They reappeared on a grassy hill at the base of a mountain.
“That was Fiendfyre!” she choked out, her face ashen. The alcohol still running through her system made her quite nauseous. She finished unsheathing her wand and straightened her dress, noticing as she did so that the small silver cube Gary had given her was no longer tucked in her bra—it had fallen out somewhere!
Malfoy, for that was who had saved her life, was pale as well. He looked to be more angry than frightened, however. “Yes, and it will probably be able to track our apparition, so—”
Hermione felt an intense pain and let out a scream as a raging plume of fire appeared in midair next to her, licking at her arm. Malfoy seized her other arm in an iron grip and disapparated once more. The pain in her arm didn’t cease, however, and Hermione was forced to endure as Malfoy apparated over and over again in quick succession.
Each time, the flames appeared just moments after they appeared in a new place. In desperation, Malfoy finally apparated them the one place he hoped would defeat pursuit.
Hermione choked on a mouthful of saltwater as they landed in the Atlantic Ocean. The freezing cold water nearly paralyzed her limbs, but it effectively chased away her inebriation.
“Down!” coughed Malfoy as the fire showed itself above them.
Hermione dove under the water, feeling it warm up as the flames followed. She swam down as hard as she could, kicking off her shoes as she did so. After twenty seconds of hard swimming into the icy depths of the ocean, she was unable to move her arms or legs anymore. The cold sank into her very bones and she began to feel completely numb. The Fiendfyre finally sizzled and fizzed into nonexistence.
She began kicking her way to the surface, even as the lack of air made her chest feel like it was going to burst.
Hermione’s head finally broke the surface and she shook the hair out of her face quickly, her eyes darting around as she looked for the Fiendfyre. It was nowhere to be seen. Her leaden limbs worked hard to keep her afloat as her body was wracked with violent shivers.
She looked around for Malfoy, but couldn’t see him anywhere. She quickly cast a Bubble-Head charm on herself and dove beneath the surface once more.
Malfoy was desperately swimming downwards; in the black water, he had no idea which way was up. His wand was in his hand and bubbles escaped his mouth as he tried to cast a spell—any spell—but the water swallowed up his words and the efforts were useless.
Hermione grabbed his upper arm and dragged him upwards, struggling against his weight. She reached the surface of the water and began coughing and choking as she expelled the water from her lungs.
Malfoy was in the same condition next to her, his lips turning blue as he struggled to stay afloat. Hermione grabbed his arm and revolved in an awkward circle in the water, concentrating hard as she disapparated with him.
“B-bloody hell!” gasped Hermione as they landed in the middle of her living room. Without regards to modesty, she stripped off the dress, exposing her left arm and shoulder, which was still smoking from the Fiendfyre even after being totally doused with water.
Malfoy cast a drying spell on the both of them, studiously not looking at Hermione. He shrugged out of his suit coat.
“It’s burning! It’s still burning! Do you know how to stop this?” Hermione gritted out, slipping into a pair of clean pajamas that had been lying folded on the table.
To ease the nausea and dizziness that she still felt from the alcohol, she quickly drank a hangover-curing potion from her cabinet. She sat down on the sofa, trying not to look at the still burning wound.
“Yes,” he replied haughtily. “And you could speak a little more respectfully, seeing as I just saved your life.”
Though his words were scornful, his touch was gentle when he took her arm in his hand and traced his wand on the smoldering burns of her arm.
“I saved yours as well, in the water, Malfoy,” she retorted, trying not to wince.
Malfoy ignored her and began speaking a long series of incantations that sounded like an ancient language.
“How do you know this?” demanded Hermione, watching as the burns began to close and heal before her very eyes. “Fiendfyre is one of the most dark and mysterious branches of magic!”
“You forget who my father was, Granger. I learned much from him before he was killed,” Malfoy said, interrupting the flow of magic. Before the burns could open up again, he continued the incantation until the skin of Hermione’s arm was completely healed.
Hermione looked up at him, her body relaxing as the pain faded away. A relieved smile softened her face and erased all bad feelings that she had about him for the moment.
Malfoy ran his fingers along the freshly-healed skin. “Does that hurt?” he asked, his voice low and soft. His grey eyes gazed at her, genuine concern in their depths.
“No,” Hermione breathed. They were quite close, but there was no animosity between them for once. She found her eyes drawn to his lips.
Malfoy noticed her eyes flick to her lips, and was unable to prevent himself from doing the same. What would it be like to kiss her? He smirked inwardly as he remembered that he had already kissed her—in his bed. And it had been very very good… He closed the distance between them and pressed his lips to hers. She gasped in surprise, but made no move to push him away.
Hermione kissed him back, more surprised than anything else. He slid his hand behind her neck to pull her closer to him. They kissed slowly and deeply for at least a minute before Malfoy pulled away sharply.
“What?” asked Hermione, slightly out of breath.
Malfoy stood up and crossed the room, turning to glare at her. “I don’t get involved in any way with bimbos anymore, Granger,” he said harshly.
Hermione’s face flushed deep red and she stood angrily, shrieking, “Bimbo? How am I a bimbo?!”
“How could you possibly so fucking stupid?” he replied, his voice raised to almost a yell. “After all I’ve done for you—all the help, the warnings—and you just throw it all away in a second?! You’re an Auror—why the HELL would you let yourself get drunk?!”
His glare pierced through her, and Hermione realized that he was right: she had made a terrible mistake. “I didn’t know that Mark was going to be there,” she protested, wanting to justify her actions somehow. “And in case you don’t recall, I’m not an Auror anymore, remember? You
saw to that!”
Malfoy rolled his eyes, still furious. His suit was wrinkled from the ocean, but his hair looked as good as ever. He was keeping a distance of about fifteen feet from her for her own protection—his anger was extensive. “You may not be an Auror in title, but you still think of yourself as one. If I’m going to continue wasting my time on you, you’d better explain yourself right now,” he snarled.
Hermione sighed and crossed her arms defensively. “I drank because I was with you,” she admitted, looking down. “I didn’t think anything was going to happen that night, and I just wanted to have some fun. I didn’t know Mark was going to be there,” repeated the girl. “Mark killed my bloody cat, and there’s no way that I’m going to pretend to like him anymore! I’m sorry, but I couldn’t do it.”
“Well, you’ve just put my life in danger as well as yours,” growled Malfoy, walking towards her. Hermione flinched as he got close. “Don’t be a fool—I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Why are you afraid of him?” Hermione demanded to know. “Isn’t he your friend—or at the very least, your partner in crime? And if you know how to stop the progression of Fiendfyre, isn’t there more Dark magic that you know? Is he more powerful than you?”
Malfoy looked quite put out with all the questions. He sat beside her on the sofa, taking care to be on the extreme opposite end so that they wouldn’t touch in any way.
“First off, I’m going to make one thing very clear to you, Granger,” Malfoy said menacingly. “I am afraid of no one. I know many types of Dark Magic—spells and curses that would give you nightmares.”
“That’s only one of my questions answered,” Hermione stated stubbornly when Malfoy paused.
“That’s the only one that needs answering.”
Hermione remained quiet for a few moments. “Why don’t we just go to the Ministry?” she said finally. “Since you can no longer be a part of the Hunters, why not finally turn them in? I’m sure you wouldn’t go Azkaban if you helped turn the others in.”
Malfoy’s expression told her exactly what he thought of that idea, but he answered her anyway. “I’m not going to turn in the Hunters simply because of Mark. I just need to get rid of him.”
“If you’re not afraid of him, then why don’t you simply ‘get rid of him,’ as you put it?” Hermione asked logically.
“It’s a long story.”
A heavy knocking sounded on the door before Hermione could push Malfoy for more information. Both of them reached for their wands.
“Who is it?” Hermione called, taking up a defensive position to the side of her door.
The door exploded inwards, showering Herminone with chunks of wood and metal. Had she not been to the side of the door, she certainly would have been killed. Mark and another Hunter stood in the doorway, wands aloft.
“So sorry it has to come to this, Hermione,” Mark said regretfully, while Hermione regained her balance. “Take him.” The rapped out order was directed to the other Hunter, whom Hermione recognized as the one she had tied up the night she’d tried to arrest Malfoy.
“Back off, Ramsey,” Malfoy warned from behind her, his wand raised. “I’m still your leader, and I can drop you in a second.”
Ramsey walked past Hermione towards Malfoy.
Hermione kept her eyes on Mark, ready to attack.
“You were going to betray us, Boss,” said the deep voice of Ramsey from behind her.
Mark smirked at Hermione. “Ready to die?”
“Hardly,” spat Hermione. For the first time since she became an Auror, she attacked first without waiting to be attacked.
Mark barely managed to put up a shield charm in time to protect himself.
Hermione heard the shouted curses from behind her as Malfoy and Ramsey dueled in her living room. She hoped desperately that none of their curses would hit her, but then she focused every ounce of her concentration on Mark.
She had an advantage over him due to her competency with nonverbal spells, but Mark’s Dark Curses were slowly wearing her down. Liquid splashed all over her back from behind and she whirled around, seeing Ramsey dead on the ground.
It took her only moments to realize that the liquid on her was blood that had sprayed from Ramsey’s body as he fell. Fighting back the urge to gag, she turned back to Mark, who was likewise staring at Ramsey.
“Too bad you can’t use that curse on ME, Draco,” Mark sneered softly. “You’re useless against me.”
Malfoy swore and threw a decorative knife from the bookshelf at Mark.
Mark laughed and made the knife explode in midair. “Avada Kedavra!” he cried.
Malfoy threw himself against the wall to avoid the curse, letting out a grunt of pain as his body connected with the wall.
“Attack him!” shrieked Hermione, knowing that two on one they could definitely beat him. She tried stunning him three more times, but Mark blocked each one.
“But he can’t, Hermione!” cackled Mark, catching Hermione off guard with a hex that caused a deep gash to open in her thigh. “Oh, but didn’t you tell her, Draco?”
Hermione gasped in pain, her leg threatening to give out, but she managed to remain standing. Malfoy quickly slid his arm around her, helping her stay on her feet.
“Say ‘Atrum Decedo,’” he hissed into her ear.
So intent on revealing Draco’s weakness, Mark didn’t notice this whispered command from Malfoy to Hermione. “Draco made the very bad decision to—”
“A-Atrum Decedo!” gasped Hermione, her wand aimed squarely at Mark’s chest.
“No!” whispered Mark, backing up as dark shadows burst out of her wand and swarmed towards him. They swirled around him, eliciting anguished screams from the man.
“Time to go,” growled Malfoy, watching the scene in front of him with undisguised glee.
“What did I do to him?!” Hermione asked in horror, Malfoy’s arm around her waist the only thing keeping her from instinctively running to him. She glanced down at the blood streaming down her leg and realized that she needed the wound healed very soon.
“Unless you want to kill him now, which I doubt—your irritating moral standards and all—then I need to get out of here before whoever’s coming up the stairs gets here,” Malfoy interrupted her.
Hermione realized that she could hear footsteps on the staircase. “Okay, take me with you,” she said, making an instant decision.
Malfoy stared at her, his face inscrutable. “I’ll take you to Potter,” he offered.
“Harry can’t help me,” Hermione said, her eyes blazing. “Take me with you—it’s the only way I’ll have a shot of taking down the Hunters.”
“You may come, but know that my only goal is to get rid of Mark—the Hunters are staying in existence.”
The two of them stared at each other for a brief moment, neither backing down.
A scream from the hallway outside the door made them remember their hurry. Malfoy disapparated the both of them away from Hermione’s apartment.
They reappeared in a pitch-black place.
“Where are we?” Hermione said nervously, reassured by the fact that Malfoy’s arm was still around her.
“We’re in the Forbidden Forest.”
“There are—there are werewolves in here! We can’t stay here!” Hermione yelped, pulling free of Malfoy’s grip. “Lumos!”
Bright light shone forth from her wand, illuminating the sleeping forest.
“Don’t be a ninny, Granger—Mark won’t look for us here, so we’ll be safe for awhile,” Malfoy explained.
Hermione looked around at the tall, thick trees looming threateningly overhead. The moon seemed to be losing a battle against the heavy tree canopy, and little to no light managed to filter down to the ground. Leaves rustled in the brush, and a wolf howled in the distance.
“This is beyond creepy,” she said, trying not to sound as scared as she felt.
“You can face down a cold-blooded murderer, but balk in the face of darkness?” Malfoy asked, smirking. His teeth shone in the darkness.
“I’m going to climb a tree,” she spat, heading for the nearest oak. “You can stay down here and get yourself killed all you want.”
She grabbed the lowest branch of the tree determinedly and swung herself up to the next branch. Pain shot through her right thigh as she was reminded of her unhealed wound. “Ah!” she cried out in pain, falling heavily to the ground.
Malfoy sauntered over to her side. He examined her leg. “Dumb move, Hermione.”
Hermione gaped at him.
“If I’m going to be stuck with you, I might as well use your first name,” explained Malfoy brusquely. “Now don’t yell, but this is going to hurt.”
“I can heal my own—Ouch!”
Malfoy’s muttered disinfecting spell made her leg feel like it was on fire for long seconds before it stopped. He used the same incantation he’d used on her when she had been attacked by The Scalper. The wound closed up completely, leaving only the bloody rip in her pants to show where it had been.
“Why am I always the one who gets hurt?” groaned Hermione. She accepted Malfoy’s hand and got to her feet. “And thanks. Should I call you Draco now?”
“I suppose it would be fitting,” he sighed in reply, releasing her hand.
The coyote howled again, this time sounding much closer.
Hermione let out a small shriek and fled to the foot of the tree she had tried to climb before. Within a minute, she was high in the branches. “Are you coming?” she called down, noticing that Draco had made no move to follow her; rather, he was staring up at her scornfully.
“If you insist…”
Hermione watched appreciatively as he climbed the tree, his muscles in clear display. As he sat next to her on the branch, his hand brushed hers. Startled and slightly flustered for some reason she didn’t understand, Hermione dropped her wand. It fell to the forest floor.
“Oh, Merlin,” she cursed, beginning to climb back down the tree.
It wasn’t until she had reached the bottom that Draco called down mockingly, “I could’ve summoned it for you, you know.”
“Great!” she called in reply. “Now when I get shot by a centaur we’ll know it’s all your fault.”
“There’s nothing to be scared of in—shit, look out!”
“That’s not funny!” Hermione yelled, thinking he was joking. She glared up at him.
A vicious snarl rumbled from behind her. Breathless with fear, Hermione turned around slowly.
An enormous, snarling wolf slinked out of the brush to her right, fangs bared. It was larger than a normal wolf, and jet-black. Its eyes gleamed red as it approached Hermione, who was frozen with fear.
“Get up here!” yelled Malfoy.
Hermione unfroze at his words and ran for the tree, her face completely white. The wolf was right on her heels as she reached the tree with no time to climb it. Malfoy was waiting on the lowest branch, his hand held out.
“Impedimenta!” screamed Hermione.
Her aim was true, and the wolf froze in mid-bite, giving her the time she needed to grab Draco’s strong hand. He gripped her hand tightly and swung her up beside him just as the wolf regained movement and snapped at her heels.
Hermione scrambled upwards through the branches at top speed, ignoring the twigs and leaves that slapped across her face and stung her eyes. She could hear Malfoy beside her as they both climbed high to avoid the angry wolf.
When they had reached a good height, they paused, resting against the thick trunk of the tree. There was silence between the two of them (except for Hermione’s panicked breathing) for a good thirty seconds before Draco said uncomfortably, “Are you okay?”
Draco paused for a moment before slowly putting his arm around her. Hermione remained stiff and unmoving for long seconds before letting out a sigh and allowing herself to relax against him.
“People don’t bother me,” she confessed. “But giant wolves are another story…”
“I understand,” murmured Draco. He put his other arm around her hesitantly.
Apart from wearing dirty, bloody pajamas, Hermione was extremely comfortable. Her heart was pounding, for some reason she didn’t fully understand, and her entire body felt hot. Going utterly on instinct, she leaned her head against him, finding that she fit perfectly under his chin. “Why are you being so nice?” she breathed, her heart pounding.
Draco was silent. “I find you uncannily alluring,” he finally admitted.
“Is that a compliment?” she asked softly, pulling away to look him in the eyes.
“It is.” He kissed her then, his tongue making its way into her mouth for a deep, powerful kiss. A moan escaped Hermione’s lips and she pressed her body against his, flushing when his arms wrapped around her and pulled her even closer.
Draco suddenly broke the kiss, an expression of distaste on his face.
“You’re not going to call me a bimbo again, are you?” Hermione inquired, refusing to allow her feelings to show on her face.
Draco shook his head impatiently. He unbuttoned his white dress shirt and slid it off. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” he murmured, smirking as he handed his shirt to her, “but you should take off your shirt.”
Hermione looked down at her bloodstained shirt and fought the urge to gag. She turned her back to him and pulled her shirt off quickly, replacing it with Malfoy’s.
“Thanks,” she said, tossing her shirt towards the ground, where it caught on a branch and fluttered in the breeze. She turned back to Malfoy, who was looking at her impassively as she resettled herself on the tree branch.
The two watched each other for a few moments, Malfoy expressionless and Hermione embarassed, until Hermione finally said, “Tomorrow we need to figure out what to do.”
“Naturally,” Malfoy drawled.
Hermione leaned back against the tree, her eyes slowly drifting shut as she fell asleep.
“I can’t believe you allowed this to happen,” Mark said softly, his voice quite deadly. He held the small, silver cube between his thumb and finger, twisting it around as he looked at the man standing in front of him with an insolent posture.
“Where is Malfoy? I refuse to speak to a minion,” snarled Ractor, his lip curling.
“A minion?!” Mark visibly took at least 60 seconds to calm down before he continued. “Draco is no longer the leader of the Hunters. He’s a traitor.”
“I don’t believe it,” Ractor snapped. “And if so, how do you plan to pay me?”
“That’s what I’ve brought you here to talk about,” Mark sneered. “We’re going to have to let you go. Not because of the money—because of your incredible carelessness. Imagine what would have happened if this little bundle of information had made its way to its intended recipient!”
Ractor whipped out his wand, realizing that he had very quickly become a liability to Mark. “Stupefy!” he cried.
The red light hit Mark square in the chest and knocked him to the ground, unconscious.
Ractor had exactly half a minute of victory before his heart stopped beating and he dropped dead.
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