Marcus and Hector patrolled the front stairwell diligently until Lestrange left their sight. Then, resigning themselves to the fatigue in their legs, they sat down and ordered one of the house elves to get them food from the well stocked Malfoy kitchen.
“How long do you think we’ll be here?” Hector asked.
Marcus, who was greedily eyeing the doorway through which a house elf would emerge very soon, shrugged his shoulders. “I couldn’t care less.”
“Lestrange wants to get the mudblood,” Marcus added after his pause. “But there’s been no luck in finding her. D’you reckon she’s still in the country?”
Hector spat angrily on the floor. “Why not? They’re filthy vermin. If she was smart, she’d have gone back to living with the rest of her mudbloods.”
“He’d still find her,” Marcus said.
The two sat in silence for a while. Hector began to breathe heavily, grunting softly while Marcus kept his eyes on the door, eagerly awaiting the food. Amidst the howling winds outside, the usually silent grounds of Malfoy Manor were stirring.
“And what about Malfoy?” Marcus asked, slowly in a low voice. His eyes wandered over to the stone floor where a small ant had begun to make its way around the large banister of the stairwell and to its home in the walls.
“What about him?”
“Is he really a traitor?”
Hector laughed crudely. “Probably. It’ll be fun to see what happens to him.”
Marcus also chimed in with a laugh. “So Lestrange’ll kill him?”
“Every man needs to face his fate one day or another,” Lestrange said, his voice gruff and harsh as he stood at the top of the staircase. He smiled as he descended slowly. “Draco Malfoy’s day of judgement will come soon and when it does...”
He stomped his foot on the desperate ant. “I will be most happy.”
The fear in Hermione’s eyes paralyzed her as Draco’s constricted airways stopped his breathing and induced a fit like shaking in his chest. She screamed, taking in the sharp smell of salt and blood, and fell down beside him. The blood had stopped coming out of his mouth and Hermione assumed that it was some sort of a clot that had formed in his airways, stopping him from breathing.
Despite her skills as a healer, she couldn’t bring herself to calm down the sudden upsurge of fear in her body. Dealing with strangers was one thing, dealing with… whatever Draco was to her… was another.
She fumbled around aimlessly, trying to find something to do… something to make him open his eyes and insult her or smirk at her, anything. She continued her raging panic as Draco’s skin got paler until her fingers wrapped around her wand. She scanned her mind for a spell to help breathing but her mind couldn’t think straight.
Blood… blood… blood…
Why couldn’t her mind think of anything?
The sweat on her face was beginning to pour down, drenching her in the cold room. Her mind wasn’t focused any longer. All she could see was the white face of Draco Malfoy, losing life by the second. She didn’t know what was happening anymore and her magical instincts had completely escaped her. So she turned to the muggle side of her.
She placed her fingers against Draco’s chin and opened his mouth slightly. There was blood on his teeth and gums but Hermione saw none of it as she closed her eyes and placed her lips against his. His lips were cold and dry but the feeling bypassed her as she hoped, with every fibre of her being, that this would work.
She breathed in and blew a deep breath out down his throat.
An upsurge of blood escaped his mouth and splattered against her lips and down her chin. She wiped her face roughly against her sleeve and placed her warm mouth against his again. This time she inhaled deeper and produced a much stronger gust of air that sailed down his wind pipe. Her hands reached over to his chest as she drew her head up. Hastily, she removed the buttons on his shirt and revealed his icy body. Her fingers pressed down near his heart and she pushed in deeply, one palm over the other. The first push triggered nothing but the second one induced some sort of a gurgling sound in his throat.
She placed her mouth back down against his and blew harder. The blood spattered on his lips once more and she drew her face up before pressing on his chest three more times.
She needed to get Draco to St. Mungo’s. Her mind was too fazed to be able to remember any of the spells that she needed right now but any healer would remember them in a second. Safety concerns were no longer vital – she didn’t need protection. If Lestrange were to somehow find them if they left, she would kill him instantly. It would be that simple. But she wouldn’t risk Draco’s life to cower from filthy vermin like him.
However, she couldn’t do this alone. St. Mungo’s didn’t allow apparation and there was no possible way to transport Draco without a carriage.
Hermione turned instantly at the voice behind her. The empty frame above the bed wasn’t empty anymore. In the darkness it was hard to tell but a young man had appeared in the portrait.
“What?” she said, tasting the blood against her teeth and withholding the feeling of nausea as it overcame her.
“Potter… aren’t you all friends? He could probably help you.”
The face of Regulus Black wasn’t its usual apathetic self but rather, he seemed quite worried right now. Either way, he was right. Hermione knew that Harry would help her and being who he was, he’d be able to figure out some way to transport the body through the back doors to avoid others.
“The gurgling sound in his throat means that some air is getting through,” she said, unable to listen to the words as she spoke them.
She placed her head against Draco’s chest and felt the very small movements as it heaved up and down. “There’s very little air but he’s still alive. Watch him while I go down to the fireplace. If anything happens, yell for me.”
Harry smiled as Teddy’s face contorted in his sleep. He stood at the doorway, leaning casually as he observed the little boy lie peacefully in his bedroom, illuminated by the rotating Chudley Cannons lamp.
“What are you doing?” Ginny asked, coming up from behind. She peeked in and her quizzical expression melted away as she saw Teddy asleep. “Oh, he’s so adorable.”
“He’s growing up fast,” Harry remarked.
Ginny put her arm on Harry’s shoulder and kissed his cheek. “Spoken like a true father.”
Harry turned on his side and put his arms around Ginny’s waist. “I miss him being a baby,” he said, pulling her closer. “We should have one.”
Ginny blushed slightly but rolled her eyes, laughing it off. “And how would you explain that to mum?” she asked and then imitated his response: “Well Mrs Weasley, I’ve knocked up your daughter without marrying her, just like you always dreamed of.”
Harry bent his head, slightly embarrassed. “Well, it’s-”
But he never got to finish his sentence. There was a cackling sound from downstairs at which point, Ginny shut the door to Teddy’s room and looked at Harry with concern. “It’s like two in the morning, isn’t it?”
He nodded. “Might be from the Ministry,” he added, shrugging.
They both rushed downstairs, arriving in the nick of time as green flames began to erupt in their fireplace. There were two or three large spurts before the emerald colour died down and a small head materialized from within.
“Hermione!” Ginny said cheerfully but her disposition shifted suddenly when the shaken brunette’s face became completely visible and she saw the blotches of blood on her face. “What… what happened? Are you alright?”
Harry bent down in front of the stone opening and examined her face more closely. “What’s wrong?” he asked her. “Where’s Ron?”
“I can’t explain right now,” Hermione said, her breaths were short and forced. “I need your help.”
“Yes, of course. What?” Harry replied swiftly. Upstairs, Teddy’s cries began to drown out some of the sound and he turned and nodded to Ginny who looked tersely at Hermione before sighing. “It’s alright, Ginny. Go tend to Teddy.”
She pursed her lips and went back upstairs, increasing the speed of her steps as Teddy’s cries got louder. Meanwhile, Harry turned back to Hermione. “Where’s Ron?”
Hermione let the tears fall down her face as she shook her head. “I don’t know.”
“What?!” Harry cried. He shot up. “He came to see you and…”
“Harry please keep your voice down, if Ginny found out she would never forgive me,” Hermione pleaded. “I need you to come to Grimmauld Place, as soon as possible without Ginny. Please, bring a healer. Draco’s… he’s barely breathing.”
“Where is Ron, Hermione?” he asked again, this time in a deeper and more intense voice, almost pleading.
“I swear I have no idea, Harry. Please hurry to Grimmauld Place. I can’t remember anything right now and I think Draco… I think Draco’s-” She couldn’t continue her sentence and the tears just spilled out mercilessly. Harry got up and looked around aimlessly, clasping his forehead.
“I’ll explain everything to you once you get here.”
He looked back up at the staircase and nodded, with a resigned expression. “I’ll be there as soon as possible,” he said and then added, seeing the expression on Hermione’s face: “I won’t tell Ginny.”
Hermione felt paralyzed with fear. For the first time in a long while, her mind had begun to phase to such a high degree. She couldn’t think straight, her body was numb and her heart beats were ringing in her ears. She was sitting by Draco’s side, periodically blowing more air into his mouth so that he could continue breathing but other than that, she couldn’t look at him. Her mind was running on standby at the moment, only permitting basic human functions such as breathing and blinking and the occasional motor movement. She kept repeating the scenario in her head when she pushed past him roughly and left to see Cassius. For some reason, the thought seemed almost like infidelity in addition to stupidity.
Burying her face in her hands, she felt the coldness of her palms against the warm sweat on her forehead. Hope was fading from her faster than she could think to hold on to it. With every minute and every blink of her wet, brown eyes, she purged herself deeper into the darkness.
She turned her head a little to the right and looked out the window. It was probably around four in the morning and Harry still hadn’t arrived. She reached up again, placing her hands on Draco’s cheeks and pressed her lips against his, blowing in to allow him to breathe. Another gush of blood spurted out of his throat and this time, as practice had taught her, she moved away in time to avoid it hitting her face. The cold spell she had placed on his head was working in overdrive but the sweat beads still remained, like little droplets.
Ensuring that the small, faint movements of his chest remained, Hermione resumed her viewing of the outside. She thought about leaving. She could do it right now; Harry was on his way here and he would soon arrive with a healer and see Draco. They’d all go to St. Mungo’s and he would be saved; she would not be needed. But she couldn’t do that. She needed to know that he would be alright.
She jumped up instantly at the sound of someone calling from downstairs. Circling the upper hallway, she arrived at the top of the stairwell and called out: “Up here, Harry!”
She shuffled down the stairs weakly and peered around the corner. It wasn’t Harry. Though his face was scarred and his walk was heavy, Hermione would have recognized his strong eyes and white moustache anywhere.
“Eli!” she cried.
Unable to lift the weight by himself, Marcus grunted angrily until Hector grabbed on to the legs of the dead body so that they could transport it to the dungeons. This was the third body this week that Lestrange had asked to be “taken care of” and judging by the expensive dragon hide shoes and silk robes that the man was wearing, he was most likely a Ministry official.
“Hold him steady,” Hector barked as they turned the right corner at the edge of the hallway and descended towards the dungeons.
“His skin feels like rubber,” Marcus shot back. “It’s hard to hold on.”
They carefully stepped down each stair and upon reaching the platform landing, lay the body down for a second. Marcus drew out his wand and illuminated the series of torches that circled the stone pathway and led down to nothingness. As the yellow glow filled the darkness, the hidden figure behind the stone pillar was illuminated.
“Hello,” Cassius said, smiling. He stepped out from the shadows and dusted off his robes. “I see you’ve been doing some cleaning for my father.”
Both Marcus and Hector stepped back, completely letting go of the body and allowing it to hit the floor. “Cassius,” Marcus said, nodding. “I thought you’d left.”
“Your mistake,” he said, and then shrugged. As he walked forward, he looked down at the body and then back up at the stairwell through which they had entered. “I don’t want to keep you from your work so please, continue. However, if my father inquires as to my presence, I would appreciate you keeping our little meeting to yourselves.”
“Yes, of course,” both of them mumbled in unison.
Without another word, Cassius smiled and turned away, walking up the stairs and disappearing into the darkness.
“Eli!” Hermione repeated, still gaping at the aged man as he stood at the bottom of the stairwell.
“Oh Ms. Granger!” Eli said, breathing a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness you’re alright.”
Hermione was still recovering from the shock so she didn’t respond but instead, kept on gaping. Eli moved into the living room, still wearing his large black robes and looked at Hermione who was still at the top of the stairs.
“How did you find us?” Hermione asked. “How did you get in?”
“Mr. Weasley is also the secret keeper to this place, I imagine,” he replied. “He revealed the secret to me and as for finding you, apparently your broom has a tracking charm on it that the shopkeeper didn’t take off.”
Hermione nodded absentmindedly – Eli had mentioned Ron’s name. “Is… is Ron alright? Pansy?”
“Not for very long, I’m afraid,” Eli responded. The relaxed expression that had befallen his face faded away and was replaced with a deep anxiety that etched itself into every line of his wrinkles. “I don’t know exactly what’s happening at the Manor right now but bodies are starting to appear in the dungeons.”
Hermione cursed. “Whose bodies?”
“I don’t know,” he responded. “Ms. Parkinson and Mr. Weasley are currently hiding in the underground passage that leads to the South Tower. We all couldn’t escape at once and since their movement is still impaired, I had to flee to come find you. We need to get them out of there.”
Hermione rubbed her face with her hands and nodded. “Draco was right, wasn’t he? They stopped searching once they figured out that we left.”
“Yes,” Eli said. “But I think Lestrange is having another gathering of some sort however, with fewer death eaters this time. We need to get them out before then.”
“I’m not sure,” he replied.
Hermione’s mind was working into overdrive right now. “I can’t think straight now. Eli, Draco’s not okay. He’s been bleeding out of his mouth for hours and he can’t breathe.”
Eli wasn’t shaken by this sudden revelation. “Where is he right now?”
“Upstairs,” she said, feeling the overwhelming of paralysis. “I’ve been using muggle techniques to sustain him. Harry’s going to be here soon with a healer. I just- I just don’t know.”
“I will tend to him until Mr. Potter gets here,” Eli offered.
“You’re not surprised? You’re not afraid?” Hermione asked.
“My dear,” Eli began, smiling weakly. “I am afraid beyond my wits but not surprised. You said it yourself, Edacium curses feed off of pain and Master Malfoy has had more than enough pain for a lifetime.”
Hermione nodded, wiping her eyes roughly. “There’s a bottle of the antidote upstairs,” she explained. “He can’t swallow it right now but just in case you need it, it’s there.”
Eli took note of that in his head and bowed once before popping out of thin air and apparating to the room upstairs. Just as the air began to settle at the location where he had been, the door burst open, this time with Harry running in.
“Hermione!” he said, concerned. He was shabbily dressed in navy blue robes on top of his jeans and yellow t-shirt. Behind him, two more people entered the house.
“Are you the healers?” Hermione asked without addressing Harry.
The two people nodded. They were both fairly short, round people and wore the traditional St. Mungo’s lime green uniform. However, one of them was a woman with a pointed nose and clasped jaw while the man had very blunt features and bulgy blue eyes.
“He’s upstairs,” Hermione said, quickly. She pointed to the stairs and then to the second room to the right. “Do you see the scratched up door? Yes, that one. He’s in there.”
“Blogsworth,” the woman healer said to the man in a thick Irish accent. “Grab the medications.”
The man did as he was told and the two of them headed upstairs quickly when Harry put his arm on Hermione’s shoulder and turned her around. She examined his fatigued face which was laden with apprehension. It had a very Harry-esque look to it: his brow was furrowed above his bottle green eyes, his lips were pursed very slightly and the trademark round glasses were hanging a little below their usual position on the bridge of his nose.
“You look awful,” he said.
She nodded. “I know.”
He reached into his pocket and handed her a napkin. She took it wearily and began to absentmindedly wipe her face, noting the odd mixture of blood, sweat and tears that began appearing on it.
“Do you want some tea?” he asked. “Or some food? I don’t reckon this place is really well stocked with food.”
Hermione shook her head but her weighted legs were pining to sit down so she ushered them both over to the kitchen table where she took a seat on one of the wooden chairs. Harry remained standing and went over to the stove, searching for a pot which he placed atop it. He grabbed his wand and whispered a spell that began to fill it up with water and then a second one which lit a flame under it.
“You’re not mad at me?” she asked.
“Why would I be mad?” he said. He reached into his pocket as the water began to boil and pulled out a bag of leaves. He carefully dropped four of them into the heated water before adding, “I just wish you had asked me for help.”
“No,” Hermione explained. “You don’t understand, Harry. When we were teenagers it was different: neither of us had anything to lose, not me, not Ron, not you. You have a family now. You have Ginny, you have Teddy… you can’t play with your life anymore, not when there are people depending on you.”
“But Ron can?”
“Ron shouldn’t have come,” Hermione said, breathing heavily. “He was never supposed to get involved. This was my battle to fight with Lestrange and my parents’ deaths to avenge. I didn’t ask Ron to help, I didn’t ask Malfoy to help and I didn’t ask Pansy to help and they all got involved and now thanks to me, they all are in danger.”
Harry’s eyes narrowed with fear. “Where is Ron?”
Hermione put her hand on her forehead. “He’s at Malfoy Manor,” she said and watched the terrified look on Harry’s face materialize. “Pansy was there to help Draco, it was all a ploy to get Lestrange to Malfoy Manor. Draco set the whole thing up; he had the Ministry move me into the Manor until he knew where Lestrange was, so I wouldn’t get harmed. Then he sent me home but I was… stupid and I came running back to the Manor. Lestrange was there and we had to use this stupid cover up that I was Draco’s wife so that he wouldn’t suspect me. And then Ron showed up too.”
Hermione continued telling her story and watched Harry’s face make the slightest of movements when she said something particularly horrifying. As the story got intense, Harry jumped when the tea he was making began to overflow from the pot. He turned around quickly and put out the fire. He summoned a cup from the pantry and poured out the dark green coloured tea for Hermione.
“So Ron and Pansy are at Malfoy Manor, right now?”
Hermione nodded, putting her cold hands around the warm cup and feeling a sense of sudden relief. Harry thought about something for a while before speaking again. “We can raid Malfoy Manor,” he explained. “Lestrange is an international criminal.”
Hermione shook her head. “You know as well as I do that they’d be gone even before you got to the gates. Men like Lestrange can’t be caught with the law.”
“What’s going to happen to Ron? I mean, if Eli says he’s fine for now that doesn’t mean that he’ll be fine for much longer.”
Hermione twitched nervously at the idea. “Pansy knows her way around the Manor, much better than those death eaters. We need to figure out what Adria is – the only way to destroy the Edacium curse on Draco is to destroy the original caster of the spell.”
“Hermione, Ron’s life is seriously in danger.”
“I know that!” she said, getting up and turning towards the small glass door that allowed a view of the morning light outside. “Don’t you think I understand how close to death he is right now? How close they all are? I’ve been driving myself over the edge of madness thinking about this.”
“What do you need me to do? I want to help.”
Hermione shook her head instantly. “You can’t risk your life, Harry. Not now.”
“He’s my best friend,” Harry explained. “You’re my best friend. I can’t just leave you like this. I mean, it was fine when it was your own battle to fight, and even then, mind you, I wanted to stop you, but now people are dying.”
Hermione’s eyes suddenly shot up and her mind remembered what Eli had said to her.
“There are bodies at the Manor!” she cried suddenly. “Eli told me something about bodies appearing in the dungeons.”
Harry’s face stiffened. “They’re starting to kill.”
“Muggles, again?” Hermione asked. “No, that wouldn’t make sense.”
“Wizards,” Harry explained. “Hiding dead muggles makes no sense – you can just pass of their deaths as heart attacks or something. He’s killing wizards.”
“Have there been any recent people missing?” she asked.
Harry shook his head. “None that I’ve heard of although I doubt these people would show up on the radar. Think about it: Lestrange’s all about eliminating obstacles in his path. His men probably kill the moment they see their target and dump their bodies in the Malfoy dungeons. Ministry regulations state that you cannot file a missing wizard’s report until the person has been missing for at least 36 hours. His work would probably be done within an hour.”
The silence that followed as both Harry and Hermione contemplated the gravity of the situation was only broken when the woman healer appeared in the kitchen doorway.
“Is he alright?” Hermione asked with speed such that her words were slurred.
“For now,” the woman replied and Hermione’s face relaxed suddenly. She felt as if a huge burden had been lifted off her shoulders. “There was a blood clot in his wind pipe. It was very messy when we released it, there’s blood everywhere.”
Hermione nodded. Now that the calm had been restored in her mind, she began to remember the spells and potions that she would have needed to do the job herself. “The distilling slug serum probably thinned a lot of his blood.”
“Yes,” the healer said, impressed. “He’ll be regurgitating a lot of blood but that’s normal.”
Without listening to anymore, Hermione closed her eyes and felt the tug at her navel as she apparated to the upstairs room.
Hermione entered very slowly, peering in first for reasons that she herself did not understand. The man was covering Draco’s face so she couldn’t really see him but his body was animated, moving as he breathed. She knocked quietly.
“Yes?” the male healer called.
Hermione put her head through the door. “Is it alright if I come in?”
“Uh yes, of course,” the healer said. “Is there anything you need?”
“Oh well, I really wanted to speak to Draco.”
The healer looked confused. “He’s still unconscious. I reckon it’d be a little longer until he wakes up. And you are?”
Hermione paused for a second. “Mrs. Malfoy,” she explained.
The healer wrinkled his forehead that was fairly small compared to the size of his balding scalp. She watched him examine small details of her face as if she was somehow very familiar to him. But she didn’t worry. Hermione hadn’t appeared in the Daily Prophet for years and the only picture of her was the set published right after Voldemort’s defeat where she was much younger. Harry and Ron often made headlines with their escapades in other countries with dangerous criminals but Hermione was very content with her privacy. These healers were also clearly from the emergency section of St. Mungo’s whereas Hermione spent most of her time on the fourth floor, Spell Damage.
“Yes, of course,” the healer agreed. “Well Mrs. Malfoy, I was wondering if you could explain this to me?”
He removed a covering on Draco’s chest and revealed the melted flesh and crescent scar that still remained. Hermione’s eyes instantly flew to his face, however. He was breathing quietly but his eyes didn’t seem very calm, like he was having a bad dream.
“I have no idea,” Hermione lied. “Draco’s an auror – he deals with dangerous wizards all the time. It’s highly probable that this was a work related injury and he just didn’t want to tell me about it.”
“It’s… it’s almost as if it were alive,” the healer said, not taking his eyes off.
Hermione carefully surveyed the room and found all the tools and medications that the healers had brought. The door was slightly ajar when the woman and Harry came in as well.
“My husband and I would like to thank you both for your dutiful and dedicated service to him,” she began in her cold voice. She held her shoulders back and pouted her lips just a little.
Harry’s eyes widened. “What?”
“And you too, of course, Harry,” she said. She walked over to her own small bag and produced her purse.
“But we are not done,” the woman said, confused.
Hermione began to nervously eye the sunlight. It was almost ten in the morning now and she really didn’t want to draw any attention to the house anymore and people leaving and entering certainly did draw attention. Furthermore she had been off the radar for quite a few months now and it was probably better that way – at least when Lestrange came looking for her no one would be able to tell him where she was, even under spells.
“I’ve had a bit of healer training myself,” she said, smiling tersely. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to purchase your supplies to be well prepared for another emergency. Eli!”
Eli popped into the room and bowed, his eyes twinkling. “Yes, Lady Malfoy?”
“Will you please see to it that these two fine healers get compensated for their time and their supplies?” The two healers looked a little wary until they saw the huge stack of coins that Eli produced as he led them outside into the hall at which point, they began to smile greedily. He closed the door behind him, leaving Hermione, Harry and Draco alone in the room.
“What on earth was that about?” Harry asked, dumbfounded.
“I need to maintain my story,” she said. “Hermione Granger needs to hide for a little while longer. I figure the less people know of me, the smaller chance they have of getting harmed by Lestrange.”
“I miss Hermione Granger,” Harry said.
She looked away, unable to meet his eyes and sighed. “It’s not that easy, Harry. I’ve become someone in these last few years that I realize I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be married with five children, cooking and cleaning and working. I mean… I want that but not now.”
“You don’t want to be with Ron.”
Hermione shook her head. “It’s not that. Ron and I already broke up.”
Harry paused. At first Hermione thought it was because the thought of their break up was so overwhelming but apparently, he was thinking about something else. “You want Malfoy?” he said.
“I don’t know what I want.”
Harry shook his head disbelievingly and rolled his eyes. “My best friend is out there and his life is in danger. I supported you through this but I don’t know if I can anymore. I stay out of this, as an auror, only if you promise to tell me everything that happens, as your friend. I’ll look in to the missing wizards and let you know if I find anything unusual. Okay?”
She nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“I know you are,” he replied, squeezing her hand gently before leaving as well.
The door shut loudly and Hermione collected herself carelessly. She looked out the window and closed her eyes so that her eyelids were drowned out by the orange colour of the sun. She inhaled deeply, taking in the fresh air and her heart felt a little lighter.
“Eli,” she said again, opening her eyes. He appeared no more than a second later, bowing.
“Yes, Ms. Granger?” he asked.
“I’m going to be out this evening,” she explained. “Can you please restock the kitchen with some foods? There’s money in my purse. I’d also like the tracking spell on my broom to be removed.”
“Yes, of course,” he said.
“Ms. Granger, before I depart, I’d like to say that I was very impressed with the way you held yourself today. If I may be so bold, you were a true Malfoy.”
Hermione smiled and placed a light kiss on his cheek. “Thank you.”
As he disappeared, Hermione thought about her plans for the rest of the day. She had to see Cassius at seven and needed to pick up some ingredients for the Fiendfyre antidote on the way. But she knew that the potion could only take her so far. What was really causing Draco’s relapses was his pain. Eli had said it before and Hermione knew it was true. There was something… something wrong and what made it worse was that she could do nothing to make him happy. Inexplicably, she began to feel ashamed of herself.
She looked at him, sleeping like a child but with the face of suffering one. He was having another bad dream but all she could do was watch him helplessly, unable to help him and unable to make him happy.
There as a stirring from the bed and Hermione’s eyes flew over to Draco who had begun to move a little. His eyes began to tremble slightly from under the lids and surely enough, they began to let light in with the fractional opening. Hermione knelt down beside the bed and put her hand on his forehead, brushing away the hair from his eyes. They opened even further and he looked at her, first confused but then a small smile appeared on his face.
“Hello,” she said, smiling as widely as she could before her eyes started to moisten. She felt like a total idiot.
“Miss me?” he asked, and for the first time in a very long time, he smirked. Again, the overwhelming emotion overtook Hermione and she laughed.
“More than you can ever imagine,” she said. She sat down beside him and since the bed was on a much higher level, he reached over and placed a soft kiss on her forehead.
“Thank you,” he said to which Hermione responded with a curious expression. “I don’t know for what but I know you did something because otherwise they would have been preparing for my funeral.”
Hermione felt an elated breeze soar through her body as she saw the animated movements on his face as he examined the rest of his room and then looked back at her with his grey eyes. “I really am quite high maintenance, aren’t I?” he asked. “It’s just never over with this.”
“You’ll be fine,” she promised. “Once this is all over, you’ll be back at the Manor with Pansy and everything will be alright and you’ll be happy. All you need to be is happy to forestall the pain.”
Draco cocked his eyebrow. “What about you?” he asked.
Hermione’s eyes lifted dramatically and part of her hoped that Draco hadn’t noticed the overly theatrical action. “What?”
“When this is all over, you’re not going to see me anymore?” he asked.
“No, no you need to be happy. You need to forget about all this awful nonsense and start a life of peace and calm. You j-”
“Hold on. You think you’re the reason I’m relapsing?” he asked. He sat up, much to his own distress when the pain surfaced a few seconds later. Hermione got up and handed him a pain relieving potion which he adamantly refused. “Answer me.”
“Well, I’m not helping,” she said. “We fight and I’m like this huge burden on you and I mean,” she felt herself falling apart, “I can’t even keep you a little happy.”
Tears began to fall mercilessly and she felt like a complete fool in front of Draco. She roughly wiped them with her sleeve and sniffed, using a tissue to clean away the salty remains. Draco tried to stand up but was far too weak to do so, so he motioned for Hermione to come closer to him. She knelt down, looking away and felt him place his hands on her cheeks very gently as he turned her face towards his.
“Haven’t you noticed that I only relapse when you go away? You’re the only one keeping me from death, Hermione and if you leave me, I don’t know what would happen to me but I can assure you it would be nothing good.”
Hermione shook her head. “You’re just placating me.”
“Do you know what it feels like right before I relapse?” he asked. Hermione shook her head. Part of her didn’t want to know the gruesome details but the rational part of her was very curious. “It feels like I’m drowning.”
He let go of her face and placed his hand on his heart. “This is like a weighted anchor that pulls me down with it every single time and I can’t breathe, I can’t see the surface and I can’t taste air. You save me from that. When I’m with you, I’m not a different person but I’m living in a different world. You bring me back to Hogwarts, to simpler days. When you left me because of what I said, I had no choice. Nothing was keeping me from going back to my own past and reliving the pain and losses that I have suffered.”
Hermione placed her hands gingerly on the bed covers. “Never again,” she promised.
He shuffled over a little and ushered to the space beside him on the bed. “You look like you need a bit of sleep,” he said.
She nodded, realizing that she hadn’t slept probably for days now. She lay down beside him and found herself right by his chest, noting how short she was compared to him. She looked up into his eyes and he smiled at her.
“I suppose the antidote’s working now,” she said. “You feel happy?”
He shrugged. “I just like the company.”
Hermione had fallen asleep hours ago but Draco had remained awake the entire time. His arm was protectively over her turned body while his mind wandered over the many thoughts trailing in his head.
He had seen Natalie again. He had even come close to touching her but this time his subconscious had changed. He saw her and he heard her but he had never been so distant from her in his life. The dream, or rather hallucination, had been interrupted by the fact that Natalie’s blue eyes began to change colour and her hair had darkened. Her sleek blonde waves turned into messy, brown curls and it didn’t take a genius to figure out who she resembled.
“What have I done,” he mumbled to himself.
“Quite a compromising position you’ve got yourself into,” Regulus muttered, smiling mischievously. He winked. “Glad to see that you’re awake, mate.”
Draco nodded courteously. “I apologize for snapping at you earlier.”
Regulus waved his arm and shook his head. “No need to apologize. But I see that you’re outlook has certainly improved. Did you see your life flash before your eyes like so many others do?”
“No,” he answered truthfully. “I saw my present.”
Regulus cocked his eyebrow. “What?”
Draco lowered his eyes onto the sleeping brunette and looked back up at Regulus. “I saw her.”
“Ah young romance,” he said, sarcastically fluttering his eyelids.
“It’s not like that,” Draco quickly corrected. “See, you said I was afraid of something. Every dream I have ever had has been about a certain other woman, not Hermione. I think I was afraid of being trapped within my past, with this other woman.”
“I don’t know why you seemed concerned – a beautiful girl in your dreams sounds good.”
“I feel guilty,” he said. “I saw the other woman at first and then all of a sudden I decided I didn’t want to see her anymore and then… poof…. She was gone. It was… it was just like…”
“Just like magic,” Regulus said. “Mind over matter, mate.”
---- Chapter 26: Fearless
Cassius nodded, a smile on his face. “She’s thinking that if she looks busy, we won’t notice her listening in. She doesn’t know anything about me, does she?”
a/n: oh my gosh, wow! I didn't realize how close I'd come to 1000 reviews! Thanks so much guys! It's almost been two years since I started writing this story. wow. erin