Chapter Six : Consequences
"Nobody ever did, or ever will, escape the consequences of his choices."
Albert A. Montapert
Amycus Carrow sat arrogantly in his office, stroking the surface of his desk with a short, crooked finger. His eyes were focused on the lines his nails traced in the wood, and he grinned evilly as he realized it was only a matter of time before he claimed what was rightfully his - the seat at the right hand of the Dark Lord. He did not doubt that he would enjoy every second of Draco Malfoy's suffering and would love to watch Lucius pay for his son's mistake. The scheme was to take place on Halloween, directly following the feast in the Great Hall. The two lovers would make their way to their so-called secret hiding spot, but Carrow already knew about their hideaway tucked in the depths of the Grounds, hidden in groves of trees. He had followed them there almost every day to prepare for the Dark Lord's plan, and soon he would be able to execute it. The plot was wicked to say the least. Perhaps some of it was unnecessary, and maybe there was an easier way to accomplish their task. But this approach would sink the knife deepest in the Draco Malfoy's heart, and he would know he had been punished.
Ron was sitting on his bed, dangling his feet over the edge of the mattress and watching his feet with unfocused eyes. His limbs were heavy, and his heart was like lead, broken but still beating. After what had happened last night, getting out of bed was the least of his worries, but it was still a chore. Ron had never felt this terrible before, and it seemed like everything was harder to do with a broken heart, like the fragments stuck you every time you tried to do something worthwhile.
Neville passed by his four-poster, on his way back from breakfast, which Ron had decided to skip this rainy morning. He turned to look at him and shook his head.
"Are you alirght, Ron? You look terrible."
"Yeah, yeah, Neville," Ron mumbled sleepily as he slid from beneath the sheets.
His fingers fumbled for the latches on his truck and unclipped them, lifting the lid of the ancient box. From inside, he pulled his robes, gathering them in his arms. They felt heavier than usual, but then again, what didn't feel heavy today? He stepped into them, not even checking to make sure that his appropriate badges were pinned on. He only had two - one for Gryffindor and one for being a prefect - but they were usually firmly attached. Why would he bother checking something that he knew was secure? Oh, that's right. Because she might snog Draco Malfoy behind his back.
Neville, being the generous lad that he was, stood at the door and patiently waited for Ron to get dressed. He watched Ron struggle with everything. He knew something was wrong, but he didn't want to be nosy and ask about it. So he observed silently Ron's unusual mood. He had finally pulled on his robes and, without even checking his appearance in the mirror, Ron was going down the spiral staircase into the common room. Neville listened as he stomped unnaturally loud on the steps. Ron thought that if Hermione were downstairs, she would hear him coming and prepare herself.
Upon stepping off the staircase, Ron looked curiously around, searching for her backstabbing face, but to his relief she was nowhere to be found. She was probably meeting that stupid Death Eater somewhere and walking to class with him for a change. The image of them snuggling in the Room of Requirement played and replayed itself in his head, and every time it did, Ron vanished deeper beneath the water, feeling almost invisible.
Ron was perplexed by the entire situation. When had this happened, and why hadn't he noticed it before? Why would Hermione fall for a Death Eater and not her best friend? Did she honestly believe Malfoy's weak attempts at affection? And the more Ron thought about it, the more questions that arose and the more confused he became. He was stuck in the middle of something that he didn't understand, and throughout all of it, the only one hurt was the only one who didn't know.
Although it seemed rather comical compared to the larger issues, another thing that bothered him was that Hermione didn't even come out of her way to tell him they had found the horcrux. She had known that he had been looked forward to it all day and all night, but she was so busy having fun with that stupid ferret that Ron didn't even cross her mind.
He and Neville stepped into the busy hallway, faces flashing past them in a blur. It made Ron dizzy to watch, but he unsteadily followed behind Neville as they headed downstairs. Ron was so wrapped up in his own roaring thoughts that he barely noticed Neville step off onto the third floor. He simply continued on his way as Neville politely waved goodbye, walking the memorized steps to Dark Arts class, the class he dreaded the most.
Hermione was standing outside the door, but Draco was not, which brightened Ron's mood considerably. Of course, he knew that it would be foolish for them to be together in public if they didn't want anyone to know about their relationship, but he tried to see the positive as he walked into the class. Draco was already in his seat, leaning on the back legs of his chair, and Ron wanted so badly to kick those tiny wooden supports from under him. He envisioned it all the way to his desk, and laughed under his breath as he sat down.
Draco was staring at him, sucking his cheeks in and frowning - his usual sneer. His eyes were locked on Ron, shooting into him and mocking him. They seemed to say, 'I stole your girlfriend. What now, Weasel?'. Ron, feeling uncomfortable, pulled out a sheet of paper and began writing on it just so he wouldn't have to look into those ugly silver eyes. He scribbled, running his quill in circles and praying Malfoy would look away soon, but he didn't until Hermione walked in.
She looked more confident than usual, and she rolled her eyes as she took a seat next to Ron, shifting to the very edge of her seat as if to avoid contact with him. He was glad she wanted to stay away from him because, honestly, he wouldn't mind being away from her for a time either. Maybe then she could have fun with her Slytherin boyfriend... and maybe he could have a chance to cool down and get his mind straight. He still loved her; that much was definite. But with Malfoy around, there was only so much love left for her to share with him, and he was beginning to believe he had never been destined for her heart in the first place.
Draco stared at him from behind, his grey eyes watching Ron's every move, waiting on the moment he would gain an excuse to put him to waste. Although, when Draco recalled the scene from last night, a string of guilt wrapped around his throat. Weasley's face had been as empty as a starless sky, his eyes slowly filling with tears that were on the verge of spilling over. At first, he hadn't said anything, just stood there dumbfounded, but after lingering there in shock for a few minutes, he shook his head and began to walk the out the door. That's when Draco, mouth agape, had felt Hermione slide from his arms, rushing to the door, calling Ron's name. Ron had turned on her quickly, yelling something about trusting a Death Eater and then rushing down the dark hallway.
Then, of course, she had cried, burying her face deep in Draco's chest, her tears wetting his collar. Unsure of how to react and thinking it strange that Hermione would look to him - the cause of the problem - for comfort, Draco stood quietly, stroking the back of her head.
"I'm sorry..." she had sobbed in his ear, although she had nothing to apologize for.
"No, I am," he insisted. "Things will get better, Hermione."
He knew that this statement was true, but he had an uneasy feeling that things were destined to become much worse before they got any better. And now here he was watching Hermione and Weasley's friendship suffer because of their decision. Obviously it didn't matter to him personally, but it did to Hermione and therefore, to him.
They were definitely awkward sitting next to each other now, with Hermione sitting, hands in her lap, with her head bowed slightly. Draco saw her pupils run apologetically up to Ron's face, but to add to Draco's annoyance, he did not bother to return her gaze. Draco could tell Hermione regretted Ron finding them together, but Weasley was too spiteful to accept her silent apology.
Ron did not desire to talk to Hermione as he stared dully at Professor Carrow. Why didn't Hermione understand that Malfoy came from the same side as Carrow did? What set Malfoy apart from the other scum? What made him so special? Surely Hermione didn't enjoy Malfoy's company more than Ron's. But obviously she did, and to Ron, this was a slap in the face. In his anger, Ron jumped swiftly from his chair as the bell rang, stalking briskly into the corridor.
Hermione and Draco exited separately, trying not to attract the attention of Professor Carrow, whose snarls and glares had boosted in number over the past few weeks. Frankly, although he did not say so, Draco was becoming slightly nervous. After all, there was no doubt that Carrow had been sent by Voldemort to scrutinize Draco, to critique him, to torture him, and surely Voldemort had dispatched someone he knew would be adept at this task. So why was Carrow missing so much... or was he?
Draco waited subtly outside the door, grabbing Hermione's arm as she came out of the classroom. She jumped, not really expecting to be assaulted, as Draco pulled her to the side so quickly that nobody noticed them behind a thick stone pillar. His eyes were dancing, glittering mischievously in the rays of sun that shone down from the stained glass window above them. Uh-no, Hermione thought.
"What do you say you and I play hooky this period, Granger?" he said, smirking as he played with a loose piece of her chestnut hair. She blushed, not sure how to respond. Although she thought perhaps she would like to be alone with him for a while. "Come on... I know you don't want to sit with Weasley the entire hour..."
"No, definitely not," she replied, sold now on skipping class. Anything to escape Ron's tormenting.
"He's being an a - "
"Draco, as if I need to be reminded," she interrupted him before she suffered a stress-related meltdown. "Every time I try to make nice, he completely ignores me! It's so frustrating."
"So, he's not ready to be friends again, Hermione," Draco said, trying to impart to her the workings of male brains. "Give him time. You don't have to rush back into anything; honestly, I wouldn't mind if you never rushed back in at all..."
Hermione huffed, not really in a joking frame of mind as she walked down the empty hallway towards who-knows-where. Draco followed her, practically jogging to keep up, but with his long legs, it was no problem. In a matter of seconds, he was quickly walking by her side, in sync with her steps.
"I was joking, Granger," Draco made a face. "I'm going to make you laugh before this hour is up. I promise."
"I doubt it, Malfoy. I am not in the mood."
Draco grinned, "I like a good challenge."
He followed her up a staircase and down a corridor when they found themselves on the second floor, standing completely alone. But just to be sure, Draco pulled her into an empty classroom so they could talk in privacy. Dust lay everywhere, half an inch of it covering everything - the old, beat up desks, the scratched blackboard, the massive books that were stacked waist-high in the corner. It didn't seem to Hermione to be the ideal place to spend an hour chatting, but it was quiet and out of the way.
"Scourgify," Draco muttered as he pointed his wand at a couple of desks.
The dust blew off of them, leaving behind rickety but clean places for them to sit. Hermione pulled herself onto the desktop as Draco did the same, turning to face her. As he settled onto the desk, Hermione realized their legs were touching, one of her knees in between both of his, but she kind of enjoyed being close to him like this and feeling his warmth.
"So..." he said, breaking off her cozy thoughts.
"So..." she echoed, not sure what to talk about. "Why don't you start the conversation this time since every time I start it, it ends up coming to a bad end?"
"True..." he chuckled. "We always come out talking about death and whatnot. Shall we honestly attempt to avoid it this time around? For the sake of sanity?"
"Promise..." Hermione said, raising her right hand playfully. "And remember, you still have a promise to keep, too, Malfoy. I'm counting on you to cheer me up."
"Right." he said, suddenly slipping off the desk and wandering over to the books in the corner. "Good Merlin, these are prehistoric... I wouldn't be surprised if they're written in runes."
He flipped open the front cover of the book lying on top, dust cascading to the floor in a tidal wave. He coughed a few times as the dust rose to the ceiling and mixed with the sunlight, making an eerie fog effect. Hermione tried not to smile as Draco meandered out of the filth, still coughing profusely.
"Are you okay?" she said, waving her arms in the air as if feeling for something and trying not to giggle. "I can't see you! Oh woe is me, I think I'm lost! Come save me, oh noble Knight of Slytherin!"
She put a hand to her forehead and swooned like she had seen women do in the old movies her mother loved to watch. She peeked out of one of her eyes so as to witness Draco's reaction. He was laughing, coming through the fog towards her, bulging his chest heroically as he scooped her into his arms and kissed her lightly on the cheek.
"Your safe now, my Mudblood Princess."
She tried her best to hold it inside, to keep it hidden so as to beat him at his own game, but nevertheless it escaped, that stubborn giggle of hers. When he heard it, he looked down at her in surprise, and then a smug smile was plastered on his face. He had known she couldn't resist as he himself was having a difficult time containing his laughter.
"Don't say it..." she said, waving a finger at him and laughing.
"Okay, I won't..." Draco said, letting Hermione stand on her own two feet. "I'll save it for a time when I can use it against you."
Then he rushed out of the room, laughing at their childishness and admiring that, for once, he wasn't afraid to be silly. It didn't matter how stupid he acted as long as he was with Hermione, and it made her laugh. He took off down the hallway, hearing Hermione's quick steps behind him, and thinking on his feet, he hid behind a column, arms stick-straight at his sides. He heard her footsteps getting nearer, echoing down the corridor, and knowing she was right beside him now, he jumped out and hugged her from behind, throwing his arms carelessly around her waist and spinning her in one quick circle.
She screamed and giggled as he did this, and hoping no one heard, they hurried downstairs and into the Entrance Hall, hands intertwined. They weren't sure where they were going, letting their feet gain a mind of their own. It wasn't long, however, before Hermione became out of breath and came to a halt on the Grounds in front of one of Hogwarts many towers. Neither of them had noticed it before, as it was not as tall as the others and the windows were darkened. Hermione guessed by the looks of it that no one had been up there in years.
"That's the old Defense Against the Dark Arts tower," Draco said, staring up it. "My father used to talk about it being taught in a tower, but I always thought he had just forgotten where it had really been."
"A tower doesn't seem to be the ideal place to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts..." Hermione observed.
"Well, for a while, especially when my father was in school, the Ministry was strict," Draco explained. "You remember Umbridge, I'm sure? It was like that... only perhaps more pleasant. There was no hands-on dueling allowed so they didn't need much room I suppose... Where are you going, Granger?"
Hermione hadn't noticed before, but she had slowly been edging towards the door of the building, curiosity getting the best of her - again. She didn't answer Draco as she tugged on the door handle, which did not budge.
"It's probably locked to keep people like us out..." Draco grinned behind his white lashes. Then he watched as Hermione whispered alohomora and the door clicked open. "Or not."
She still didn't hear him as she pushed open the door, the hinges creaking as she did so. It was dark, the light broken up by the grime that covered the windows, and as she entered, she felt Draco behind her, an orb of pure light radiating from the end of his wand.
As she studied the room in the artificial light, she noticed that there were many desks piled around the edges of the circular room - one on top of another. She also observed the chandelier hanging low above their heads, most of the candles missing from its many holders. Pushed against the desks was a blackboard, still clinging onto a bit of chalk - enough to make out the words. It was an assignment from long ago, and as Hermione stared at it, she glimpsed a date in the upper right hand corner - 1971.
Draco had followed her over to the chalkboard and seeing the date said, "My father would have been in his sixth year... Probably in this very class."
To their left was a staircase, spiraling upwards to the top of the tower, and not able to resist, Hermione took it slowly step by step. She hoped it was still strong enough to hold she and Draco, as it was quite old. Draco was still on her heel, silent and carrying his wand in front of him. If she had been looking, Hermione probably would have found that Draco was quite handsome in the white light, but she missed her opportunity as she came off on the first landing, eyes floating curiously about the space.
It was an old storage room, still full of potions and ingredients for such. Although the bottles were covered in dust, her heart leapt for she knew they were all unopened and usable. Hundreds of tiny bottles sat on their shelves, filled with a vast array of liquid. From yellow, to blue, to black, to invisible, the liquid in the corked beakers were almost all different. She would have to remember this place in case she ever required something to make a concoction.
"I thought you said this was a Defense Against the Dark Arts..." she marveled as she looked up to find more bottles on the next landing. "It looks more like Potions."
"Perhaps this tower was used to store all of Snape's potions..." Draco suggested as Hermione shot a perplexed look. "Well you wonder where he put all the successful Potions assignments he received, Surely he didn't simply throw them away... I wouldn't."
Just as Hermione was considering this to be a possibility, a bell rang in the distance, and Hermione began to kiss Draco good-bye. But as her lips pulled away from his, he grabbed her hand, pulling her back.
"Weasley will be coming from the greenhouses," Draco pointed out. "I assume you don't want to deal with him right now?" She shook her head. "Then stay here with me for few more minutes."
"Alright," Hermione consented. "But I am going to lunch after the few minutes are over. Are you coming?"
He nodded, "But I'll come in after you so Weasley won't get mad."
"Draco," Hermione rolled her eyes, "as if he won't guess where I have been."
"True," Draco said, staring straight ahead.
They went back down to the ground floor, and when Hermione was sure most of the students were in the Great Hall, she offered Draco a tender kiss on the lips and hurried out the door. Draco smiled at her, as she opened the front doors and went inside. Draco looked out the door at the sky, which was swirling with dark clouds. Rain was inevitable so it seemed, and what a shame it was for the weather had been so wonderful the past few days. Oh well, what was rain to him anyway? Rain does not trouble a drowning man...
Slowly, he walked to the front doors, the wind blowing strongly and whipping his hair and robes about. He could hear thunder grumbling in the distance, shaking the earth as he pulled on the door handle. He heard the garbled voices in the Great Hall, but could not hear any one conversation - just one massed gurgling. He pushed open the door, embarrassed, as he sat down alone at the Slytherin table. He saw Hermione sitting with the Ginny Wealsey still, but Ron sat farther along the table with Neville and Seamus. Ginny did not seem to be as irate as Ron, though perhaps a bit annoyed, and she talked to Hermione as they ate.
"He's being absolutely ridiculous!" Hermione was saying.
Ginny shook her head as she took a sip of her pumpkin juice, "I don't know, Hermione. I think he's being quite fair with you."
Hermione huffed, "I try to apologize, he acts as if he doesn't hear a word I say, and you think that is fair?!"
Ginny shrugged, "I'm just saying that he loved you, Hermione. I know that you two were never dating, and you are permitted to date whoever you would like. But he doesn't understand what you see in Malfoy, and frankly, neither do I..."
"But you knew, Ginny!" Hermione exclaimed, gesturing in frustration. "You knew before Ron did! Why is it that now you decide to be against me?"
Ginny smiled sympathetically, "I was never with you, Hermione. I told you I wasn't the very first night I knew, outside the kitchens. I warned you that he was tricking you, that he was lying to you, but you didn't want to listen so I stopped trying to persuade you."
Hermione just stared at her, feeling suddenly alone and helpless. Why were her friends, who claimed to be true to her, so quick to prove otherwise? If they would only give Draco a chance and if he, in turn, would do the same, they would understand. But Ron would never do that for he was too stubborn, and Ginny simply tagged long behind her brother.
Hermione looked down at her food, abruptly losing her appetite, and she excused herself, walking out the Great Hall doors. She could feel the tears burning her eyes then tickling her face as they streamed down in rivers. She stepped outside, collapsing against the stone wall. The jagged rocks scraped her back, but she didn't care as she began to sob. She couldn't help herself; crying just seemed like the right thing to do right now, after being abandoned by her own best friends. She was crying so hard that she barely felt the rain on her shoulders, turning her robes an even deeper black. Distantly, she heard the thunder, and the lightning flashed through her closed lids. Then something warm caressed her shoulder, and she looked through puffy eyes to find Draco standing over her, his hand resting on her arm.
"You should come back indoors..." he said casually.
Hermione liked the way Draco never asked questions, never wondered every second if something was wrong, and when he knew something was the matter he never asked about it unless you wished for him to. After years with Ron's persistent questions, this was a relief to her because right now she wanted nothing more than to be upset and to cry; she had to release some of the pressure that was weighing her heart down.
"Come on..." Draco was saying, holding out a wiry hand for her to grab.
She took it, if only to feel his skin on hers, as the raindrops became larger and the wind blew, shifting the drops sideways. Shielding her face from the stinging mist, Hermione shut her eyes tightly as Draco pulled her into the Entrance Hall. It was dry and still inside, and Hermione suddenly felt foolish for going outside in the first place. She looked at the doors to the Great Hall, where on the other side sat the friends she was losing because of feelings beyond her control. It was unjust, she knew, that she should get the low blows when they were the ones that were creating an issue. Their fear of accepting Draco for who he was - and not who his father had forced him to be - was sickening to Hermione.
Still hiccupping a bit, Hermione slid her hands under Draco's arms, wrapping her hands around his shoulder blades. Then she rested her head on his chest, right below his chin, and he embraced her gently, putting her head in the crook of his neck. They stood like that for a long time, when the bell for the end of lunch rang, and reluctant to part, Draco kissed her quickly on the forehead and went upstairs to his next class.
Weeks went on like this. Hermione was invisible to Ron save for the occasional glare, Ginny did not speak to her except to point out yet again that Draco had not changed, and Draco never failed to catch her in his arms when she decided to fall. For although her relationship with Ginny and Ron may have been dying slowly, her bond with Draco could not have been stronger. They were seeing each other a lot more often as Hermione gave up trying to ask for forgiveness from Ron and took the time instead to talk with Draco. She still sat with Ginny at lunch, only to hear her complain about what trouble Hermione was getting into, and this made Hermione wonder often why she continued to eat lunch there. Something about holding onto that seat made her feel more at ease, as if maybe Ron and Ginny would not be there all the time, but that the seat was always vacant anyway, signaling that the spot was always open
She and Draco had been talking a lot by the lake, where his spot had quickly and happily become theirs. Thankfully, they no longer struggled to keep their conversations away from painful thoughts. By now, Hermione had learned that Draco would bring the topics of his family up on his own when he wanted to talk about it. Most of the time they chatted about how their day had gone or just goofed around, however, as Draco did not often desire to talk about himself.
Halloween was fast approaching - only two nights away - and everyone was anticipating the annual Halloween feast with immense joy. With Halloween came the largest feast at Hogwarts - besides perhaps Christmas - and the students always did their best to attend. Hermione had written Harry a Halloween letter and sent it by owl to him; she hoped it would get to him on time. Ron and Ginny, Hermione noticed had also written letters to Harry, but Hermione doubted Ron's contained the traditional "Happy Halloween". She wouldn't be surprised if all three of her best friends despised her before the year was over.
Hermione was on her way to Dark Arts, books in hand and walked purposefully down the hallway, when someone came from behind her. She already knew who it was, as he always met her on this corridor, but as a precaution, she couldn't hold his hand and was only allowed to glimpse at him. Not that that was really possible anyway as he always walked a few feet behind her. She wasn't sure why all of a sudden he had banned their being close in public; well, she understood why she just didn't get why now. They had been walking together for weeks now, and nobody had seemed to notice them yet. The fact that Draco was becoming nervous made Hermione twice as uneasy, as if something terrible was just around the corner, waiting for the right moment to spring...
She turned into the class, Draco lingering at the door and then coming in behind her seconds later. Ron was already in his seat, but she had learned to ignore his presence in the time they had been spending away from each other. He barely even registered on her radar now. He seemed to have discovered a way to keep his mind off of her, too, as he did not flinch when she sat down, his eyes focused straight ahead.
Throughout the class, Draco was uneasy, feeling Carrow's eyes on him for almost the entire lecture on the Imperius Curse, and every time Carrow's bulging eyes pierced him, the dreadful feeling in his chest grew tighter. It was as if he had fallen into a pit and no one could ever scoop him out. The look in Carrow's eye was not hatred as it had been a few weeks before; now it was self-satisfaction, as if he had dealt under the table and walked away with more in his pocket than he had anticipated. As if he knew everything. Perhaps, even as much as Draco had tried not to let him uncover it, he had still managed to find out about Hermione. Draco knew if this was true, Voldemort would have no problem killing both she and Draco in one swift flick of a wand. If Carrow knew, they might as well be dead already...
During lunch and Transfigurations, Draco did his best to hide it from Hermione, to let his worry disappear behind the mask he used so often. He joked and talked with her like he always had, and he was relieved that he was keeping her from the truth. Besides, the very last thing she needed right now was something else to prod at her mind. The Weasley twits were both ignoring her, Potter was off doing whatever he was doing, and she also had to uphold her end of their secret. Draco was not about to add to that list.
After dinner they had finally escaped everyone, going to the one place where they were always alone - the lake. Draco sat down against a tree as Hermione joined him, laying her head on his shoulder. Her eyes wandered up to his angular face, the moon making it a ghastly white. The eerie moonbeams shone into his eyes, an orb of light reflecting from them, but past that, she could see his silver irises. Something was off-balance in them, a certain emotion that set them off-kilter, but she couldn't for the life of her name what it was.
"Something is the matter," Hermione said, touching his cheekbone and turning his face to her. It wasn't a question.
He gently grabbed her hand on his face, his palm completely enveloping her tiny fingers. He was looking straight in her eyes, burning her again with those glowing grey spheres. Then he pulled her hand to his lips, his mouth lingering there for a moment. Hermione shivered at the tiny kiss.
"I love you," he whispered. "Nothing is wrong as long as that is true."
Hermione shook her head, still grasping Draco's fingers, "That's a lie. Tell me what is wrong... because I love you, too."
"I don't know what is wrong..." he admitted. "Something just feels... different."
"I've felt it, too," Hermione said as his eyes wandered to hers. "It's almost like there is something awaiting us in the shadows, hoping we will get close enough so it can attack."
Draco was silent for moment, his heart beat too fast to speak. Hermione had just described the tight feeling in his chest, and suddenly he realized it was fear gripping him so firmly. Fear that they had only days before being ripped apart by Death Eaters, fear that, after tonight, they may never see one another again, that he might have his life stolen from him once more by the snake his father served.
"Yes, something along those lines," he replied finally. "We just need to be more careful, Granger and have a plan incase... well... incase - "
"Incase they come for us," Hermione finished morbidly.
Draco looked at her hand, so fragile and yet so strong, and he wondered how she could be so ready to take on the enemy, how she continuously had the strength to keep pushing ahead. Of course, he was not afraid of dying, especially for something he believed in, and he did not doubt Hermione felt the same way, as he looked into her wide, brown eyes.
"If we stay together, they will have less of a chance of capturing us..." Draco suggested.
"But they also have more of a chance of getting both of us..."
"True... but at least then we will be together."
Hermione was quiet, deciding that it didn't really matter if they stayed together or not. If Voldemort knew about what was happening between them, both of them would die or be tortured into insanity, whichever happened to be first on his list. As of right now, Hermione was not particularly scared because Draco was with her, but she knew the moment she stepped into the Gryffindor Common Room she would be too frightened to drift into sleep. So she was determined to stay as close to Draco as possible for much-needed security, at least until they uncovered the danger they both sensed.
Hermione walked to breakfast alone, her hands swinging lazily at her sides. Colored light illuminated her face, shining through the stained-glass windows high up on the stone wall. The air blowing in from the open breezeway was cold and bitter on this Halloween morning, bringing a chill of tension upon its wintry back. Freezing, she tucked her arms to her sides, her hands gripping the fabric of her robes. Her brown eyes wandered to the window, squinting at the clouds, which were dark and swirling like ebony serpents ripping through the sky.
Her footsteps quickened as the wind picked up, causing her hair to fly out behind her and her robes to thrash about at her heel. With her heart beating wildly for reasons she could not identify, she hurried down the steps and into the Great Hall. Instinctively, she glanced at Draco, who was sitting alone again, his long fingers tracing curving patterns onto the table. He felt her eyes on him and looked up smirking. Hermione smiled weakly in return as she went to sit with Ginny once again.
Ginny did not raise her head as Hermione sat down, but as this had become routine, Hermione did not mind. She simply grabbed her plate and filled it in silence, wishing for time to pass more quickly. As she picked a piece of toast from the stack before her, she was suddenly aware of someone staring at her. She looked up in the direction she felt them, only to find one pair of pupils boring into her - Amycus Carrow's. Hands shaking, she unfolded her napkin into her lap, trying not to notice his unbroken gaze. Ginny noticed her tenseness but did not say anything as she placed a forkful of scrambled eggs in her mouth. Nervously, Hermione took a nibble of her toast, clutching the crisp bread with both of her tiny hands. She didn't know why the Death Eater was watching her so intently, but something told her she didn't want to. Her legs wanted to get up and run as far from Hogwarts as she could, go find Harry, and stay with him until of this darkness evaporated.
But that was impossible now.
Dark Arts was the worst it had ever been. Carrow did not speak, but instead wrote an assignment on the blackboard - one that was totally irrelevant to the lecture he had given the day before. He took the time he should have spent teaching to scrutinize Draco and Hermione, eyes narrowed at them and a sly smile spread gruesomely on his face. Draco was positive he knew now; his gaze was too confident to be ignorant. But how could they protect themselves if they did not know from where the punishment would come?
Hermione tried to concentrate on her work, but she couldn't and finally resorted to doodling on her parchment. It was enough to temporarily distract her until the bell rang, rescuing her from torment. She hurried into the hallway and waited anxiously on Draco to exit. He stepped out of the classroom and, seeing her hiding behind their usual column, took a long step toward her.
His grip was tight on her arms as she gazed helplessly into his silvery eyes, "What is going to happen, Draco?"
Her voice was barely audible, fear choking her. He pulled her to his chest, stroking her back, and deep in thought he admitted, "I don't know. Just don't leave my sight."
She nodded, a frightened tear dripping down her face, and slipping from Draco's arms, she slowly began to walk to the Grounds. He stared after her protectively, thinking hard about what Voldemort might do, but no matter how hard her tried, he could never force himself to think like that monster. His plans were always so unpredictable that it was almost impossible to decipher which tactic he might use. But one thing Draco knew for sure was that no matter the executioner, no matter the crime, Voldemort would make his punishment as painful as possible. He would torture him with death, with hatred, with lies, until Draco finally crumpled at his feet and gave him what he wanted. The trick was to keep in mind everything he had sacrificed and what he had sacrificed it for. He was doing the right thing, and no snake was going to steal that knowledge from him.
Night fell upon the castle - a starless, moonless night. The clouds had become blacker as the day had worn on, and now they mixed, like a sinister mist, into the midnight sky. Lights flickered in every window of the castle, the yellow rays beating onto the Grounds outside and casting cubicle patterns onto the dirt. Noise could be heard inside the walls, echoing laughter and happiness over the Entrance Hall, but it seemed to stop when it reached the darkness outside, as if joy could not pass outside this night. Perhaps it was only the fact that it was Halloween, and the sky was eerie because of this, like by magic it was trying to create a threatening atmosphere for the occasion.
But no one inside Hogwarts noticed the gloominess out of their windows, for all of them were sipping pumpkin juice and chewing candy merrily under the glow of the jack-o-lanterns that had replaced the usual floating candles in the Great Hall. Bats fluttered sporadically over their heads, screeching and chirping loudly. Pumpkin pies the size of bicycle wheels were placed at intervals along all of the tables, most of them already over halfway eaten. Everyone was in good cheer, including the teachers who sat contentedly at the High Table, eating meals of their own. However, one of the teachers was not present at all, and the sight of his empty chair sent chills down Hermione's spine.
For hours, the feast had been raging on, students and teachers alike stuffing themselves with enticing food that would not stop appearing under the noses, but still, among all the mirth, Hermione couldn't find it in her to enjoy herself. Too much could go wrong tonight, too much could be at stake. She could not allow herself to get whisked away by the celebration and forget that she and Draco were at risk.
Inside her pocket sat the slip of paper that Draco had given her so long ago, and for the first time in what seemed like forever, it burned. She jumped, startled at the sting, but when she realized what it was, her heart rose in her chest. Fumbling to find the message she turned the paper over in her hands, and there it sat, printed in Draco's hand.
Smiling from ear to ear, Hermione rose quickly from her seat and skipped outside. Draco followed her, happy that he at least had something to make him smile tonight. He caught up with her outside the front door, the temperature dropping immensely as the wind blew into their faces. Hermione grabbed his hand, and they ventured into the gloomy woods to their secret garden, where they would always and forever be safe. The trees seemed to whisper to them, speaking a language neither of them could understand - only enjoy the sound of as they rested against a tree. Crickets chirped loudly in the grass surrounding them, mixing with the whipping of the wind and tinkling of the water's edge to create the most beautiful melody.
Silence bounced between them for the longest time, each of them enjoying the stillness of each other's company, glad that the thought of their closeness was enough to chase away the fear that was curled up in their hearts. But soon, the comfortable quiet transformed into something more eerie, and Hermione felt the need for the sound of Draco's voice.
"Nothing..." she whispered, staring up at the trees above them. "I just like to hear you speak. It calms my nerves."
"Well then I will talk forever..." he smiled, rubbing his nose against hers.
Their lips met for moment, and it was just about to shift into snogging when Hermione turned away, leaving Draco with his mouth slightly open. He looked concerned, his eyes burning again, just like they always did when there was something wrong, but as usual, he left Hermione to her own emotions, only listening when asked.
"Why did we do this, Draco?" she whispered, her voice wavering.
"I often ask myself that same question..." he sighed, but then added. "But then I remember my pitiful excuse of a life before I got to know you, and I realize that we need each other. That is why I did this." He could feel Hermione breathe beside him, nothing escaping her lips but air, and this worried him. "Why did you?"
"At first it was because I wanted to give you a chance..." Hermione replied quietly. "But now it's because I know that you would never hurt me or want me for anyone other than who I am. You would never expect me to change for you or be less than equal to you, and most of all, if ever we were parted, you would walk around the world for me and refuse to stop until you saw my face again."
"And then when I did, you would wash my bleeding feet with a rag and kiss them until your lips were numb," Draco laughed, joking.
"Very funny, Malfoy..." she said, expression still serene.
Draco looked at his hands in his lap as something moved in the distance. His head snapped up, followed swiftly by his wand, but after a few minutes of silence, he put both back down. Hermione, who had tensed when he moved, relaxed slowly beside him. Still, she felt uneasy as she glanced in the depths of the trees, as if expecting a snake to slither from the shadows.
Amycus Carrow was standing by a tree, watching the Mudblood and Malfoy talk softly to one another. The mere sight sickened him. He was mentally preparing himself, to make the curse as strong as possible, and he knew he would not fail. He could see the couple perfectly through the bushes that sat between them. Draco's back was to him, and he could not see the Mudblood's face, but, of course, this was no issue.
She was not the target.
Carrow inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with air that he would only need a tiny fraction of to say the word that would send their love crashing to the ground. The word would also bring him to the top of the Dark Lord's list of men, and this was the moment he had hoped for all along, the chance to destroy Lucius through his son. Then with a swish of his wand, he whispered it, the words barely audible to even himself, and invisible, the spell shot at Draco like a bullet.
The sound did not occur again, and Hermione felt Draco's arms loosen up. It was jarringly silent. Even the crickets seemed to be dead as a field of tension suddenly formed around her. Her eyes darted over the wood, searching for something but not knowing exactly what. Draco shifted beside her, crawling onto her lap, and shocked, she began to struggle.
"Shh..." he blew into her ear.
She felt herself relax although not completely as he leaned in to kiss her. She could feel his breath on her mouth, which was unusually cold, but nevertheless she melted into the kiss. Something about it felt different though, and thinking this odd, she opened her lids. Her brown irises shot to his face, and she almost screamed as she saw Draco's usual grey eyes, frosted over - white and lifeless. She immediately recognized the symptoms of the Imperius Curse, and breath catching in her throat, she shook her head, trying to make things clearer. Frantically, she placed her hands on his chest, attempting to push him away, but she found that this was more difficult than she had imagined. Hermione watched with dread as Draco's hand slithered into his pocket, pulled out his wand, and gradually brought it to her throat, the wooden end stabbing her neck.
Heart beating wildly, she gasped, "No! Don't! Draco, if you can hear me, I love you! Please don't!" Hermione felt him hesitate, the pressure of his wand against her windpipe slightly lessened. "I love you..."
Her last statement died out with a sob as she began to cry, her hands grasping at the wand of the man she loved. She pushed as hard as she could, her arms burning with the effort, but he held it steady.
Draco was feeling rather strange now, as if he was floating, his mind barely aware of what he was doing. Hermione was yelling something, and her voice was muffled in his head, trying to wriggle its way into his trance. He had been ordered to kill her by somebody, though he couldn't recall who, and he should have completed this task already. But he only wanted to listen to her sing-song voice, to hear what she was screaming at him. His ears strained to make the sound clear.
"You aren't yourself, Draco! Listen to me!" she was growling, gritting her teeth in the effort she was using to push him away from her. "Malfoy, get your filthy hands off of my neck or I swear I will kill you!"
She hadn't actually meant that last statement, but she would say anything to get Draco back, to stop him from hurting her. A voice echoed through the woods, coming from Hermione's right, and as she looked, face crushing beneath the wand, she could see Amycus Carrow crouching in the bushes, yelling for him to kill her. Her face snapped back to Draco, as an idea formed in her head.
She became silent, knowing her words were the only thing standing between her and death, but right now, the Killing Curse was exactly what she wanted. It would be extremely risky, and it was probably the worst idea she had ever had. But if she was fast, it would work perfectly.
Draco could not hear Hermione's voice anymore, and with nothing to distract him, he decided to follow his strict orders. He decided to murder Hermione Granger. With wand hard-pressed against her throat, he began to say the words he told her he had never spoken. And even as the first syllable rolled from his lips, he could feel her squirming under his grasp.
Hermione wriggled and writhed, trying to find a weak point in his grasp.
She kicked her legs, elated to find that there was room for her to move them.
Then, using the tree behind her as a lever, she shoved herself between his feet, sliding out behind him.
A flash of green light hit the tree where she had been only moments before, and she tried not to imagine what would have happened if she hadn't escaped. But before she could ponder on it too long Draco was spun around, coming for her again, the whiteness in his eyes becoming more opaque it seemed. Quickly, she jumped to where she remembered seeing Carrow and stood still, praying she was quick enough to get out of the way when the spell of death came.
The emerald light was blinding and she felt the heat of it rushing toward her, but right before it struck, she flung herself behind a tree. Dazed, she crouched low, hoping her unprompted plan had worked. A deep scream echoed over the area followed by a rustling of leaves and a muffled thump, but Hermione didn't dare move. She sat still, hugging herself, trying to find some warmth in her shivering body, but that warmth did not come until she heard a stifled sob behind her. She crawled around the base of the trunk, eyes searching for him, and sure enough, there he was standing stone-still legs spread shoulder-width and arms hanging limply at his sides. His eyes were focused into the pitch-black woods ahead of him, ad tears were streaming down his cheeks, warm and painful against his frozen face. Hermione watched as his wand slipped from his hand, hitting the dirt without so much as a whisper.
The world seemed to move in slow motion as Hermione picked herself up, walking slowly over to Draco, who seemed unable to move. She threw her arms around his neck, standing on her tip-toes to reach him, but he did not respond, as if he had been petrified.
"Draco, it wasn't your fault," Hermione said looking behind her at the body that lay in the thick foliage. It was mangled and twisted in the branches, the eyes unmoving and frozen in a terrified state. "It was his."
"I'm so sorry..." Draco said, as if he hadn't heard her speak. "I didn't - "
"There is nothing to apologize for," she whispered. "Everything is alright now."
For the first time, he looked at her, his eyes like endless pits, "No it isn't, Hermione." He looked out at the lake, which didn't seem as peaceful tonight. "It will only get worse now. This was just the first of many things to come."
The two of them looked up, startled, as they heard footsteps coming nearer. Wands at the ready, they turned their bodies, prepared for another attack, but none came. It was Professor McGonagall, walking briskly towards them, her arms stiff and nervous at her hips. Draco and Hermione exchanged glances, afraid of what would happen now; surely McGonagall would not overlook a dead body.
She gasped, "What has happened here?" Then she looked at the two of them standing guiltily in the clearing, and automatically, her eyes glanced at the flaccid body hidden in the bushes. "What in the name of Merlin has happened? I saw spells flying outside the window and thought I might have a look, but I wasn't expecting this."
Hermione glanced up at the window McGonagall had pointed to, the High Table visible dead ahead. The Headmistress stepped forward to examine Carrow's corpse, clutching his wrist to make sure that his heart had really stopped. Her eyes widened as she spun around to face them once more.
"Whose wand is responsible?" she asked, voice shaking with anger and shock.
"Mine," Draco said, lowering his head.
Hermione looked up at him with worry and added, "Professor Carrow placed him under the Imperius Curse. It wasn't his fault at all."
McGonagall nodded, "I see... Obviously the cause of this attack is something personal between the two of you, and I will not ask what that cause is. But I know that some of the students saw me leave, and they will not hesitate to inquire... You will simply tell them that it is not any of their business, and if they have any questions to come see me. Do you understand? The last thing we need is for the students to know you were both almost killed."
"Yes, ma'am," Hermione whispered as Draco nodded in agreement.
"Please run along inside, now," the Headmistress instructed. "You know how I feel about public displays of affection."
They slowly walked inside, McGonagall's attempt at humor hardly funny. She stayed outside, staring at the Death Eater's body as Draco held open the door. The laughter in the Great Hall seemed distant, even as they stepped under the threshold, and as they entered, the several faces glanced up, twisted with mockery.
Draco, who normally left Hermione to sit with the Slytherin's, did not do so now. It didn't matter anymore if people knew, and he followed unashamed behind her, his shoes tapping right under her cloak. With each table they passed, the eyes became like saucers, the mouths like black holes, and the necks like those of owls, swiveling to follow them. It was quiet as they sat down at the Gryffindor table, Draco looked up at her through his eyelashes, his mouth upturned slightly, and Hermione pursed her lips in return. Everyone knew about them now, not just the Death Eaters - everyone, and Hermione realized that Draco's words could not have been more true. Their lifes were destined to become more painful, more difficult, and much, much worse.
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