell anyone,” he said as he raised his legs up on the bed and leaned his head against the pillow. Unwillingly, he smiled too. “But I suppose I do owe you.”
Instantly, he regretted his words as a knowing look flashed across Hermione’s face. “Do you mean that?” she asked.
“I don’t like where this is going,” he muttered. “But, yes, I did mean it. If you ever need anything, you can ask.”
“I do want something,” she said as a glimmer of hope flashed across her face. “Answers.”
Draco’s expression twisted into a frown. “No.”
“You don’t even know what I’m going to ask!” she protested.
“I can guess,” he snapped. “And I’m not answering your questions.”
“Let me help you!” she wailed.
Draco looked at her with a maddened expression as if he was staring at a lunatic. “Stay out of this, Granger,” he retorted, his voice was harsher now. “You’re here for a few more days; can’t you just shut that stupid mouth of yours up?”
“A few more days?”
“You will have to leave eventually.”
“You can’t make me leave until you get Skeid’s letter, and I know you haven’t gotten that yet!” she yelled.
Draco froze and his eyes narrowed. “How do you know I haven’t gotten it yet?” he asked.
Hermione faltered and her guilty expression gave it all away. Malfoy jumped out of bed and his eyes were fearless and cold. “I can’t believe you’d resort to that!” he spat angrily. “Hiding my mail?!”
“You need my help!” Hermione said. “You know that as well as I do. Without me, you’d be writhing in pain in your stupid bed.”
“I didn’t ask for your help then and I’m not asking now! Stay out of this, Granger!”
“You are so damn stubborn!”
“How is minding my privacy stubborn? If anyone is stubborn, it’s you, you stupid –”
“You’re stubborn because you won’t accept my help!
“I don’t even understand why you want to help! Nothing good has come from any of this!”
“Haven’t you ever just wanted to know?” Hermione asked, her eyes wide with anger. “And don’t tell me that this is none of my business,” she added, rolling up here sleeves to expose her circular burns. “This is my business too!”
“Like those hurt as much as mine do,” he spat, staring at her thin burns and mentally comparing them to the cooking flesh on his chest. “You need to leave,” Draco said heatedly. “Tomorrow, we’re going down to the bloody Ministry and getting all that paperwork done!”
“Don’t you see? The fiendfyre is a piece of the puzzle! It’s unusual for any creature to have that kind of power…”
“That doesn’t matter,” Draco replied. “I know what she is!”
“No you don’t,” Hermione corrected him. “You know who she is! If you knew what she was, you would have figured out a way to save her by now!”
The words hit Draco like a knife and his gaze became colder. His body was stiff and his grey eyes held nothing but anger and frustration. He saw Hermione recoil from his sharp gaze as well, instantly regretting her outburst. “Pack your things tonight,” he told her, holding the door open. “You’ll leave straight from the Ministry tomorrow.”
Hermione stalked down the carpeted corridor from Malfoy’s room with extremely flushed cheeks. Her constant trips back and forth between the Potions cupboard and Malfoy’s room in the past day had given her enough of an idea of the layout of this part of the castle.
She turned down the familiar marble stairs and walked past the huge row of windows that opened up onto the path of roses in the garden below. Her legs were detached from her mind, leading her carelessly through the maze like twists and turns until she reached the only place she knew how to get to. The Potions Cupboard.
She threw the door open and inhaled the familiar scent of rancid dust and dead flowers, leaning against the walls. She stood under the dim candles in the large room that hid most of the ancient jars, cracked bottles and towering shelves, making the place seem more unfamiliar to her.
Within moments, she felt the door to the Potions cupboard open slowly and a dark figure materialized. She didn’t bother turning to face the old man but when she spoke, her voice was still shaky.
“I assume you heard?” she asked harshly.
“It was hard to ignore the screaming,” Eli acknowledged.
They stood in silence for a few minutes and Hermione had the distinct impression that Eli was letting her vent all her anger out before proceeding. She did so gladly: taking in deep breaths and clenching her fists the side of her body.
“I underestimated his reaction,” Eli said slowly in an apologetic tone. “I didn’t think he would be so surprised at your eagerness to help.”
“He knew what I was going to ask him before I got the chance,” Hermione said, reflecting. “How surprised could he have been?”
“He was prepared for your questions, but I believe it was your offer to help him that caught him off guard.”
“I guess I can see that.” The stillness in the cold air was extremely favourable right now.
“Curiosity he was prepared for… camaraderie is something still beyond his grasp. I think he always assumed the burns would scare you off, that they were enough to dissuade you from pursuing this subject any further.”
“Much to his disappointment,” Hermione finished.
“Oh, yes,” Eli said, letting out a dark chuckle. “So now he has resorted to the only thing he can possibly do to keep you away.”
“He was just bluffing, right?” Hermione asked, not bothering to hide the strain in her voice. “He really can’t just drag me to the Ministry tomorrow and pack me off.”
“He can and as far as I know, that’s his plan.” The candles flickered gently and illuminated the hollow appearance in Eli’s face, making him seem older than he was already. He seemed worried.
“I guess saving his life wasn’t enough of a reason to trust me,” Hermione shot back, coldly and bluntly. “Clearly, I need to march into his bloody room with the entire mystery as good as solved for him to even consider my assistance.”
“That’s not true,” Eli corrected. “His anger, though surprising and extremely unexpected, is a good sign.”
Hermione looked at Eli like he was going crazy. “I meant it,” Eli continued. “Haven’t you ever wondered why he’s such a calm person all the time?”
“I never considered him calm – just emotionless.”
“He doesn’t display his emotions as readily… he’s in control of himself because he knows what he needs to do and how he needs to do it. You, on the other hand, Ms. Granger have startled him and shown him something very important that he hadn’t found before. Your discovery, might I add, was greatly impressive. You managed to figure out a very central and elusive piece of the puzzle.
“I’m not too sure about that,” Hermione added, though still beaming at the compliment. “I mean, fiendfyre is a very out of control curse and a lot more… theatrical, like it has a mind of its own. But with this creature, she had the fiendfyre under control very easily and the curse didn’t waver for a second.”
“What could that mean?”
“That she is more powerful than I had imagined because to be in control of such a dangerous curse… it’s remarkable. It requires dark magic beyond recognizable feats.”
“Well, I suppose there was no question of her power.”
“But the way she moved… she had such animal instincts but with such control over her attacks?” Hermione’s brain was beginning to hurt. That was never a good sign.
“The problem at hand is that you will be leaving tomorrow morning,” Eli said, registering the pained look on Hermione’s face. “And I don’t think we can afford to lose you just yet, Ms. Granger.” He formed a gentle smile on his face.
“I’m not ready to leave,” she agreed. “But I doubt he’ll see it that way.”
“Give me some time,” Eli said, his eyes focused on an indistinct object. “For now, is there anything in particular you need?”
“Some more information on Fiendfyre,” Hermione said, shrugging. “I checked in the library again while Malfoy was unconscious but there’s only so much I can find.”
“Ah! Now that I can help you with.”
He gestured to one of the floating candles in the Potions cupboard to follow him as he exited the dark room, leading the way down the narrow passageway. They walked for a silent ten minutes through woven passages and wide hallways until Hermione saw a familiar room with brick red walls and a large, stone fireplace, all encompassed by a circular Persian rug on the floor. Eli led her up the marble staircases and back onto the third floor of the Manor – the darkest floor, aside from the dungeons, that she’d seen. Despite the faint, floating candle, Hermione felt extremely blind and uncomfortable until they reached the large oak doors with the snake carvings. Pushing it aside, Eli made way for Hermione to enter the gigantic library of Malfoy Manor first.
Though this was the second time she saw it, she felt an elated jump in her throat as she found herself surrounded by the things that comforted her the most: books. Lined from the endless ceiling to the cold floor, the thick pages of knowledge -of which many were illegal, she was sure – made her feel serene and at peace.
Eli sensed the sudden lift in her mood but did not allow her to experience it any longer as he reminded Hermione of the limited time they had. He led the way past the books and ushered her over to a large shelf with only four titles.
Eli moved the four titles off the shelf carefully, exposing a small door knob behind the second book. He reached behind and turned it carefully, opening the door without the slightest bit of sound.
They entered a slightly smaller room that contained about one-fourth the books that were outside. Instead of large, soft chairs in the centre, there was a round wooden table surrounded by four thin framed chairs.
“This is a slightly more precarious room,” Eli warned. “No one outside the Malfoys knows about this.”
“My lips are sealed,” Hermione said, unable to contain her amazement.
“As you can see, the titles here are a little more…”
“Illegal?” Hermione finished for him. “I recognize some of these names,” she began. “A lot of these books have been banned by the Ministry.”
“All known copies in existence are to be destroyed,” Eli agreed. “But we can’t let such useful knowledge be wasted so easily.”
Hermione smiled. “How did the Malfoys come by all these books?” she asked.
“It’s a collection of generations,” Eli explained. “Malfoy Manor was always a much protected place and people often came here to hide their precious possessions. A lot of them never made it back to claim their belongings, so the items were placed around the manor. Most of these books were acquired as such.”
“So you think any of them have information on Fiendfyre?”
“You can check,” he offered. “If anywhere, the information would be here. If there is any record of a creature using dark magic as their offence, I doubt it would be in Ministry hands.”
Hermione nodded to Eli and then made her way to one of the bookshelves, running her hands across the books. “Good luck,” Eli said to her.
“You’re not staying?” she asked, suddenly turning around.
“Someone has to keep Master Malfoy busy,” he said, smiling as he turned away. “Let me know if you need me, Ms. Granger.”
And with that, he was gone.
The huge grandfather clock in the hall outside Malfoy’s room struck four in the morning. The bells echoed their way through the stone walls and distracted Draco for the length of the four chimes before he resorted back to worrying.
He hadn’t slept at all since his conversation with Hermione but his mind wasn’t strained or tired in any way. It was just filled with worries and thoughts. She knew a lot more than he had anticipated – or hoped. The one thing that had struck him more than anything else though was what she had said before he kicked her out.
If you knew what she was, you would have figured out a way to save her by now
She had figured out that he wasn’t trying to kill Adria, that he was trying to save her. It would only take a few more hours of prodding around for her to figure out who Adria really was and her whole story. That would, undoubtedly, lead to more complications that Draco didn’t need to deal with. Lestrange was arriving in a week and his arrival required extensive physical and mental preparation which did not allow time for babysitting a stupid mudblood.
Draco paused suddenly and gazed out of the window onto the moonlit courtyard. A stupid woman, he corrected himself. Despite everything, she had saved his life. The antidote to the fiendfyre had managed to spare him hours more of unbearable pain – pain which, as he remembered his trip in the carriage back to Malfoy Manor, had almost driven him to killing himself.
And that was the other problem. The voice. The overwhelming temptation to hear that sweet, glossy voice often led to self-inflicted pain. Pain was the only way he ever heard her and it had taken him a while to realize that in his most excruciating moments, he found himself at the threshold of death from where she spoke to him. And more than once, he gave himself into that sweet temptation and allowed the pain to sink in deeper until the comforting sound of her words engulfed him. Once Adria’s story was discovered, it was only a matter of time before Hermione would find out who Natalie was and that was something that she could never know.
His body began to shiver and he looked down at his bare arms where tiny little goose bumps had begun to form. Hermione had been right; his body was becoming more accustomed to normal weather conditions. He put a black t-shirt that emphasized his broad shoulders and muscular build but hid his scars.
He needed a distraction right now. Something, anything that would take his mind off of Natalie, Adria, Granger or Lestrange.
He knew just the thing.
Slipping out his bedroom, he walked down the carpeted hallway until he reached a huge set of marble stairs that led both upstairs and down. He went down another floor, past a dining hall, a winery and into a corridor with multiple doors. He knocked on the one closest to him.
There was a rustling and a bit of confused muttering from inside but within a few minutes, the door had been opened by a very tired Pansy Parkinson.
“Draco?” she asked, her eyelids adjusting to the bright light of the candles behind him. “What is it?”
“I need something from you,” he asked, placing his arms in the frame of the doorway, leaning in.
“A distraction.” And with that, he placed his pale lips against her pink ones and took her face into his hands, pressing himself into her. Her confusion melted away as she locked her arms around his neck and pulled him into her room, shutting the door behind her.