”Hey, it's alright,” he said, tentatively placing his hand on hers. ”Nothing happened, you're here and you're safe.”
”I know,” she replied quietly. ”But where will you go? You can't go home because you got me out of there...”
”Oh, didn't you know?” he asked, his tone surprised. ”Dumbledore's arranging some kind of a safe house with the Order, we'll both be going there.” Hermione's eyes widened at the news and her jaw dropped slightly. Draco gave her a lopsided smirk. ”Looks like you're still stuck with me.”
On her first morning of freedom, Hermione still found herself quite puzzled. She had woken up in a nice, warm bed, eaten breakfast and even taken a bath. There had only been a quick Tergeo to clean her up the previous evening, so it was really relaxing to float in the tub with a lot of lovely-scented bath foam. It all felt like pampering even though it was actually rather normal day-to-day routine.
Aside from wishingDraco agood morning, she hadn't spoken to him. She was still adjusting to the thought of living in a safe house with him. She was glad he didn't have to go into hiding by himself, but she also had her doubts about the arrangement. Her friends would surely go ballistic – with Ron's temper and Harry's history with Malfoy there were bound to be problems.
It seemed she was about to learn more about the subject – Professor Dumbledore had just entered the infirmary and beckoned Draco to leave his corner and listen to what he had to say.
”Good morning Miss Granger, Mr. Malfoy,” Dumbledore nodded as they were all gathered together. ”I have arranged a safe house to which you two will be moved in a few hours. You will be accompanied by two Order members at all times.” He paused and then addressed Draco. ”Mr. Malfoy, I have to ask you to leave the Hospital Wing for a short while. Miss Granger is having visitors and I believe they might not be delighted to see you here.”
Draco nodded and followed Professor McGonagall, who had been waiting for him at the door. Dumbledore waited for the door to close before he resumed talking.
”Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley and Miss Weasley will be here shortly. I have talked to them and given them the essentials, but I believe you should be the one to tell them who got you out of there and why.”
Hermione nodded, already bracing herself for the reunion. She was happy to see her best friends, but also a bit worried about how they would react.
”I will send them in,” Dumbledore said and turned to leave.
A moment later Harry, Ron and Ginny rushed into the room and gathered around her bed to wrap her in a collective hug.
”We were so worried about you,” Ginny breathed.
”It's great to have you back,” Harry continued.
”I will bloody well kill those Death Eaters when I see them!” exclaimed Ron.
Hermione was happy to be surrounded by her closest friends again. They were prattling away like madmen, telling her about things that had happened while she had been away. Crookshanks had been going crazy, Ginny told her. She'd had to look after the cat since she was Hermione's roommate. Ron was kind enough to give her a quick update on the latest Quidditch results. All of them had to convince her that her job at the Ministry of Magic could wait. It would have to wait, actually – she wouldn't be going back for a while. The Death Eaters had captured her as she had been going home after work, and it had been decided that she shouldn't be such an easy target anymore.
Everyone had obviously been worried sick about her, and after her disappearance the Order had done a lot to make sure that those closest to Harry were safe. With Voldemort still on the loose, they couldn't risk losing anyone important to the one who was supposed to destroy him.
”Oh dear, I almost forgot,” Ginny said at some point of the conversation. She left the bedside and went to pick up a bag she had dropped on the floor when entering the infirmary. No one had remembered it until now.
Ginny had taken the initiative to bring a bag full of Hermione's clothes and other necessities from their apartment. She accepted the presentwith gratitude. It was good to have something other to wear than the school uniform she'd been given.
Harry and the two redheads were eager to keep the discussion going, but it soon started to feel like meaningless chit-chatting to Hermione. No one had brought up her experiences at the Manor, or even the fact that she had been there for quite a while. It seemed to her that they were avoiding the whole subject. Did they think she didn't want to talk about it? Sure it was a heavy matter but it needed to be discussed. She was already beginning to think her friends were denying that anything had happened, but then she noticed how quiet Ginny had gotten. It was quite clear that the girl had something on her mind. It had to have something to do with her time in captivity, and Hermione grasped the opportunity to bring it up.
”Ginny, is there something you'd like to ask me?”
”Well, yeah,” the girl admitted. ”Dumbledore told us that you were hurt real bad at the Manor, but...” It seemed that she was afraid to say the words. ”They didn't...touch you, did they?”
”They didn't,” Hermione said, lowering her head. ”But they were going to. That's why someone decided to help me get out.”
”Someone helped you escape? Who was it?” Harry's green eyes showed just how much the news had surprised him.
”Uh... Don't freak out on me now. I know you'll find it hard to believe, but it's the truth,” she assured, looking at everyone very seriously. She took a deep breath before dropping the bomb. ”It was Malfoy.”
That was Ron, obviously.
”I thought you'd react like that,” Hermione rolled her eyes. ”Really mature of you, Ron. In any case, I hope you'll all get over whatever attitude you have towards him because, um... Did you guys hear about the safe house thing? You did? Yeah, well – he'll be there too. He can't go home anymore!” Hermione nearly had to shout the last part so she couldn't be interrupted.
Ron groaned unhappily. ”How come we have to put up with that soddy git? It's so unfair!”
”Look, I know he's been a git. I was there too. But if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here chatting with you guys,” Hermione reasoned in a soothing voice. ”I have to give him a chance. What kind of a person would I be if I didn't?”
The three didn't dare to answer. Ron seemed the most reluctant about the new situation, while Harry and Ginny both gave a neutral nod. Harry's expression was rather thoughtful, but he didn't say anything. Hermione took that as a good sign, and decided to throw in an assumption of hers.
”If you really think about it, we haven't seen him much after graduation. He could have changed.”
Ginny smiled. ”You always believe there's something good in everyone.”
”I guess I do,” she answered.
The group fell into silence. After a moment of looking around the infirmary and thinking about what to say, Harry cleared his throat.
”So... I think our time is up,” he said. ”We shouldn't be bothering you too much.”
”Oh no, I don't mind you being here at all,” Hermione pleaded for them to stay. Her words fell on deaf ears, for her friends had been given strict orders from Dumbledore himself. She sighed in defeat. ”Well, at least let me walk you to the door.”
They all got up, and she gave everyone a hug at the infirmary door. Before they left, Ginny remembered to inform her that they'd be joining her at the safe house a few days later.
She closed the door as they disappeared down the corridor. The visit had taken more of her strength than she would've liked to admit – it felt like she'd run a marathon. She also realized that her attitude towards Draco had changed during the conversation. It was almost like she had been his attorney for a moment, defending him in front of a suspicious crowd. He had no one else on his side, and someone had to do it, she reasoned. After everything he'd done for her she wasn't about to leave him on his own.
And because of all the hassle the announcement about her savior had created, the topic of her kidnapping had been completely forgotten. She was really disappointed that she hadn't been able to get it off her chest. It had been really hard for her to spend all that time in the cold dungeons with nothing but her thoughts as company, and now that she was finally free, her closest friends didn't even ask her how she had been doing. What were they thinking? That she was strong enough to deal with it all by herself? Sure, she kept things to herself sometimes, but it didn't mean she could spend nearly three weeks in imprisonment and just forget about it.
She was breathing heavily as she made her way back to her bed. Suddenly she took a sharp intake of air as her legs gave in, making her fall down.
”Madam... Madam Pomfrey?” Hermione called weakly. The woman hurried over from her office and saw the girl on the floor.
”Yes... Sometimes this happens after a traumatic event,” Madam Pomfrey said, helping her up. ”When you were still in captivity, you needed all the strength you had to help you escape if there was a chance. Now that you're safe again, you might occasionally lose control of your body.”
”What? How long will it last?”
”It might go on for a while. You need to regain some strength and weight, too. It won't be like this all the time, mostly you will be alright.” Madam Pomfrey gave Hermione a firm look. ”Do refrain from stressing out. It might trigger the reaction.”
The nurse gave her a potion so she wouldn't pass out while they were moving her to the safe house. She felt much better right away. It was a good thing she did, because McGonagall brought Draco back to the infirmary only a few minutes later. She didn't want to appear weak in front of him. She could take care of herself.
* * *
An hour later Hermione and Draco were in the Headmaster's office, waiting to be transported to the safe house. Both had their luggage with them. While Hermione kept her bag on the floor, Draco held onto his tightly. Dumbledore had told them their escorts would be arriving shortly.
”You will use Side-Along Apparation to get to your destination,” the old man explained. ”The two Order members who are taking you to the safe house should be here any moment. I believe you are familiar with them. Ah, here they come...”
As Dumbledore moved to give some space for the newcomers, a young woman with brilliantly pink hair stepped out of his fireplace.
”Wotcher, Mione,” Tonks grinned.
”Tonks!” Hermione gave a delighted squeal and hurried to hug the witch. ”I had no idea you'd be coming!”
”I wanted to surprise you. Great to see you're okay,” she said. She then turned to give her cousin a curt nod. ”Malfoy.”
Draco nodded back, a serious look on his face. It soon turned into one of horror when he saw the next person to emerge from the fireplace. Even though it hadn't been the real Mad-Eye Moody who'd turned him into a ferret in their fourth year at Hogwarts, he took a few steps back. Hermione's hand flew in front of her mouth as she resisted the urge to giggle.
”Hello Nymphadora, Alastor,” Dumbledore greeted. ”If you don't mind, I'd like to say a few words about the safe house system to these two before you go.”
Moody grunted in response. Dumbledore took that as a sign to address Draco and Hermione.
”You will be switching houses from time to time. You will spend about a week in the first one, but there is no regular pattern or time limit,” the Headmaster told them. ”The Order finds it wise to have other locations in use, too. In case the headquarters can't be used for some reason, there will be other places for back-up.” He paused for a moment and continued in a more serious tone. ”I must ask you to stay inside the house at all times. The arrangement should be safe, but one can never be too sure.”
Hermione nodded firmly. She had no problem with staying in, unless she really needed a break from Draco's presence. Her friends might not like the situation, but she would worry about that later. At the moment she had to focus on other things – Mad-Eye was clearly getting prepared for the transportation. His normal eye checked that everything was under control.
”Everyone ready? Let's get going, then.”
Moody took a firm grip of the nauseous-looking Draco, while Tonks put her hand on Hermione's shoulder. They left the Headmaster's office and reached their destination in a moment's time.
While Moody checked and double-checked the security spells, the pink-haired witch showed them around the house. There were two storeys and an attic. The kitchen seemed comfortable, and the four bedrooms were spacious. Hermione tried to hide her excitement as she spotted a huge bookshelf in the living room. It was quite clear that she would be enjoying her stay.
As Tonks left their company to join Moody, knocking over a chair as she went, Draco and Hermione went to explore their rooms. The latter was done organising her things fairly fast. There was only one little thing she had to do before she could get absorbed in the lovely books she knew she would find in the living room. Taking a deep breath, she headed towards the room of her savior and current fellow inhabitant.
The door was open, but she didn't want to barge in uninvited. ”Umm... Malfoy?”
”Yeah?” He was in the process of unpacking his black bag, but he stopped what he was doing and turned to look at the girl standing in the doorway.
”I never really thanked you. You know, for getting me out of there. I really appreciate it,” said Hermione.
”Oh, that... It was nothing,” Draco shrugged.
”I think it was plenty. But I'm not going to argue about that,” she smiled. ”I'll be in the living room if you need me.”
She turned to leave, but found that it wasn't that easy to get going. She had barely been able to take a few steps when her knees gave in again. Luckily there was a table right next to her – she took hold of it, groaning.
”What was that? Granger, are you alright?” Draco was by her side in an instant.
”Yeah... It's my damn legs. They're not supporting me.”
”What's wrong with them?” He furrowed his brows. ”You were all fine earlier.”
”Madam Pomfrey gave me a potion before we came here. She said this is some kind of a stress reaction. Now that I'm safe, it's okay to be...weak.” Her expression told him how much she disliked her condition. ”So basically my legs were just fine when I was in the dungeons because that way I could use them if I had to escape.”
”Oh. I guess it makes sense... Come on now, I'll help you down the stairs.” For a moment they tried to position their arms comfortably so he could support her, but it proved to be much harder than one would think. Draco had a better idea. ”Nah, what the hell... I'll just carry you.”
”What? No, it's alright, I can walk if you just –”
Hermione's protests died as Draco lifted her in his arms. They were downstairs and in the living roomin no time. He placed her on the sofa and then headed to the book shelf.
”So, what would you like to read? I suppose that's why you were on your way here,” he glanced at her, a teasing smile tugging at the corner of his lips.
”Yeah,” she admitted. ”What books are there?”
He started to read the names of the books out loud. There were both Muggle and wizard related pieces of work: detective stories, old Muggle classics, all sorts of wizarding guides, horror stories, Gilderoy Lockhart's Quide to Household Pests...and one lonely Harlequin.
”Ooh, I want that one!”
”It's a romance novel,” Draco said incredulously as he took the book from the shelf. ”Why not one of these Muggle horror books or this...Crime and Punishment?”
”The last thing I need right now is a heavy book like that one,” she replied. ”A romance novel is light and easy to read, and it might just take my mind off of everything else.”
”If you say so,” Draco said. He picked a book for himself, too. ”I might as well keep you company. We wouldn't want you suffering a fit in here all by yourself, now would we?”
He handed her the Harlequin and sat in an armchair opposite the sofa. They sat in a comfortable silence for some time, both reading their books. Hermione was happy with her choice, because nothing in it reminded her of the horrors she had experienced. It was nice and relaxing, and not unpleasant in the least bit... Until the plot took a turn in a new direction.
She should have seen it coming, really. It was a Harlequin book after all. The book's event in itself wasn't that bad – the problem was her reaction. Even though she knew Draco couldn't possibly know what she was reading at the moment, she blushed furiously. He happened to glance at her right then, naturally.
”What is it? Why are you so red?”
”It's nothing,” she replied quickly, instinctively trying to protect the book.
That was the wrong move. Draco became curious and obviously wanted to find out what made Hermione's face turn pink. Her eyes grew wide as he approached, and she wrapped her arms securely around the book. Yet he somehow managed to snatch it from her.
”Let's see what it says in here,” he smirked. Then he did the one thing she wished he wouldn't do – fixed his eyes on the text and started to read out loud. ”He wrapped his arms around her slender waist and gave her a passionate kiss, to which she eagerly responded. They moved to the other side of the room where a bed was waiting and...” Draco suddenly stopped reading aloud, his eyes still moving over the text. A wide grin spread on his face as he read and finally turned to look at Hermione. ”My my, Granger, I had no idea you were into this sort of books.”
”I didn't know they were going to do that, I've never read the book before! Oh wipe that grin off your face, will you?”
”Maybe tomorrow,” he replied cheekily. ”This is just too much fun. Who would've thought the innocent little Gryffindor Princess was into erotica!”
”Malfoy!” She was speechless. Well, almost. ”That is not the case and don't you dare go telling people that!”
”Don't worry, I'll keep your secret... Besides, who would I tell? That Moody guy? ... No, I think I'll keep it to myself. Well, maybe I'll bring it up every once in a while to keep you on your toes.”
He was grinning from ear to ear, and Hermione could almost feel steam coming out of hers.
”Oh Merlin, you really are a sight,” Draco chuckled. ”Alright, I'll give you your book back. If you don't mind, I'd like you to wait until I'm gone before you start reading again... I don't want to witness it getting out of hand.” He dropped the book in her lap and left the room in an overly dramatic speed.
She could barely breathe. That bastard had some cheek!
* * *
The teasing continued even after dinner. While Hermione had been having a conversation with Tonks, Draco had been grinning and whistling to himself in the background. When she had come back to the living room to read (obviously she wasn't going to abandon a book she had already started), he followed her. Even though he was ticking her off, on some level she was glad to have him there – she wasn't feeling too strong at the moment.There were funny things happening in the book again and she needed a break, but couldn't move around the house by herself.
”Yes, my lady? What can I do for you?” He jumped out of his chair and gave a mock-bow.
”I, umm, I need to go to the bathroom.”
He saw the pretty little flush on her cheeks and immediately drew his conclusions.
”So, it's that stuff again, huh? Honestly, I never thought you were so kinky...”
This time she didn't even bother to answer, but gave him a stern look instead. Draco decided not to push her buttons any further and helped her get to the bathroom without any comments. He did have an annoying grin on his face all the while, though.
He couldn't believe how much fun he was having. He felt more free than he'd ever felt in his whole life. Being Lucius Malfoy's only son hadn't been easy on him, as he'd been forced to do what his father wanted and share his values. Ever since he'd been born, he'd been listening to the same tirade about purebloods being better than others. He had believed in it, too. It had never even crossed his mind to go against what his father had taught him, not until he'd started having thoughts of his own in his last year at Hogwarts.
Funnily enough, it had been Hermione who had made him question what he'd been brought up to believe. How could a Muggle-born beat him in every class if they were supposed to be inferior to him? Could she be the exception to the rule? Then again there were Crabbe and Goyle, who were purebloods and barely knew how to tie their own shoelaces. Draco had come to the conclusion that maybe his father wasn't right after all.
Once he had opened up his eyes and accepted that, he had been feeling like a prisoner. Obviously he couldn't voice his thoughts, so instead he'd been repressing his real opinion for a few years already. Now he was finally out of the Manor, spending all his time with a girl he'd hated for as long as he could remember. Except that he didn't feel that way anymore. Hadn't felt that way for a while actually. He'd seen a new side of her and quite frankly, he had liked it. Not having to pretend she was a lowlife was very liberating.
Draco had to admit to himself that he actually enjoyed Hermione's company. Being on good terms with her was much better than the continuous bickering. Not insulting her also meant that he didn't get a biting comeback in return. Instead he would tease her and make her blush, which was actually a rather pleasant sight.
All in all she wasn't that bad, he decided. When Hermione emerged from the bathroom, he wasn't grinning at her anymore – the small smile was genuine.
A/N:The book ”Crime and Punishment” is Fyodor Dostoevsky's. (I haven't actually read it, but I know it's a classic.) That Harlequin quote isn't actually real, it's something I made up – hopefully it sounds about right.
I know some of you probably winced when Tonks called Hermione ”Mione”, but come on... ”Wotcher Hermione”?? That just doesn't sound good, so I went with the Mione.
Since it took me so long to get this chapter out, I'm giving you guys a little sneak peek from the next chappy. I hope it makes up for the wait. :)
As always, I love getting reviews, and I'll answer all of them!
In Chapter Four:
”Is there anything I can do for you?”
”I could really use a hug,” she replied in a broken voice.
”That's not exactly my specialty, but I'll do my best,” Draco smiled.